Senate holds off on forcing Lynn Beyak to take down 'racist' letters from her website

Members of the Senate’s all-powerful internal economy committee punted a request from some senators to force Lynn Beyak to remove controversial — what some have called racist — letters from her website.

The letters will be on display pending outcome of review by Senate ethics officer

Non-affiliated Sen. Lynn Beyak has posted letters from supporters to her Senate website that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called 'racist.' (CBC)

Members of the Senate's all-powerful internal economy committee punted a request from some senators to force Lynn Beyak to remove controversial — what some including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer have called racist — letters from her website, meaning they will remain on display for now.

Independent B.C. Sen. Larry Campbell, the chair of the committee, said Thursday he saw no need to force Beyak to remove the letters at this time as she is currently subject to a probe by the Senate ethics officer. Conservative Newfoundland and Labrador Sen. Elizabeth Marshall agreed, saying the ethics officer should be allowed to complete his review of Beyak's conduct without interference.

However, as another member of the committee, Independent Raymonde Saint-Germain noted, nothing about that probe would preclude the internal economy committee from forcing her to take down offensive material from a website paid for by public funds.

Independent B.C. Sen. Larry Campbell says the Senate ethics officer should conduct a preliminary review of Beyak's behaviour before she is forced to remove racist letters from her website. (CBC)

"I think we need to distinguish between the Senate ethics officer's role … from the role of this internal economy committee, which has a responsibility to ensure the wise use of resources that are funded by taxpayers, paid for by public money given to senators," she said in French. "This committee must take on its responsibilities so that Senate resources are used for the purposes to which they are attributed." 

The internal economy committee adjudicates disputes, sets office budgets and polices the expenses of senators, among many other responsibilities.

In response, Campbell, appointed as a Liberal by former prime minister Paul Martin, said, "To enter into a second investigation on what is basically the same topic would be a cross purposes, and may hinder the work that the Senate ethics officer does."

The Senate ethics officer is in the midst of a preliminary review of Beyak's actions after she defended the Indian residential school system and posted letters from supporters that included derogatory language about Indigenous people, conduct some senators believe is in contravention of the Red Chamber's ethics code namely that she did not "uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of Senator."

Review could take months

However, such a review could take many months — and may actually be dropped without any action — and the letters could be on public display indefinitely in the meantime.

Campbell conceded "there is no deadline on it … there is an urgency to it, but it's not immediacy. I think the process should go ahead and then we'll be in a position to decide where we go from there."

Despite Saint-Germain's comments, the committee agreed to stand down on the request and await the outcome of the preliminary review.

One letter posted on Beyak's website said Indigenous people "should be very grateful" for residential schools.

"Where would they be today if it were not for the residential school that were set up to help them? I expect they would still be living out in their isolated villages, un educated, a very high rate of child birth deaths, an very short life expectancy, and living in very damp cold dwellings," it stated.

A screenshot shows Sen. Lynn Beyak's personal Senate website. (lynnbeyak.sencanada.ca)

"I'm no anthropolgist but it seems every opportunistic culture, subsistance hunter/gatherers seeks to get what they can for no effort," read another.

"There is always a clash between an industrial/ organized farming culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wail until the government gives them stuff."

After the letters came to light — and Beyak refused to remove them citing a right to free speech — Scheer finally removed Beyak from the Tory caucus.

The move came nearly a year after she first mounted that defence of residential schools, while criticizing the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for not "focusing on the good."

Scheer said promoting these comments was "unacceptable for a Conservative parliamentarian."

"To suggest that Indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians, is simply racist," he said in a statement. "Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative caucus or Conservative Party of Canada."


John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.