The Current

Lynn Beyak's resignation good for the Senate, good for Canada, says Sen. Murray Sinclair

Sen. Murray Sinclair has welcomed the resignation of Lynn Beyak, saying Canadians “deserve responsible and honourable conduct from public office holders.”

Beyak resignation letter walks back earlier apology for defending residential schools

Sen. Murray Sinclair says that former senator Lynn Beyak's resignation letter, which retreats from an earlier apology about comments on residential schools, suggests that she was 'hiding her true thoughts and feelings all along.' In her statement Monday, Beyak said she believes 'that Indigenous issues are so important to all of us that a frank and honest conversation about them is vital.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press, CBC)

Story Transcript

Sen. Murray Sinclair has welcomed Lynn Beyak's resignation from the Senate, criticizing her repeated views about "the good" of residential schools.

"Former Senator Beyak's resignation is a positive event for the Senate and for Canadians, who deserve responsible and honourable conduct from public office holders," Sinclair told CBC Radio's The Current in a statement.

"Her attitude is harmful and dangerous, and I am glad that she will no longer be able to express those views in Parliament."

Beyak has twice been suspended from the Senate. She sparked controversy in March 2017 with a speech in which she defended the "good deeds" of Canada's residential schools, describing them as "well-intentioned." She also faced criticism in March 2019, for posting and refusing to take down racist letters on her website.

WATCH | Senator defends residential school system in 2017

Senator defends residential school system

6 years ago
Duration 2:30
Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak said that the 'good deeds' accomplished by the residential school system have been overshadowed

She was reinstated by the Senate's ethics committee after completing anti-racism training and issuing an apology in February last year. She apologized "unreservedly" for the letters, saying she initially kept them online out of "belief in free speech." She said the letters were "ill-considered," but her "intent was never to hurt anyone." She added that she regretted the harm caused by describing the residential school system in positive terms.

But in a statement announcing her immediate resignation on Monday, Beyak said that "some have criticized me for stating that the good, as well as the bad, of residential schools should be recognized. I stand by that statement." 

"Others have criticized me for stating that the Truth and Reconciliation Report was not as balanced as it should be. I stand by that statement as well."

Sinclair was chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established to hear and preserve the stories of those who survived psychological and sexual abuse in Canada's residential schools.

"Her words contradict her own apology delivered on the Senate floor, and her expressions of understanding she made to the team asked to provide her with teaching opportunities about the schools," he told The Current in a statement.

"Clearly, as many had suspected, she was hiding her true thoughts and feelings all along. This suggests to me that she is not only continuing to be unwilling to learn, but that she will continue to espouse her racist views going forward," he said.

Beyak, a senator from northwestern Ontario, announced her immediate resignation Monday, a week before fellow senators were expected to debate a motion to have her expelled permanently. Sen. Mary Jane McCallum tabled the motion in December, accusing Beyak of bringing the upper house "into disrepute." 

In her resignation Monday, Beyak said that "my statements and the resulting posts were never meant to offend anyone, and I continue to believe that Indigenous issues are so important to all of us that a frank and honest conversation about them is vital."

"With good will to all, I stand by the need to have that conversation."

If McCallum's motion had resulted in expulsion, Parliament may have had the option to curtail Beyak's lifetime pension. Having resigned, she is entitled to her pension because she met the necessary contribution requirements.

WATCH | Former senator Lynn Beyak's comments 'sickening': Minister Marc Miller

'I don't forgive her': Indigenous Services Minister on retired senator Lynn Beyak's residential school comments

2 years ago
Duration 1:56
Marc Miller says now-retired senator Lynn Beyak's comments on residential schools are "sickening."

At a press conference Wednesday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the pension was a matter for the Senate to deal with.

But he described Beyak's comments as "sickening," and that she had shown "shown zero remorse."

Residential schools were an attempt to assimilate, creating trauma that was passed down generations, he said.

"Not to acknowledge that that exists and there's carry-on effects is the product of a twisted and closed mind," he said.

'Racism comes from ignorance'

Sinclair also spoke to The Current in an interview taped before Beyak's resignation and ahead of his own retirement from the Senate at the end of this month.

He told host Matt Galloway that generations of people in Canada were raised to believe "that Indigenous people were inferior, that they were unclean, that they were pagans."

"It's blatant racism, but sometimes blatant racism comes from ignorance and from a lack of knowledge," he said.

LISTEN | Systemic racism will 'dominate the conversation' for years: Sinclair

Murray Sinclair on how to tackle systemic racism in our institutions

2 years ago
Duration 2:17
Murray Sinclair on how to tackle systemic racism in our institutions

Those prejudices persist today, but the question becomes whether people can change, when "given an opportunity to confront their ignorance and to learn more," he said.

"Canadian society contains thousands of individual Canadians who have been raised to believe in the very same things that Lynn Beyak has been raised to believe — and yet for the most part, they are kind and generous people," he said.

"They contribute to their communities. They believe in Canada as a nation, and we need their support in order for us to continue to grow as a country," he said.

"We also need them to understand that they come from a place where they are acting in an unjust way, because they don't know any better."

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC Politics. Produced by Cameron Perrier.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now