The former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress says a Canadian senator must be condemned for her controversial comments about Indian residential schools.
“What the senator has engaged in is a form of a genocide denial,” said Bernie Farber, the former CEO of the CJC.
“To deny the pain and the tragedy of what Indigenous people went through at residential schools is outrageous.”
Farber made the comments to Rick Harp, host of APTN National News, Tuesday evening.
He was referring to the controversy surrounding Lynn Beyak, a senator appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper that was turfed from caucus by new Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer.
Scheer said he booted Beyak last week for refusing to remove racist content from her Senate website. He said the content was in letters of support she posted online backing her positive stance on the notorious schools.
Beyak, of Dryden, Ont., said in a speech last March some good came out of the schools and some of the religious teachers were “well-intentioned.”
She said the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which collected testimony from former students, concentrated on the negatives and “didn’t focus on the good.”
Farber said as an advocate and a Jew he’s seen this kind of denial before.
“I understand very much the pain afterwards where people came along and said, ‘Oh, by the way, that Holocaust of yours? It never happened. Or, if it did, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be,’” he said.
“This is just absurd but it gets even more absurd when it’s coming from the mouths of a senator of this country.”
Farber said he thinks the Holocaust and Canada’s former network of residential schools “were both genocides of their own right” that inflicted generations of pain.
“While the numbers were different and the methods were different, they were both genocides of their own kind. Certainly that’s where the similarities are felt,” he said.
Beyak has so far declined to comment to APTN News. But her son Nick Beyak did Tuesday.
“It’s an overreaction…to say she’s racist,” he said via phone. “I challenge anyone to find one comment from Sen. Beyak herself that is racist.”
The Beyaks are facing a potential boycott of the car dealerships they own in Dryden and Fort Frances. Indigenous leaders are also calling on people across Canada to sign an online petition pressuring her to step down from the Senate.
Nick Beyak said the way the party leadership treated his mother is “disgraceful.” He said she posted those letters on her website to spark a conversation about living conditions.
“Her entire motivation is to improve the lives of Indigenous people,” he said.
But the grand chief of Grand Council Treaty 3 said he sees through the senator’s words.
“She was appointed there to give our communities and region a voice in the Senate,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, whose territory includes most of northwestern Ontario.
“Instead she insults us and perpetuates stereotypes.”
Kavanaugh, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said he’s sent several letters to Beyak over the past few months about her “lack of judgement.”
But she hasn’t responded.
That’s why he says Treaty 3 joined with area tribal government Nishnawbe Aski Nation to spearhead the petition against Beyak earlier this week.
“The failure to have parliament or the government remove her shows systemic racism,” he said.