Facing a call for her colleagues to expel her from the Senate, Sen. Lynn Beyak has announced she is retiring, effective Monday. Her departure comes three years before her mandatory retirement.
In a statement, Beyak said her decision to leave the Senate is aligned with former prime minister Stephen Harper’s intent to have senators hold their positions in the upper chamber for eight years.
“A promise made, a promise kept. I intend to honour my commitment and therefore announce today that effective January 25, 2021 – the end of my 8th year – I will be retiring from the Senate of Canada,” Beyak said in a statement.
Beyak had come under considerable scrutiny in recent years over her comments about Indigenous people and posts on her Senate website about residential schools. She was removed from the Conservative caucus by former leader Andrew Scheer, and had been sitting as a non-affiliated senator.
Beyak was suspended without pay from the Senate for a period of time after refusing to remove racist letters about Indigenous people from her website. She took anti-racism training and apologized for posting what she said were “offensive and hurtful letters,” but was facing a new push to have her expelled.
In December, Sen. Mary Jane McCallum advanced a motion seeking a Senate first: having Beyak permanently removed.
“A modern Senate is no place for racism to exist,” said McCallum at the time, herself a residential school survivor. “Beyak’s actions have sown division in our society. By allowing her to remain in a position with the inherent title of ‘Honourable’ while such misdeeds have been appropriated is irresponsible and sets a poor example that is contrary to how Parliamentarians expect themselves and each other to act.”
In Monday’s statement about her retirement, Beyak addressed the criticism, saying she thinks people should acknowledge “the good, as well as the bad” aspects of the residential school system. Beyak said she stands by her comments, but that they were “never meant to offend anyone.”
There has been well-documented abuse and suffering Indigenous children experienced inside these institutions.
In 2008, Harper issued a formal apology for Canadian residential schools, saying the “policy of assimilation was wrong,” and has had a “lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.” In 2017 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau followed up with a specific apology to survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I continue to believe that Indigenous issues are so important to all of us that a frank and honest conversation about them is vital,” Beyak said.
Noting the legislative highlights of her career, including work on Harper-era firearms legislation, Beyak said she will continue her work “to serve all Canadians – and especially those people whose voices often don’t get heard,” outside of the Chamber.
With files from The Canadian Press