Lynn Beyak removed from Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee

Mayor wants Senator Lynn Beyak to resign over 'incredibly ignorant' comments

Senator Lynn Beyak has been removed from the Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.

Ambrose said she made the decision 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."

Ambrose said the decision was made Wednesday.

Rejected calls to apologize

The northwestern Ontario senator, appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper, 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 committee, Beyak peppered residential school survivors with questions about her plan to audit all First Nations spending in the country.

The senator told the survivors, John Morrisseau and Doris Young, two elderly Indigenous people who faced abuse in school, that her speech was really about protecting taxpayers.

"The speech that caused so much hurt and distress was actually a speech about taxes," Beyak said.

In fact, little of her initial speech was devoted to the subject of taxes, but rather a recounting of the "good deeds" committed by religious teachers who "didn't mean to hurt anybody."

(According to the official Hansard transcript of her speech in the Senate, Beyak said the word "tax" or "taxpayer" only twice in a nearly 20-minute speech. The full text of her remarks is available here.)

There had been mounting calls for Beyak to resign, including from Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.

"It's up to the leadership of the Conservative party to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation by removing Senator Beyak from the Senate's Aboriginal People's committee and their caucus," Bennett said in a statement to CBC News last week.

The chair of the committee, Liberal Saskatchewan Senator Lillian Dyck, had encouraged Beyak to consider resigning given the hurt caused by her comments.

Tory Senators have defended Beyak

Some Conservative senators came to Beyak's defence over the last number of weeks.

​"Senator Beyak has exercised her right to free speech. We don't want a bunch of yes people on committees who are only going to agree with what everyone else is saying," Senator Don Plett, the Conservative whip, told reporters late last month.

Alberta Conservative Senator Scott Tannas, another member of the Aboriginal peoples committee, also said he didn't think Beyak should be removed from her post.

"From my point of view, it's a matter that's finished and we'll move forward. She's entitled to her opinions, she's a senator, she represents folks in her region," he said last month. "I think better work gets done when people from a multitude of views are around."

But Ambrose said Wednesday it was untenable to keep Beyak on that committee given her views are so out of line with the party's history on this file. It was Harper who formally apologized for the federal government's role in this "dark chapter" in Canada's history, she said.

"I remember being in the chamber when we made the apology, and it was so important because then the Truth and Reconciliation Commission could be struck, and the good work could begin."