Some Conservative senators are standing by colleague Lynn Beyak a day after she was removed from the Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee for defending the residential school system, with one senator branding media "parasites" for trying to ask Beyak questions.
CBC News asked Beyak for reaction to her removal ahead of a meeting of the Senate's agriculture committee. Conservative Nova Scotia Senator Kelvin Ogilvie said to Beyak, "I see the parasites are still following you." Beyak laughed at the remark.
Conservative Quebec Senator Ghislain Maltais, chair of the agriculture committee, told Beyak, "Every member of the caucus supports you." Maltais then left to bring in a Parliamentary Protective Service officer to remove CBC reporters, but was rebuffed.
(Cameras are permitted inside a committee room until the meeting begins, as per longstanding rules governing the relationship between the Parliamentary Press Gallery and administration.)
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose removed Beyak from the committee on Wednesday, a decision that has exposed divisions in the Tory caucus. Ambrose said the decision was made jointly with the newly minted leader of the Conservative caucus in the Senate, Larry Smith.
"I have been very clear that I do not in any way support Senator Beyak's comments about residential schools. There is no way to explain her comments," Ambrose said. "She has been removed from the Aboriginal affairs committee in the Senate and I think that's the right thing to do. I don't think her comments send the right message."
Beyak told reporters she had no comment about the decision. "It never quits, does it?" she said.
Later Thursday, Beyak issued a statement and said she speaks for the "silent majority" in Canada and Ambrose's decision to remove her from the committee is a "serious threat" to free speech.
"Political correctness is stifling opinion and thoughtful conversation that we must be allowed to have if we are to truly improve our great country," she said.
"For me to lose my position on the Aboriginal peoples committee for complimenting the work of nurses, teachers, foster families and legions of other decent, caring Canadians — along with highlighting inspiring stories spoken by Aboriginal people themselves — is a serious threat to freedom of speech."
When asked about his comments, Ogilvie denied calling reporters parasites. The remark was captured on CBC News cameras.
"I don't recall that. Did you hear that?" he said in response moments later. "What kind of silliness is this? Why don't you folks go away and find somebody else to bother?"
When asked if he supported the removal of Beyak from the Aboriginal peoples committee, Ogilvie said, "I have no comment to you whatsoever after the comment you just made," he said, referring to a question about his "parasite" remark.
Bernier 'happy' to have Beyak's endorsement
Beyak has endorsed Maxime Bernier for leader of the Conservative Party. Bernier said Thursday that Beyak's comments were "not in line with our party's stand on this."
"This being said, I think political correctness has gone a bit overboard. As parliamentarians, we are allowed to have different views and to debate them. And I'm happy to have the senator's endorsement," he said in an emailed statement.
Beyak ignited a firestorm of criticism after she defended the residential school system as "well-intentioned," telling her colleagues she was disappointed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission didn't "focus on the good" done in these institutions.
Beyak has stood by her rosy depiction of the schools for weeks, rejecting calls to apologize or step down from the committee tasked with studying Indigenous issues. She has told CBC News that she doesn't need any more education about the institutions, that she "suffered" alongside the survivors, and dismissed coverage of her comments as "fake news."
During her last appearance as a member of the Aboriginal Peoples committee, Beyak peppered residential school survivors with questions about her plan to audit all First Nations spending in the country.
"That's my mission here in the Senate, the wise use of tax dollars," Beyak said. "It seems like our priority is skewed so I have asked for a national audit of all dollars coming in and out of all reserves."
In her statement Thursday, Beyak said she has received a lot of support for her remarks and vowed to continue speaking for these Canadians on Parliament Hill.
"Too often, on a broad range of issues, a vocal minority cries foul and offence whenever a point of view is raised that does not align with their own," she said. "Meanwhile the silent majority, who are contributing to this country by working, building and selling things, taking care of their parents and children, are left thinking they are alone."