US & Canada

Canadian Senator Lynn Beyak suspended over letters

Lynn Beyak Image copyright Senate of Canada

A Canadian senator has been suspended after posting on her website letters from supporters disparaging indigenous people.

The correspondence was scrubbed early on Friday from the site after months of controversy over its posting.

Lynn Beyak was suspended on Thursday following an ethics report that found she failed to uphold "highest standards of dignity inherent to the position".

Ms Beyak says she is the victim of an attack on freedom of expression.

"This type of penalty is totalitarian and, as such, alien to the tradition of free nations like Canada," she told senators on Thursday.

She has also denied that any of the content of the letters could be construed as racism.

Ms Beyak has been suspended for the duration of the current Parliament - effectively until after the next general election this autumn - during which time she will not be paid and will lose access to Senate resources.

Ms Beyak will also be required to attend educational programmes on racism against indigenous peoples in Canada and must apologise to the Senate.

The controversy dates back to March 2017, when she gave a speech defending Canada's residential school system - church-run and government-funded boarding schools where indigenous children were often physically and sexually abused.

She said reports on the abuse only focused on the bad and ignored "the good" aspects of the "well-intentioned" institutions.

In response to subsequent criticism, she published "letters of support" on her official Senate website from Canadians who agreed with her statements.

Some of those letters were criticised as containing negative stereotypes about indigenous people but she repeatedly refused to have them taken down.

In January 2018, Ms Beyak was removed from the Conservative Party's caucus over the remarks and the letters.

This April, the Senate ethics officer identified five letters posted on the site as containing racist content and recommended she be suspended unless they were immediately removed. They were not.

Senators adopted a motion on Thursday to implement the report's recommendations.

In Canada, senators are appointed and keep their jobs until they turn 75.

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