A Conservative senator is facing criticism for remarks about residential schools.
Lynn Beyak, a senator based in Northern Ontario, rose to speak during the Senate’s Tuesday session.
Beyak opened by stating that she wanted to present a different point of view on the residential school system.
“I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part,”
The schools were roundly condemned in a 2015 report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, following six years of evidence-gathering across the country that included testimony from over 6,000 former students.
The report denounced the schools as hotbeds of physical and sexual abuse of children and noted that thousands died of disease and malnutrition while attending the institutions.
Beyak went on to praise the Christian values instilled by the schools, noting the large number of Christians among the indigenous population near her home community of Dryden, Ont.
“Our forefathers who were involved with residential schools, some of them may even be related to you, were well-intentioned for the most part. And those who weren’t should be forgiven,” she said.
Beyak has previously criticized the TRC report for not “focusing on the good” done in residential schools. She touched on the theme again Tuesday.
“Obviously, the negative issues must be addressed. But it is unfortunate that they are sometimes magnified and considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good,” she said.
Beyak’s remarks drew a response from Senator Murray Sinclair, who previously served as the chair of the TRC.
“I am a bit shocked, senator, that you still hold some views that have been proven to be incorrect over the years,” said Sinclair. “But, nonetheless, I accept that you have the right to hold them.”
On Thursday, the Conservative Party of Canada issued talking points to MPs distancing the party from Beyak’s statements, noting they didn’t represent the official Conservative position.
Beyak was appointed to the Senate by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013.