APTN National News
Some First Nation leaders in northwestern Ontario are condemning Thunder Bay city council’s refusal to call for the resignation Monday of embattled Sen. Lynn Beyak.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins said the decision was unacceptable.
“It is unconscionable that city council failed to support this call for the resignation of Sen. Lynn Beyak after her insulting and racist comments,” said Fiddler.
The decision comes after the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA), a group representing 37 municipalities, put forth a resolution to request Beyak resign as senator following remarks she made earlier this month about First Nations.
Beyak suggested First Nations people should trade in their status cards for Canadian citizenship in an open letter on her website.
During Monday’s city council meeting, Coun. Shelby Ch’ng put forth the resolution to support NOMA’s call for resignation. The resolution didn’t pass with six councillors voting against it, including Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs who told APTN Monday before the meeting that he would vote in favour of the resolution.
“There’s a difference between freedom of speech and ignorance,” said Hobbs, adding Beyak’s comments were “over the top” and “out of line.”
APTN spoke with Hobbs Tuesday morning about his decision to change his vote. Hobbs said he wasn’t aware Beyak was removed from all Senate committees following her comments when he spoke with APTN Monday.
“She’s been censored. She’s been disciplined. I’m a firm believer in progressive discipline,” he said. “I really don’t think its city council’s position to be disciplining people in upper levels of government.”
Hobbs went on to say that Beyak’s comments were well within freedom of speech and it is up to the federal government to punish her.
“I don’t think that we should be wading into disciplinary processes of the Senate, the federal or the provincial governments. There are agencies to take care of that,” said Hobbs.
Fiddler released a statement Tuesday morning saying the decision backtracks on the city’s recent commitment to fight racism.
“Just last month we signed a Statement of Commitment with the City to fight racism and make Thunder Bay a safer, more welcoming place for First Nation people,” he said. “Council’s failure to act is extremely disappointing and goes against the spirit of that commitment.”
Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins echoed NAN’s position.
“The lack of knowledge and understanding demonstrated by some members of city council on these issues is a barrier to the reconciliation we are working so hard to achieve,” said Collins
The city of Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay police have come under renewed scrutiny over the treatment of Indigenous youth in the last few months. There have been at least three deaths near Thunder Bay waterways in 2017 with the latest body found over the weekend.
NOMA’s president said she was surprised by city council’s decision to vote against the resolution.
“Just because we have that ability here in Canada doesn’t mean we can take our positions and say things that are fundamentally wrong,” said Wendy Landry.