Canada's Original Think Tank

Motion regarding the website of the Honourable Lynn Beyak

Motion regarding the website of the Honourable Lynn Beyak

Motion regarding the website of the Honourable Lynn Beyak

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Senator Pratte’s amendment to Senator Pate’s Motion No. 302. This motion, as amended, would seek to instruct Senate administration to remove the 103 letters of support dated March 8, 2017, to October 4, 2017, from the website of Senator Beyak, lynnbeyak.sencanada.ca, and any other website hosted by a Senate server and cease to provide support, including technical support, and the reimbursement of expenses for any website of the senator that contains or links to any of the said letters of support until the process of the Senate Ethics Officer’s inquiry is disposed of.

Basically, the intention of Senator Pate’s motion is to apply an interim sanction while we wait for the Senate Ethics Officer to make a decision on the request by Senators Gagné, Lankin, Omidvar, Petitclerc and Pratte to Commissioner Legault to undertake an investigation under section 47(2)(b) to determine whether publishing the letters of support on Senator Beyak’s parliamentary website is a violation of the rules of conduct under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.

I believe that Senator Pate’s motion is in order. The Senate has taken interim measures in the past. For instance, during investigations into the expense claims of several senators, the Senate took action before investigations were completed, and a motion to suspend these senators was tabled and passed on division.

I believe Senator Pratte’s amendment is a more appropriate response than the original motion. Limiting the letters of support from Senator Beyak’s website is a more appropriate sanction because it is aimed specifically at the offensive racist content rather than her whole website.

Colleagues, Senator Pratte’s motion is consistent with the intention of my written request to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration. On January 8, 2018, I asked that, with respect to Senator Beyak, a determination be made and an opinion be issued by the Internal Economy Committee as to whether her posting of these kinds of racist, offensive letters using Senate resources is permissible under the Senate Rules, and if not, that they determine what course of action should be taken.

The Internal Economy Committee has decided to wait for the Senate Ethics Officer to conduct an investigation and report back, but, ultimately, it is up to the Senate as a whole to make the final decision. After the Senate Ethics Officer releases his report, it will be debated in the Senate, and we may not even accept his recommendation. In the end, it is up to us, all of us as senators, to decide whether we consider some of the letters on Senator Beyak’s Senate website to be racist and whether we should take remedial action, such as instructing her or Senate administration to remove them from her website.

Colleagues, the letters on Senator Beyak’s Senate website, which contain racist content directed against Indigenous peoples, have been there since September 2017, according to Garnet Angeconeb. He is a First Nation elder, an Order of Canada appointee and a residential school survivor. He said, with regard to the letters:

I’m really disappointed. I’m discouraged and outright hurt by some of those comments.

Colleagues, the presence of these letters on Senator Beyak’s website became a news item in early January, at which time I was interviewed and raised my objections to them being on a public Senate website. There were a total of 103 letters at that time. Doing a quick scan, I found about 20 that were highly offensive. Some were frankly racist and could constitute hate speech, in my opinion. There are now 129 letters of support on Senator Beyak’s website.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe that we are even debating this issue. It is absolutely clear from jurisprudence that there is no such thing as an absolute freedom of speech in Canada that gives Senator Beyak the right to post whatever she wants with no regard for the impact and harms it could have on Aboriginals who are the target of racist and hateful comments in some of the letters on her website.

This idea of absolute freedom of speech has been suggested not only by Senator Beyak but also by Senator Plett in his speech last week. Because Senator Beyak’s supporters also have a false notion that people have complete freedom of speech, I have decided that it is necessary and important to outline in some detail why this concept is false.

In Canadian law, the right to free speech arises from section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, contained within section 1 of the Charter is the ability to place reasonable limits on any of the Charter rights, including freedom of expression. As was stated by the majority in Slaight Communications Inc. v. Davidson, Supreme Court of Canada, 1989, the underlying values of a free and democratic society both guarantee the rights in the Charter and, in appropriate circumstances, justify limitations upon those rights. In law, there are many provisions where limits have been placed on the freedom of expression. The Criminal Code includes many such restrictions in offences such as defamatory libel, counselling suicide, perjury and fraud. These are all limits on the freedom of expression.

In addition, the Criminal Code contains hate speech provisions in sections 318 to 320. Section 319(2) clearly outlines the balance of the right to free speech and the limits that are justified to protect identifiable groups. Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code states, under “Willful promotion of hatred”:

Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

I point out this section as it is the basis for much legal precedent in Canada surrounding the reasonable limits placed upon freedom of speech with regard to hateful and discriminatory speech.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Keegstra that section 319(2) of the Criminal Code, which prohibits wilful promotion of hatred except in private conversation, does indeed violate freedom of expression rights. However, the Supreme Court also noted that this violation is justified because it is a reasonable limitation of that right. In Keegstra, the court ruled that, on balance, the limitation was less harmful than the harm of the speech itself. The majority noted many harmful effects of hate speech in society, and the court noted:

Disquiet caused by the existence of such material is not simply the product of its offensiveness, however, but stems from the very real harm which it causes. Essentially, there are two sorts of injury caused by hate propaganda. First, there is harm done to members of the target group. It is indisputable that the emotional damage caused by words may be of grave psychological and social consequence. . . .

The derision, hostility and abuse encouraged by hate propaganda therefore have a severely negative impact on the individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance. This impact may cause target group members to take drastic measures in reaction, perhaps avoiding activities which bring them into contact with non-group members or adopting attitudes and postures directed towards blending in with the majority. Such consequences bear heavily in a nation that prides itself on tolerance and the fostering of human dignity through, amongst other things, respect for the many racial, religious and cultural groups in our society.

The court went on to describe the second harm which attracts others to a hateful cause.

It is thus not inconceivable that the active dissemination of hate propaganda can attract individuals to its cause, and in the process create serious discord between various cultural groups in society. Moreover, the alteration of views held by the recipients of hate propaganda may occur subtly, and is not always attendant upon conscious acceptance of the communicated ideas. Even if the message of hate propaganda is outwardly rejected, there is evidence that its premise of racial or religious inferiority may persist in a recipient’s mind as an idea that holds some truth, an incipient effect not to be entirely discounted.

Colleagues, this is vitally important to understand. Allowing hateful and untruthful commentary that targets an identifiable group harms not only the members of that group that are singled out, but it harms the social cohesion in a multicultural society like Canada. As the court noted:

Hate propaganda contributes little to the aspirations of Canadians or Canada in either the quest for truth, the promotion of individual self-development or the protection and fostering of a vibrant democracy where the participation of all individuals is accepted and encouraged.

Colleagues, in addition to the Criminal Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act also places limits on freedom of expression. While section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was repealed by the Harper government in 2013, section 12 still restricts expression if it discriminates against an identifiable group. Section 12 reads:

It is a discriminatory practice to publish or display before the public or to cause to be published or displayed before the public any notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that.

(a) expresses or implies discrimination or an intention to discriminate, or

(b) incites or is calculated to incite others to discriminate.

if the discrimination expressed or implied, intended to be expressed or implied or incited or calculated to be incited would otherwise, if engaged in, be a discriminatory practice described in any of sections 5 to 11 or in section 14

What is important to note that subsection (b) pertains to representations that incite others to take certain discriminatory actions. In other words, these are representations that spread a message to convince others to undertake certain discriminatory actions.

It is also important to note that every legislature in Canada has passed a human rights law to prohibitive or limit discriminatory activities. With the exception of the Yukon Human Rights Act, each of these laws contains a provision similar to section 12 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that prohibits in some form the public display, broadcast or publication of messages that announce an intention to discriminate or that incite others to discriminate based on certain prohibited grounds.

Colleagues, I trust that can you see clearly from this long, detailed explanation that there are limits to what we can say or express. There is no such thing as complete freedom of speech. We must remember the rights of the person to whom we are expressing our thoughts and opinions. They have a right not to be harmed and not to be discriminated against by another’s words.

Colleagues, I’ve received hate-filled racist emails or letters both times after I called out comments made by Senator Beyak. A year ago I read into Hansard one such hateful message. Since this January, I’ve received 18 messages from supporters of Senator Beyak. Twelve of these mentioned that there was a right to freedom of speech with “no muzzling, no silencing, no right to object to racism or no limitations due to political correctness.”

Clearly, as I outlined earlier, they are mistaken. No one, including a senator, has the right to make racist comments. If they do, they can be silenced or sanctioned. With respect to political correctness, let me just say this: I want factual correctness.

I’d like to touch upon another aspect of this discussion, which was brought up by Senator Plett. He said if we didn’t like what we saw on Senator Beyak’s website, we didn’t have to read it. Yes, that’s true, but the presence of the racist comments on a Senate-sponsored and official Senate website gives them an “air” of credibility. This in turn helps feed the fire of racial prejudice in those who agree with such an opinion. It creates room for people to be more overt with anti-Aboriginal, racist comments. In other words, leaving those letters on public display perpetuates further racism.

The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry senator, but your time has expired. Are you asking for five more minutes?

Senator Dyck: Yes, please.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Dyck: Especially troubling is the misinformation contained in these racist letters related to taxpayer monies and the suggestion made by Senator Beyak that federal funds going to First Nations have to be audited. This statement leads people to believe that First Nations are not audited. This is false. First Nations are audited, and the audited statements are posted publicly, including on the INAC website. And today we heard Minister Bennett confirm that First Nations are audited.

Taxpayer dollars and the perceived misspending of taxpayer dollars is a hot button issue that underlies many of the racial stereotypes of Aboriginals misspending and Aboriginals receiving unfair financial benefits. The inaccurate information about Aboriginals and taxpayer dollars in some of the letters on Senator Beyak’s website certainly could fuel the flames of anger and racism towards Aboriginal people.

It is worth noting that 8 of the 18 messages sent to me by Senator Beyak’s supporters also mentioned misspending of taxpayer money by Aboriginal people, and four of these were excessively angry and vile. I’ll read two of them into the record. You can see one in bold type, which shows how angry this person is.

LILLIAN, I WANT TO EXPRESS MY BITTER INDIGNATION RELATED TO YOUR STAND AGAINST THE GREAT senator Lynn Beyak. . . .

I had lived before Winnipeg, I had experienced the native, when the police were picking up the drunkard native every morning . . . dead on the street . . . living on welfare!

JUST TELL US . . . HOW MANY BILLION DOLLAR COST THE CANADIAN TAXPAYERS TO SUPPORT THOSE native PARASITES EVERY YEAR?

I am sure . . . you have no courage to tell us!

That clearly is a vile, racist message.

The second one came, and I actually tried to put limits on this person. His title was: “Canadian Citizens Are Not First Nations Slaves. I Stand With Senator Lynn Beyak On This Issue Because She Stands With Tax Payers Not Being Further Abused.”

I sent a response back to him saying: “Your email message is offensive and clearly racist towards First Nations people. I do not want to receive your ignorant and racist messages. Remove me from your email list.”

He then writes back to me and says:

You being a pathetic lying traitor doesn’t qualify me a racist for pointing out the fact that First nations living on reserves and not paying taxes is what justifies them not getting government services that tax payers pay taxes for.

Do you hear the hate? I said to him: “Your message is filled with hate. I am instructing the email managers to block your messages.”

Then he writes back to me one more time before I can block him.

I do not hate anyone or anything you pathetic filthy liar. It is my pleasure to stand against such pathetic filthy disgusting liars and traitors such as yourself.

So that is what I get for standing up.

I believe these two messages, especially the last one, clearly illustrate how the spreading of misinformation about Aboriginal people, especially when taxpayer money is mentioned, can feed the fires of prejudice, which leads to overt racism and can incite hatred toward Aboriginals. Those messages clearly show that.

The only other time I’ve received hate-filled racist messages was when I defended the rights of First Nations not to be required to post private financial information on the INAC website. As I said, money issues are a hot button that trigger anger and racism. Thus, it is particularly disturbing to note that Senator Beyak has stated there should be an audit of money going in and out of First Nation reserves. As I said before, this leads people to believe that First Nations are not audited. This is false. First Nations are audited, and the audited statements are posted publicly, including on the INAC website. Calling for an audit perpetuates the malicious myth that First Nations can mis-spend their money because there is no oversight. Feeding the public misinformation about a need to audit money going into and out of First Nation reserves is not just irresponsible; it is reprehensible because of the hatred that such information can incite in others.

That is why Senator Beyak’s posting of racist comments and misinformation about Aboriginal people may well fall under the category of hate speech.

I’d like to note that I have received 45 messages that were opposed to Senator Beyak’s position: 12 people thought her views were racist, 21 stated she should be sanctioned by being asked to resign or being expelled or disciplined somehow, and two thought the senator was censoring the free speech of those who disagreed with her because she was not posting those letters.

The Hon. the Speaker: Sorry, Senator Dyck. Your time has expired again. Are you asking for more time?

Senator Dyck: I need one minute.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Dyck: In closing, I support Senator Pratte’s amendment to Senator Pate’s motion, Motion No. 302. I believe it is a fair and reasonable option the Senate ought to adopt in the interim as we wait for the report from the Senate Ethics Officer. However, the amendment needs to be amended, because there are now 129 letters of support as of April 25. I urge you all to support this amendment or any other amendment. Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Tkachuk would like to ask a question, but you are out of time again.

Is leave granted to answer a question, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Hon. David Tkachuk: Senator, I listened to your speech. You kept referring to the emails you received. I admit they were pretty nasty emails you got, but if those are the first ones you’ve gotten, you lead a pretty sheltered life, because the ones I get are just as nasty as that for just opposing a government bill.

Those messages weren’t on the website. Those are messages you received because you opposed this website.

Senator Dyck: That’s true, but if you look at the messages on Senator Beyak’s website, they are racist. I didn’t read those into the record, because they’ve been talked about a number of other times.

It’s true that you may get equally disturbing messages, but these are messages directed to me as an Indigenous person. That’s a very different category than someone complaining about you taking a stand on a particular piece of legislation. So I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Cools, did you want to ask a question?

Hon. Anne C. Cools: Yes, I want to ask a question.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Dyck is going to need to ask for more time again.

Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

An Hon. Senator: No.

The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, Senator Cools, I hear a “no.”