Beyaks unapologetic: Comments ignite tension over local council role

By Chris Marchand with files from Michael Christianson

Dryden Councillor Nick Beyak says comments made in defence of his mother, Senator Lynn Beyak following her removal from the Conservative National Caucus last week weren’t made in his capacity as a city representative — but if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

Senator Lynn Beyak found herself in the national spotlight last week for the third time since March 2017, after her controversial commentary on Canada’s Indian Residential School System and First Nations governance drew widespread condemnation and a demand for her resignation from the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) . 

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer dropped Senator Beyak from the Conservative National Caucus after he says she refused to remove letters of support from her Senate website that characterized Indigenous Canadians in a racist manner.

Among those comments from supporters, one read: 

“I’m no anthropologist but it seems every opportunistic culture, subsistence hunter/gatherers seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is always a clash between industrial/organized farming culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff.”

“Promoting this comment is offensive and unacceptable for a Conservative Parliamentarian,” said Scheer in a Jan. 4 statement. “To suggest that Indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians, is simply racist. As a result of her actions, the Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith and I have removed Senator Lynn Beyak from the Conservative National Caucus.”

The Senator has since shot back at Scheer, claiming she was never asked to remove the letters, but informed of her censure via Scheer’s statement to the media. She’s vowed to continue on serving as an Independent Senator.

“Canadians can read and decide for themselves what is relevant and helpful for a fresh start for those Indigenous people who still suffer, and who live in hopelessness and poverty with inadequate housing and dirty water,” said Senator Lynn Beyak. “Discerning citizens don’t need government to tell them what is allegedly racist.”

The Senator’s actions, as well as the comments of her son Nick Beyak, have put his fellow city councilors in an uncomfortable position in a community where nearly one-in-five residents identifies as Indigenous, with numbers in the Kenora riding around 40 per cent. In a conversation with the CBC last week Nick Beyak said, “It’s already affecting their (Conservative Party) fundraising. Whether anybody wants to admit it or not, the majority of Canadians agree with the comments said by Sen. Beyak.”

That was sticking point for councillor Mary Trist, who was first to speak up against Nick Beyak’s comments to CBC after news sources were quick to identify him as a Dryden city councillor, saying she believed Senator Beyak’s comments “…have no place in 21st century Canada.”

Monday’s council meeting featured a discussion of whether the incident reflected poorly on the community and local government.

“We cannot think that we can make comments that won’t be attributed to the City of Dryden,” said councillor Roger Valley. “In all my time in public life, especially when I served the City of Dryden, what I hoped the most is that I never hurt the city. I think we had the potential over this weekend that some of that has come about.”

Councillor Martin MacKinnon wasn’t keen on using council as a forum to discuss Senator Beyak’s ideas.

“I’m not going to sit here and debate politics, who’s right and who’s wrong,” said MacKinnon. “Dryden has spent a lot of time making this a comfortable community for all. Dryden will continue being a welcoming place for everyone.”

Beyak who was appointed councillor in August to fill a vacancy left by Darryl Skinner, (following a place-holder stint as the city’s CAO) defended his actions.

“The most important thing in my life is my family,” said Beyak. “I was speaking as the son of Senator Beyak and not a councillor of the City of Dryden. I said what I believe is right and I’d say it again tomorrow. I don’t apologize for those comments at all.”

Earlier in the day, Beyak spoke to the Dryden Observer where he vigorously opposed any assertion of racist views being promoted by Senator Beyak, claiming her actions have been genuinely in the interest of helping Indigenous people.

“It’s important,” he said. “With anonymous and Facebook and all the ‘racist’ stuff. It’s a lot of cowardly people. To have an actual discussion about racism and what the issues actually are and if Senator Beyak is a racist. When you get down to the nitty gritty examples, there are no examples. I know she’s not (racist). We need to have that discussion.”

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