Sen. Lynn Beyak called herself Métis, claimed racism doesn’t exist in her northern Ontario hometown, and displayed “overtly biased views, prejudiced opinions, and insolent behaviors” during unsuccessful Indigenous cultural competency training last year, according to an educator who administered the training.
Beyak undertook training from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) in Toronto on separate occasions in June and August.
Nicole Meawasige said Beyak not only failed to complete the program but was also asked to leave due to the nature of her behaviour and comments.
“In our assessment, Senator Beyak is not interested in confronting her ill-informed understandings of the contemporary realities of Indigenous people in Canada,” Meawasige, an OFIFC training coordinator, alleged in an email appended to a Senate ethics committee report released Friday.
“The Senator is also not open to learning about Canadian history, Canadian current policies impacting Indigenous people, nor is she willing to contemplate our shared future, inspired by the spirit of Reconciliation.”
Meawasige’s October email was addressed to Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault. The ethics committee recommended last spring, among other things, that Beyak participate in an educational program on racism towards Indigenous peoples.
OFIFC’s cultural competency training was approved by Legault.
Legault’s office said he was not available for an interview with APTN News.
Meawasige wrote that Beyak’s “inflexibility and conduct made the learning environment unsafe” for which she was asked to leave the premises.
The email also alleged that Beyak identified herself as Métis and repeatedly referred to her Indigeneity because of her “family’s adoption of an Indigenous child (her adopted sister).”
Beyak appeared to deny the impacts of intergenerational trauma, racism, and colonization, according to the report.
“History has nothing to do with racism. It’s about what your people are doing to your own people,” Meawasige’s account of the session quoted Beyak as saying.
The senator said racism “doesn’t exist” in her hometown of Dryden, Ont. and showed a “lack of understanding about basic Canadian history.”
Someone then told Beyak a story about a family member who experienced racism when he was turned away from a hotel after booking a room and providing a reference.
The senator responded by asking if he looked “grubby or threatening” and said she has turned people away from her own business for having piercings or dirty hair.
OFIFC declined an interview request from APTN that sought a way to corroborate Meawasige’s account.
Friday’s report recommended Beyak, a Harper appointee, be suspended without pay again after she was suspended from Senate duties last year and kicked out of the Conservative caucus for not removing racist letters from her website.
She published the letters to support her opinion that some residential school survivors had positive experiences. The first suspension ended automatically when Parliament was dissolved for the federal election.
Sen. Murray Sinclair is on the ethics committee. He also chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on residential schools.
The TRC concluded these institutions created intergenerational trauma that impacts many ongoing social problems and were a key part of “cultural genocide.”
Sinclair told APTN that the ethics committee interviewed Beyak about Meawasige’s allegations, which the senator denied.
“She denies that she claims Métis status. She denied that she was the one responsible for the breakdown of communication with the trainers. She said it was the trainers who actually said they were not going to provide any further training to her, and she insisted that she was willing to do whatever was asked of her.”
Nevertheless, he said there were “a number of concerns about her post-recommendation conduct” that prompted the committee to recommend another suspension.
Murray Sinclair is the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest. He joins APTN National News from Ottawa with the latest.
The Senate “took a real hit,” he added, when Beyak first posted the letters because it seemed like the upper chamber condoned their content.
“I think the reputation of the Senate – which was on its way to, hopefully, becoming better in the eyes of the public – suffered a serious setback. I think it’s now going to have to work some in order to be able to regain its public respect as an institution.”
After this article’s initial publication, the Manitoba Métis Federation issued a press release calling Beyak’s alleged identification as Métis “weird and strange.”
“I want to say in the strongest terms possible that even if she were Métis, the Métis Nation would disavow all of the discriminatory statements and actions that have come from this Senator,” President David Chartrand said in the statement.
APTN has reached out to Beyak both at her Senate office and through her lawyer, Donald Bayne.
Neither responded by the time of publication.
But in an email to Legault, Bayne disputed Meawasige’s account of the training, calling it “a dilatory personal attack.”
“The letter of October 16th suggests that Senator Beyak was ‘insolent’ and ‘was asked to leave’ as her conduct ‘made the learning environment unsafe.’ These statements are untrue. Anyone who knows Senator Beyak and her polite manner would immediately be suspicious of such an accusation,” wrote Bayne in an email that was included with the committee’s report.
He also said Beyak satisfied all the ethics committee’s recommendations and so should be reinstated.
The committee recommended Beyak apologize. She did in the following statement.
“TO ALL SENATORS
The Senate Ethics Officer, in his report of March 19, 2019, found me in breach of section [sic] 7.1 and 7.2 of the Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators and for that I sincerely apologize to all Senators.
Hon. Lynn Beyak,
Senate of Canada”
The committee rejected this one-sentence apology, saying it “fails to show awareness of the wrong.”
The senators wrote they would have expected a “fulsome apology” and asked for another one that addresses Indigenous peoples and the letters.
Bayne and Beyak also criticized OFIFC for deviating from the curricula that Legault approved.
Beyak said OFICC was “deliberately misleading” when it presented her not with the approved material but what Bayne termed “an unstructured ‘conversation’ about ‘white privilege.’”
OFIFC’s account in the report differed.
Its Indigenous Cultural Competency Training (ICCT) program has four cycles. Beyak did not pass the first cycle, though she did attend.
She failed in “cultivating a new awareness or understanding of the impact of her actions, and inaction,” wrote training director Terrellyn Fearn of Beyak’s first cycle.
“The Senator was not invested in conversations, indifferent to the content of the training, and observably disengaged from discussions on how to work toward reconciliation and building healthy urban Indigenous communities,” Meawasige reiterated.
So they adapted cycles two and three from large to small group format to give Beyak “more dedicated learning supports.”
“The aim was to create a space for Senator Beyak to be meaningfully engaged and invested in the training,” said Meawasige.
Legault’s letter to the ethics committee stated that Beyak had been informed of the changes and consented to them in advance, and that OFIFC altered the training schedule to accommodate the timeline of Beyak’s suspension.
Faced with conflicting accounts, Legault wrote he was “not present to witness what actually occurred.”
Nevertheless, the committee sided with OFIFC against Bayne. The senators recommended Beyak be suspended again, offer another apology, and take more cultural competency training.
The committee didn’t say whether they are investigating Meawasige’s account of Beyak’s conduct during the training.
The report only referred to the appendix as “various written submissions and correspondence” as evidence for renewing the suspension.
Beyak’s peers in the upper chamber must decide whether they’ll implement the recommendation.