OTTAWA — Independent Sen. Lynn Beyak announced her immediate retirement Monday, eight years to the day she was first appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
The Ontario senator said in a statement the timing reflects a promise she made, which she said was contingent on her appointment, to respect Harper’s ideation of eight-year term limits for all senators.
“The opportunity to serve Canadians, and Her Majesty the Queen, in this country that has given me so much, is an honour and accomplishment for which I will always be grateful.”
Beyak’s tenure in the upper chamber had been mired in controversy in recent years after she advocated for the “well-intentioned” religious teachers of Canada’s residential school system during a March 2017 speech.
She also said “good things” that happened in residential schools had been “overshadowed” by horrible mistakes in the school system. The topic of the Senate debate at the time was about the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in the correctional system.
Watch: Lynn Beyak apologizes for posting “unacceptable” letters. Story continues below video.
Sitting as a then-Conservative senator, Beyak’s office started posting more than 100 “letters of support” on her publicly funded Senate website. Some letters included derogatory remarks about Indigenous people.
Beyak was kicked out of the Conservative Party caucus after she refused a request from then-Tory leader Andrew Scheer to remove one racist letter that claimed Indigenous people want to receive things for “no effort.”
Last residential school closed in 1996
A landmark 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described Canada’s residential school system as “cultural genocide.”
The church-run schools were government-funded to assimilate Indigenous people through the forceful separation of children from their families and severance from traditional knowledge and practices. Indigenous children also suffered physical and sexual abuse. It is estimated that 6,000 students died under the school system
Government-funded residential schools were in operation for more than 120 years in Canada. The last institution, the Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, Sask., closed in 1996.
The intergenerational trauma and impacts of the residential school system continue to be felt to this day.
Beyak hit back at critics in her resignation letter Monday.
“Immediately, those with an agenda for power and control, and an aversion to honest debate, attacked my views with the help of some in a complicit media,” Beyak said.
She called it a “privilege” to face attacks over her residential school comments “on behalf of Canadians who value freedom of expression.”
“The fact that a senator dared to speak the opinions of millions of Canadians frightened those same few people, and their fear has been evident every day since, as they have constantly attacked me in Ottawa with unconstitutional motions and costly inquiries, all in an effort to stifle freedom of expression.”
She said she will “treasure the many thousands of letters I have received from all across the country” for the rest of her life.
Beyak was first suspended without pay in May 2019 in the last stretch of the previous session of Parliament. She was asked to attend Indigenous cultural training sessions, which she did not successfully complete.
A report written by Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres training coordinator Nicole Meawasige stated: “When we attempted to explain the complex intersections between colonisation, dispossession, intergenerational trauma, poverty, and racism, Senator Beyak responded, ‘History has nothing to do with racism. It’s about what your people are doing to your own people.’”
During a pre-evaluation to assess Beyak’s knowledge of Indigenous culture and issues, a facilitator noted that the Ontario senator identified herself as Métis because her parents adopted an Indigenous child, her adopted sister. Beyak denied she ever claimed to be Métis.
The following year, after the election, she offered an apology before her colleagues moved to suspend her for a second time.
Beyak told senators that upon “deep and careful reflection” she understood “the posting of offensive and hurtful letters to a Senate public website was wrong and ill-considered” and apologized “for any hurt” her actions caused.