Beyak retires early from Senate ahead of potential expulsion vote

·3 min read

Lynn Beyak retired on Jan. 25 from her Senate seat three years before her mandatory retirement age, as her colleagues in Canada’s upper legislative chamber debated expelling her if she didn’t leave on her own terms first.

Beyak was under fire over her defence of Canada’s residential school system, which directly or indirectly is widely accepted to have led to the death of thousands of First Nations. She had already been suspended without pay from the Senate for keeping letters with those comments on her website. Suspensions of this nature end whenever Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, so her most recent suspension ended in August. That led other senators to push for a motion to permanently expel Beyak.

Former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is also the Member of Parliament for Regina-Qu’Appelle, had Beyak removed from the Conservative Senate caucus over the issue in 2018. But when asked for comment on Beyak’s retirement, a staff member said that Scheer “had nothing more to add to this story.”

Scheer had previously condemned Beyak’s position on the issue.

“On Tuesday, January 2, 2018, I learned that Senator Lynn Beyak posted to her Parliamentary website approximately 100 letters from Canadians in support of her position on residential schools,” Scheer said in a 2018 press release. “To suggest that Indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians is simply racist.”

When Scheer demanded the letters be removed from her website and she declined, he took steps to remove her from the national party’s caucus. Beyak remained an independent senator from that point until her resignation.

Beyak was then issued a one-year suspension from the Senate in May 2019 over the letters and comments. Due to the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the most recent federal election, Beyak was automatically reinstated. The Senate voted to suspend her again in February 2020 however, until she had completed anti-racism training.

At the time of the 2020 summer break, senators were considering whether the suspension should be lifted as Beyak had apologized and had taken anti-racism training, the CBC reported. With the August prorogation of Parliament though, all Parliamentary business stopped and senators were not able to vote on the matter. That led to some senators calling for a permanent expulsion. As the Senate is on a winter break, its sessions weren’t scheduled to resume until Feb. 2.

While Scheer pushed to remove Beyak from the Conservative Party national caucus over her support for residential schools and racist comments, Scheer himself faced protestors in September 2020 over his support for a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, in Regina’s Victoria Park. MacDonald’s political record includes the unification of western territories into Canada, the construction of a national railway, systemic starvation of First Nations people and the creation of the residential school system.

“I’m obviously very sensitive to people who have who have those feelings so I think it's important that we address that and listen to them,” Scheer said at the time, as quoted by CTV Regina. “I know that there are proposals about adding other types of monuments to tell the story of Indigenous peoples and the impacts of the decisions that were made at the time. (But) if we look back at every single Prime Minister who presided over times where that kind of thinking was pervasive, we won't have any monuments left.”

Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum