Sen. Mary Jane McCallum has introduced a motion that could see Lynn Beyak become the first-ever senator to be expelled from the Senate, citing Beyak’s “individual racism” as grounds for giving her the boot.
“The Senate is now seized with confronting a blatant example of institutional racism within our own House. The individual racism demonstrated by Senator Beyak in both her words and her actions has been elevated to an institutional level by the Senate operating in a way that enabled her escalating misconduct,” McCallum’s press release read.
“By allowing her to remain in a position with the inherent title of ‘Honourable’ while such misdeeds have been appropriated is irresponsible and sets a poor example that is contrary to how Parliamentarians expect themselves and each other to act.”
Beyak was initially suspended in May of 2019 when she refused to remove letters from her website that have been widely condemned as racist.
The letters had been sent to Beyak in support of her position on residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined that the schools were hubs of horrific abuse, perpetrating cultural genocide against First Nations, Metis and Inuit children.
Beyak, however, had said that the schools had upsides that were overshadowed.
While the majority of the letters defended her stance, some took things a step further, stating Indigenous people and their culture were inferior. Initially, when asked to take down the letters, Beyak refused.
She has since apologized “unreservedly” for her actions and says she has taken anti-Indigenous racism education programs.
During the 2019 controversy, Beyak was booted from Conservative caucus and subsequently suspended without pay. However, when Parliament dissolved for the federal election last fall, so, too, did her suspension.
The Senate ultimately voted to suspend her without pay for a second time in February of this year, but that suspension was also quashed when the Liberals decided to prorogue Parliament in August.
“Prorogation…resulted in the quiet reinstatement of Senator Beyak as a full-fledged senator in good standing,” read a press release from McCallum’s office.
McCallum said she hopes her motion, which calls for Beyak’s full expulsion from the Senate, will “give senators the opportunity to exercise their right to discipline one of our own for their misconduct, bringing with it a resolution to an on-going drama that has been a black eye on our esteemed Chamber.”
Global News has reached out to Beyak’s office for comment.
Beyak’s expulsion would be a historic first
While the Senators do technically have the power to expel their peers, it’s a tricky process — and it’s one that has never been used before.
The question most recently came up in 2017, when former senator Don Meredith was found to have breached the ethics code by engaging in a relationship with a young woman that started when she was 16 years old.
While senators ultimately determined that they could likely interpret Section 18 of the Constitution Act as giving them the power to expel Meredith, the disgraced senator opted to resign from the Senate before his peers had a chance to test their theory by attempting to give him the boot.
The criteria for expulsion under section 18 is very specific, laying out only five instances in which a senator can be fired: if they miss more than two consecutive sessions, if they have an allegiance or adherence to a foreign power, if they declare bankruptcy, commit treason or a felony, or if they do not meet the property qualifications.
However, during the Meredith case, the Senate’s law clerk pointed out that section 18 confers upon Canadian senators the same powers enjoyed by their U.K. counterparts. That, in theory, includes the power to expel their colleagues with a majority vote on a motion — such as the one McCallum has introduced.
Meanwhile, the very specific criteria under section 18 has resulted in the Senate being unable to expel members, even in instances of outlandish behavior.
During the 90s, then-senator Andrew Thompson said he was too sick to be at work, but he would show up at least once during each session to avoid getting the boot. He was dubbed the “siesta senator” when it was discovered that he was spending large chunks of time in Mexico, instead of in the chilly Ottawa Senate chamber.
Despite providing doctor’s notes for his illness, he was suspended without pay in 1998, a punishment that remained in place until his retirement two years later — but he was never expelled.