Senator’s Thought Crime

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary

Senator Lynn Beyak is back in the news – the Senate ethics committee is recommending the Senator be suspended without pay for the duration of the current Parliament. Why? A few letters she posted to her website.  The senator has become a symbol of intolerance and racism towards Indigenous people.

Originally condemned by fellow senators and most other politicians for saying there were good as well as bad aspects of residential schools, she asserted that the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Report was not a balanced report. Despite the furor over her view, she refused to “repent” and stood her ground.   Recognizing her courage, hundreds of unsolicited letters poured in to the senator from Canadians -Indigenous and non-Indigenous– commending her take on residential schools and Indigenous matters in general.

Senator Beyak had touched a nerve. Some letters criticized the senator’s comments, but others were broadly supportive. In response, Senator Beyak decided to post a number of the letters on her website.

A complaint followed, claiming a few of those letter posts were racist.  And, Senator Beyak was again scolded by pundits and politicians of all stripes, most of whom had never taken the time to read the letters.  Former friends and colleagues almost fell over themselves in a frenzy to distance themselves from her. She was expelled from the Conservative caucus after she refused to take down the ‘offending’ letters.

The Senate Ethics Officer commenced an investigation into whether the posts were “racist and hateful”, concluding that while a couple of posts fit that damning ‘racist’ definition, nothing on the site was “hateful”. The senator was judged not by the overwhelming majority of the letters -which were thoughtful and quite insightful- but by the two or three that were poorly phrased.

The senator has been declared to be “a racist”, and a decision about her future is pending – there are those who want to see her gone.  But, what is the senator’s crime? Surely, saying that “some good came from residential schools” can’t be it?

The TRC Report itself -has a section containing testimonials from Indigenous students who attended residential schools and were thankful that they had been given the opportunity to receive an education- they otherwise would not have had.  There is a book containing nothing but positive accounts written by residential school attendees who do not regard themselves as “survivors” at all.

So, simply stating the fact that good as well as bad came from residential schools couldn’t be it.  And giving her opinion that the TRC Report was not balanced should certainly not be called “racist” or “hateful”.  Parts of report were greatly exaggerated – even being a distortion of the truth – but that is my opinion, derived from my personal experience and research, and has nothing to do with hatred.  Surely that couldn’t be the senator’s crime.

Is the senator a racist?   The senator’s “baby sister”, soon to be a grandmother herself,  is Indigenous, and much loved. That family connection, and its resulting connections with her other Indigenous and Métis family members, are one of the reasons why Senator Beyak spoke out in the first place.  If Senator Beyak is a racist, I am the King of Spain.

As far as the posted letters, the great majority provide thoughtful comments from people who have thought long and hard about the highly complex and vexing Indigenous situation.  While a few of the more awkwardly worded letters could best have been omitted, the notion that the senator’s website is teeming with hatred and racism is preposterous.

So, what is the senator’s real crime – a crime deemed so egregious that she must be humiliated, shunned, and even financially damaged and hounded out of public office?  Her “crime” is refusing to go along with the politically correct version of the prevailing orthodoxy pertaining to Indigenous issues.

It is an orthodoxy endlessly replayed on CBC, and no politicians dare to question it. According to this “CBC” version, Indigenous people are victims and it is society’s job to preserve a culture by granting more political power to chiefs and spending vast sums of money on whatever the chiefs say is good for “reconciliation”.

No aspect of the residential school story- as told by the TRC and the CBC – is to be questioned.  But, Senator Beyak has the temerity to question it. And, for that, she must pay?