As controversy continues to swirl around an Ontario senator’s contentious positions on issues affecting Canada’s Indigenous people, two prominent Canadian mayors are calling for her to step down.
On Thursday, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called for Sen. Lynn Beyak to resign from her position after she penned a letter calling for Indigenous people to give up their status cards in exchange for Canadian citizenship. The letter, posted to her website on Sept. 1, also reiterated her previous assertion that Canada’s residential school system was not all bad – a position she first expressed in a speech in the Senate in March.
“To have a member of the Canadian Senate be so incredibly ignorant about who Canadian citizens are is deeply offensive,” Bowman, who is Metis, said on Thursday.
“At a minimum, she should be apologizing to Canadians – all Canadians.”
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who also chairs the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus, joined Bowman in suggesting Beyak should resign.
“The City of Edmonton wouldn’t have a position on an Ontario senator’s tenure in the Senate, but personally, as a Canadian, I think her time in the Senate should be over, ” Iveson told reporters on Thursday.
“I appreciate Mayor Bowman’s calling it out and suggesting that we need to talk about how awkward it is that people who are in Ottawa, who are in our parliamentary system, (who) have not got the reconciliation memo yet, are still even disputing the truth of some of what happened and how problematic it was to have people ripped away from their families, taken to residential schools, denied their culture, denied their spiritual tradition, denied their language and were in many cases… subjected to physical and mental and sexual abuse.
“To say that that isn’t a legacy that our country needs to deal with, to undermine that in any way is pretty awkward.”
In Beyak’s Sept. 1 letter, she writes that she believes the Indian Act is not needed.
“None of us are leaving, so let’s stop the guilt and blame and find a way to live together and share,” she wrote. “Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa. All Canadians are then free to preserve their cultures in their own communities, on their own time, with their own dime.”
“You know, I am baffled that in this day and age, people still hold these views about Indigenous Canadians,” Iveson said. “I think the complex history of colonization (and) the complexity of the Indian Act needs work, obviously, and that’s why I think the federal government has doubled down with two ministers to find real solutions in Indigenous communities and for Indigenous Canadians.
Iveson also took issue with Beyak’s position on residential schools in the letter, in which she wrote: “A small number of aboriginals found the schools bad and a slightly smaller number found them good. Only 1 in 3 Indigenous children ever attended them. Very few were torn from their parents’ arms, but rather were enrolled by loving parents who were away trapping and trading for months on end, and who wanted to prepare their children for the future.”
“To continue to suggest that what happened in Indian residential schools was anything other than an absolute black eye for Canada, is to deny a history and a truth that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has brought to light for all of us to understand with thousands and thousands of pages of documentation and thousands of bits of testimony, some of which I personally heard as an honourary witness for the commission,” Iveson said. “I am deeply offended with the senator’s comments.”
In a statement sent to reporters on Thursday, Beyak said media coverage didn’t clearly point out she wants residential school survivors to be compensated immediately.
After Beyak’s controversial speech on residential schools earlier this year, she was taken off the Senate’s Indigenous affairs committee.
Listen below: Tory senator defends residential school system, says good work ‘unacknowledged.’ (first uploaded to Global News’ site on March 9, 2017)
Listen below: Sen. Murray Sinclair responds to Beyak’s comments in the Senate about residential schools. (first uploaded to Global News’ site in March 2017)
Bowman has made a point of trying to deal with race relations issues in Winnipeg since Maclean’s magazine called Manitboa’s capital the most racist city in Canada in 2015.
According to the 2011 Census, Winnipeg has the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada at 78, 420 while Edmonton is second at 61, 765.
“I think we’re going to have to keep having these conversations until the truth is more widely accepted of what did happen and people stop saying silly things,” Iveson said.
Watch below: NDP indigenous affairs critic and residential school survivor Romeo Saganash says free speech does not apply to “people that celebrate genocide” and calls for Sen. Lynn Beyak to resign. (first uploaded to Global News’ site in April 2017)
-With files from Global’s Leslie Young, Jesse Ferreras, Tania Kohut and Monique Scotti and The Canadian Press’ Chris Purdy