This piece first appeared in the January 13, 2018 edition of PoliPerspective.
What Senator Lynn Beyak published on her website was fucked up by any reasonable standard. Her racist and idiotic “letters of support” are ignorant of history, and although the letters were not her own words they cannot be dismissed or trivialized.
The letters described Canada’s Indigenous peoples as lazy, uncultured, and uncivilized. They described Indigenous people in the same terms that first forced them into residential schools. The same terms that led to the abduction of Indigenous children, displacing them from their families and into abusive, abject living conditions. Into decrepit schoolhouses where they were infected with diseases due to shoddy ventilation and the complete absence of medical screening. Into classrooms where teachers and volunteers, both good and ill-intentioned, taught them how to assimilate into a culture that wasn’t theirs. How to forget their language. How to hate their identity. How to be silent.
Her defense of the residential school system is abhorrent, and cannot go unchallenged. But she has a constitutional right to freely make such a defense, and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer honoured this right.
In response, Scheer did well not to invoke the language of “hate speech”. Classifying speech as such is indolent, coddling, and authoritarian. We should not be so quick to silence prejudice under the pretense that we do not have the good sense to filter or challenge it.
Scheer was correct to challenge Beyak’s views as racist and subversive. He was also correct to eject her from the Conservative Caucus. Political parties are private organizations run like any other, complete with corporate hierarchies and managers willing to show you the door if you’re a no-namer prepared to subvert the boss.
Last year, Scheer came to the defense of infamous Laurier University TA Lindsay Sheppard and other free speech crusaders. He’s also threatened to withdraw federal funding for public universities if they fail to protect freedom of speech on campus.
Despite lamentation from critics and racists alike, Scheer’s actions in no way contradict his position on free speech. Beyak, another top-notch Harper appointee, was allowed to publish the letters, and was allowed to keep it on her website after facing criticism. But this does not excuse her actions; this does not shield her from criticism or demotion. Beyak stands for views that her party strongly disagrees with, and Scheer exercised his own right to free speech by kicking her out the door for insubordination.
I’m glad Beyak was given the freedom to express her racist views, otherwise they would have been kept invisible, dormant, and thus sheltered from challenging. Now Beyak must answer to those she’s chosen to confront. It is within their right just as much as it was within hers.