No place for racially charged politics in mainstream Canada

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Carol Hughes, MP
Carol Hughes, MP

Senator Lynn Beyak was jettisoned from the Conservative Caucus recently after spending the better part of a year defending  intolerant statements aimed at First Nations – many of whom she ostensibly represents.   The move was made after leadership in the Senate and the Commons provided numerous opportunities for her to back down from offensive claims about residential schools and Indigenous Canadians.  The debacle has shown that Canada still has a long way to go in any efforts for reconciliation with indigenous communities.

Appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper in 2013, Senator Beyak represents Ontario and comes from Northwestern Ontario.  In the last year she has become infamous for statements about Canada’s Residential School System that were critical of the reconciliation process. This attracted immediate wide-spread criticism including that of fellow Senator, Murray Sinclair, who served as Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who was taken from his family and forced into a residential school as a child.

Although public opinion was decidedly set against the Senator’s sentiments, she fanned the flames again, suggesting Indigenous people should integrate into Canadian society by trading status cards for Canadian citizenship.  The statement betrayed her lack of knowledge that Indigenous Canadians already have citizenship and is a good example of an individual being guided by opinion instead of facts.

While that might be acceptable to some, Canadians have every right to expect more of their politicians – especially when those individuals have been appointed to an institution that is referred to as a place for sober second thought.  It’s obvious that most Canadians hold far more moderate views than this Senator and the fact that her party is no longer willing to be associated with her fringe opinions proves that she had become a liability.

New Democrats continue to call for the Senator’s resignation and for the government to seek her resignation as well.  When the initial incident took place last March, Romeo Saganash said there is no room in parliament for such attitudes.  He told the Senator that she is wrong and reminded her that the residential school system was put in place to strip Indigenous peoples of their culture, their language, their territory and their identity. He said no good can come from her claim that “some good things also happened” at residential schools.
Opportunities to back down were also provided outside of parliament. In July, she met with the Sioux Lookout Mayor’s Committee for Truth and Reconciliation.  Although they believed there was some movement towards the Senator having a better understanding of the issues at the time, that’s now changed.  The mayor is on record stating that the committee is disappointed with Senator Beyak.  He points out that there were 9 residential schools in the part of Ontario she comes from and they thought she would have been more empathetic and understanding.
Because appointees don’t have to retire until they reach 75 years of age, that means Senator Beyak can remain in office for another 8 years, but recent events prove that her opinions have already aged out of parliament.  That said, the entire debacle has cast another negative spotlight on the Senate and adds strength to the arguments to reform or abolish this institution.

La politique raciste n’a pas sa place au Canada

La sénatrice Lynn Beyak vient d’être expulsée du caucus conservateur après avoir passé près d’un an à défendre des propos intolérants à l’encontre des Premières Nations, dont elle représente un bon nombre d’ailleurs. La décision a été prise après que les leaders du Sénat et de la Chambre des communes lui aient donné maintes occasions de rétracter les déclarations offensantes qu’elle avait faites à propos des pensionnats indiens et des Canadiens autochtones. Ce scandale montre bien que le Canada a encore bien du chemin à parcourir pour se réconcilier avec les communautés autochtones.

Nommée au Sénat par Stephen Harper en 2013, la sénatrice Beyak représente l’Ontario et est originaire du nord-ouest de la province. Les déclarations qu’elle a faites l’an dernier sur le système de pensionnats et qui remettaient en cause le processus de réconciliation l’ont rendue tristement célèbre. Elles lui ont d’ailleurs valu immédiatement des critiques généralisées, notamment de son collègue Murray Sinclair, qui a présidé la Commission de vérité et de réconciliation, et du député néodémocrate Romeo Saganash qui, enfant, a été arraché à sa famille et envoyé dans un pensionnat.

Alors que l’opinion publique était manifestement contre elle, elle a mis de l’huile sur le feu en affirmant que les Autochtones devraient s’intégrer dans la société canadienne et échanger leur carte d’Indien contre la citoyenneté canadienne. Cette déclaration témoigne de son ignorance — les Autochtones sont déjà citoyens canadiens — et de l’attitude de quelqu’un qui est plutôt guidé par ses préjugés que par les faits.

Si d’aucuns jugent cette attitude acceptable, les Canadiens sont en droit d’exiger davantage de leurs politiciens, surtout lorsqu’ils sont nommés dans une institution qualifiée de Chambre de réflexion. Il est clair que dans leur immense majorité, les Canadiens ont des opinions beaucoup plus modérées que cette sénatrice et le fait que son parti ne veuille plus être associé à ses positions marginales montre bien qu’elle était devenue un fardeau.

Les néo-démocrates continuent de demander sa démission et l’intervention du gouvernement. Lorsque le premier incident a eu lieu en mars dernier, Romeo Saganash a affirmé qu’il n’y avait pas de place au Parlement pour de telles attitudes. Il a déclaré à la sénatrice qu’elle avait tort et lui a rappelé que le système des pensionnats avait été mis en place pour dépouiller les peuples autochtones de leur culture, de leur langue, de leur territoire et de leur identité. Il a affirmé enfin qu’il n’y avait rien de positif dans son affirmation selon laquelle les pensionnats « avaient eu aussi du bon ».

La sénatrice a eu aussi la possibilité de se rétracter en dehors du Parlement. En juillet dernier, elle a été entendue au comité de vérité et réconciliation mis sur pied par le maire de Sioux Lookout. On avait pensé alors que la sénatrice avait fini par mieux comprendre les enjeux, mais ce n’est pas le cas. Le maire affirme publiquement que la sénatrice Beyak a déçu le comité. Étant donné qu’il y a eu neuf pensionnats dans la région de l’Ontario d’où est originaire la sénatrice, on pensait, dit-il, qu’elle aurait fait preuve de plus d’empathie et de compréhension.
Comme les personnes nommées n’ont pas à prendre leur retraite avant l’âge de 75 ans, la sénatrice Beyak peut rester en fonction encore huit ans. Toutefois, les derniers développements montrent que ses opinions se diffusent en dehors du Parlement. Cela dit, tout ce scandale ternit encore la réputation du Sénat et donne de l’eau au moulin à ceux qui veulent réformer ou abolir l’institution.

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Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.

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