I have to admit that for me personally, this past week in Canadian politics has been hard to stomach. To have seen what happened to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh last week, and the sadly predictable fall out from it, has been hard for me to take. As someone who has long believed in the potential of our Parliamentary Democracy to fix the wrongs of our past, those beliefs have seriously been put to the test.
If I said that I’m not questioning a lot of them I’d be lying to you because what we’ve seen in this episode has been the worst of our Parliament and how it is proving to be as much of a problem in seriously addressing these problems than anything else. In this moment when people are seized with this matter of tackling racism, in thought and structures, there are many ways that our institutions could show that they get the message. But then I saw a story come out late last night that brought another old matter to the surface, at the worst possible time, with an even worse prescription:
If someone was looking to find the answer to the question “What would be the worst thing you could do right now to send a bad message to Indigenous Peoples in this country?”, letting Senator Lynn Beyak back into the Senate would be right near the top of that list. Yet that is exactly what the Senate’s ethics committee is recommending, that her suspension be lifted because “she has taken anti-racism training and apologized for posting derogatory letters about Indigenous Peoples on her website.” In short, the committee says that she met the conditions the Senate set out for returning to the Red Chamber and that’s that.
But that’s not that, not even close. The idea that Beyak should be allowed back into the Senate at all after everything she did, everything she put everyone through, years of attacking Indigenous peoples, denying the basics of our rights, of the Residential Schools, of racism and all of that, that’s not okay at all. She apologized, after more than a year of refusing to do so and in an insulting way to Indigenous peoples, which cannot be forgotten and honestly will make many question it’s sincerity. After years upon years of racist behaviour, you don’t get to wipe the slate clean with one apology, especially one that’s prompted by the suspension of your six-figure salary.
And really that’s the key thing here that makes this potential development all the worse. If the full Senate actually approves her re-instatement, which I would sincerely hope they would not, this will send all the wrong signals about what that suspension was all about. The fact is that it’s not up to the Senate of Canada to decide if Beyak has properly “apologized” for her constant transgressions against Indigenous peoples. It’s not for the Parliament of Canada to decide that either. It’s for we Indigenous Peoples to decide if we are satisfied because in the end Beyak didn’t commit those acts against the Senate as an institution. She did that to us. We are the ones who she attacked, demeaned, discounted, and diminished with her words and the Senate of Canada is not in a position to speak for us in any way, shape, or form.
The only way that Beyak can prove that she has truly changed, if that’s true, is through her actions and that will take years to prove. You simply can’t undo a lifetime of acts with one apology forced under financial duress. And in my mind, that can’t happen from the lofty, honoured perch of a seat in the Senate. She went too far, persisted for too long and insisted on inflicting too much damage on the Indigenous peoples of this land to merit the chance to atone for her actions while remaining in the Senate. If Beyak is truly sincere in her apologies and if she’s truly seen the light, she needs to prove that from outside the Red Chamber. She needs to go back to her home community and start to prove her growth there, without the support of a large Senate salary that most Canadians will never see.
In the end, this has gone too far and it’s not up to the Senate to determine if her apology is enough. If the Senate re-instates her, it will send the message that all anyone needs to do, after all that denial and damage, is give a meek apology and all will be forgiven. It will also send the message that while the first party leader of colour can be ejected from the House of Commons for pointing out ignorant acts when he sees it, the Senate will embrace someone who has continually committed those ignorant acts for decades, all because she said “I’m sorry”.
In this moment, that would be the worst message of all they could send and would just drive home to Indigenous peoples that Canada’s democratic institutions are not a part of the solution. If the same body that used procedural tricks and underhanded crap to drown Romeo Saganash’s UNDRIP bill also gives Beyak their approval to come back, it will be more than a slap in the face to Indigenous peoples. It will prove that when push comes to shove, the Senate of Canada is truly not the least bit concerned about our plight. I pray that they will prove me wrong & do the right thing, but if past actions are any guide, I’m not that hopeful. It will just be another kick in the teeth to add to the long list of others delivered from Canada’s democratic institutions to Indigenous peoples.