The news of the retirement of Lynn Beyak, a controversial senator from northwestern Ontario was welcomed on Monday by Michael McLeod, MP for the NWT.
Beyak, who has a history of making controversial comments on residential schools announced her retirement on Monday, as CBC reported.
“I feel that it’s a good thing that she’s out of Canada’s Senate,” McLeod said.
“It was troublesome to know that we had a senator that sat in the Senate that was viewed by many including myself as out of touch and somewhat disconnected from other senators.”
Named to the Senate by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013, Beyak’s announcement follows a motion by Sen. Mary Jane McCallum on Dec. 8, 2020 to have Beyak permanently removed from her position in the next sitting.
In her motion, McCallum said that Beyak’s actions “brought the Senate into disrepute” and called for her to be expelled and her seat declared vacant.
Beyak’s decision to retire comes three years before her mandatory retirement date and follows her complicated tenure in the Senate.
In 2017, she was removed from the Red Chamber’s Aboriginal Affairs Committee after saying that the residential school system was “well-intentioned” and that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed to focus on the good of the schools.
A year later she posted dozens of letters on her website that contained language and sentiments regarded as racist and insensitive towards Indigenous people, a move that spurred former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer to remove her from the Conservative National caucus.
“I could never understand what her rationale was to try to rewrite part of Canada’s history,” said McLeod, who is a member of the Liberal party.
“It’s been proven that the government had two primary objectives. One was to remove and isolate children from their parents and culture. And the second was to assimilate them into a new culture. They wanted to kill the Indian in the child. Somehow (Beyak) felt you could take the position that it wasn’t totally wrong. But most of us think it was totally wrong.”
Canadians have to be careful that practices that occurred in history aren’t repeated and that people shouldn’t “whitewash” history, McLeod explained.
“It’s blatantly obvious the (residential school) policy was wrong. It caused great harm and some of the effects we’re still living with today. The young children, virtually babies were punished severely at the schools. They were forbidden to speak their languages. They suffered various kinds of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. The children came back to their communities and lost all ties to their culture. A lot of people feel the schools laid the foundation for patterns of abuse seen in Indigenous communities.”
McLeod himself is a residential school survivor and attended Akaitcho Hall in the 1970s, though he said that by that time conditions in the school weren’t as severe as in previous years and it was operated by the government and not churches.
He said he’s currently the only sitting MP in the House of Commons who attended residential school. In the previous term of the federal government, McLeod and Romeo Saganash were the only sitting MPs who were residential school survivors.
Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson, the NWT’s sole representative in the Red Chamber and who is originally from Tuktoyaktuk said Monday she has no comment on Beyak’s retirement.
Anderson called for the removal of Beyak from the Senate in 2020 for her “unwillingness” to give voice to underrepresented groups in Canada.
“It’s no longer acceptable to be in denial or ignorant of our Indigenous history or the impacts on Indigenous people,” she said.
Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, meanwhile, was more blunt with her reaction:
“Good riddance,” her statement read.