Bye, Bye, Beyak (Beyak Goodbye)

Conservative Lynn Beyak removed from caucus over racist comments

By Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer

In a moment that many Canadians have been anticipating, Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak has been removed from the Conservative Caucus after she refused to take down racist letters that detail her support for Residential Schools. While Beyak has been removed from the caucus, she still remains an independent member of the Senate.

It was March of 2017 that Beyak first made headlining news. Her initial statements went public following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings of systemic racism against Indigenous people. She made the argument that these findings disregarded the “well-intentioned” notions of instructors at Residential Schools. As time went on, Beyak added that it was a shame the negative aspects were “considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good.”

PC – Michael De Adder – The Hill Times

For anyone who has been educated about the disgraces committed by the Canadian Residential School system, an “abundance of good” could not be further from the reality. The reoccurring acts of abuse committed by Residential Schools invoked severe intergenerational traumas that resonate to this day. Most Canadians understand that trivializing the suffering faced by Indigenous people at the hands of our government is horribly insensitive – however, not all Canadians do.

One of those people is Beyak’s son, Nick, who acts as a city councillor in Dryden, Ontario. In a phone interview with CBC in early January, he said “whether anyone wants to admit it or not, most Canadians agree with the comments Sen. Beyak has said.”

Unsurprisingly, support for Beyak’s comments have risen up with cries of “political correctness.” It’s not uncommon for Conservative representatives to use “PC culture” as a reductionist label for complex human rights issues, such as Canada’s shameful acts of genocide against Indigenous people. It must be known that belittling truthful accounts shared by Residential School survivors as nothing more than another example of a ‘PC’ society does not work. Acknowledging our failings, as a country, is not “politically correct”, it is the morally and ethically responsible decision we must choose to end this cycle of violence toward Indigenous people.

PC – Parliament of Canada

For Canadians with awareness around our settler-colonial history, it’s a no-brainer that systemic racism has inflicted on-going pain and produced stigmas that hinder Indigenous people every day. Stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women are repeatedly discarded or ignored, and Indigenous people experience violent acts of racism daily without any public outrage or discussion. This is what happens when a population is dehumanized: their pain is not considered important or a priority in our growth as a society. Even more so, they become blamed for their own dehumanization. If we aren’t careful, “well-intentioned” acts of violence will continue to tear apart our most vulnerable citizens.

In an opinion piece for CBC, journalist Tim Querengesser explains that while views like Beyak’s are often accounted as “typical”, it does not make them acceptable. He poses Beyak’s white privilege as a large element of her ignorance and that of those who support her views. His point is simple to grasp: living as white settlers in a settler-colonial country, where our safety and health has been guarded and prioritized by our government, has positioned us in advantageous circumstances. These circumstances have allowed the vast majority of white settler Canadians to live in positions of comfort, where we are insulated from the realities of racially induced violence and stress. As a result, we are rendered virtually clueless about the day-to-day impact of systematic discrimination like that of which was experienced in Residential Schools. Without the awareness of our privilege or the gaps in our experiences, we assume the position of expert and peddle the idea that our reality is the definitive reality that represents our country’s values.

The first step to reconciling our ignorance about Indigenous genocide is admitting that, as white settlers, we don’t know the depth of suffering they have experienced. It is an opportunity to let survivors speak, to dictate their lived experiences, and to reflect on why we feel so adamant on refusing these experiences. Is it just for our own comfort and peace of mind? Indeed, it appears to be. For after all the documented atrocities of Residential Schools, the topic has been shape-shifted by Beyak supporters into a frenzy of misguided but inherently ‘good intentions.’ Former publisher Conrad Black, in a piece for the National Post, argued that because the discrimination incurred was largely “not purposeful,” any obligation to account for their mistakes is absolved.

Perhaps Black and Beyak have not heard the proverb “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” In social justice circles, the concept of intent versus impact comes up as a key theme. It demonstrates that even while allies may aim to support vulnerable groups, they fail to see that simply harbouring ‘good intentions’ does not translate into good impact. When we begin to self-servingly dismiss Residential Schools as failed but honourable attempts to help Indigenous people, we lose sight of the true impact.

It’s time for Canada to divest in our stock of good intentions, and instead take inventory of our true impact.