This week, breaking with perceived wisdom on the way to finalizing her bitter divorce from reality, Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak decided to present an emotional defence of Canada's residential-school system. It's difficult, times being what they are, for Canada to stand out in the Wingnut Olympics currently in full swing, but Senator Beyak seems determined to own the podium.
Down in America, Ben Carson kicked off this week's event by describing slaves as "immigrants" – just a bunch of crazy kids in the bottom of a boat with a dream (seemingly of being used as whippable farming equipment) as Ben would have it – high scores from all the judges. It was not looking good for Canada – Kellie Leitch's video submission having been disqualified for presumed use of a malfunctioning robot body-double, or possibly animal cruelty. There did seem to be a lot of distracting cats in that room.
Word is Leitch is dropping her plan for a long-form values test and will simply ask prospective newcomers, "Yes, but can you direct?"
Then, on Wednesday, up stepped Senator Beyak with a little number I'll call "Homage to the Real Victims of Residential Schools: The Hypothetical Descendants of the People Who Taught at Those Schools, Whose Feelings Might Be Hurt If They Stumbled Across a Copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Final Report and Read It."
She did this, she said "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."
It's true, A Child's Garden of Beating, Starving and Raping Children in the Indigenous Residential School System never did find a publisher. Nor did The Secret Burial Garden.
All those "historical tales" lost. All those "remarkable works" so uncharitably documented as crimes.
To hear Senator Beyak tell it, there were just a few bad apples working in Canada's residential-school system. We do know for a fact the children, around 150,000 of them, mostly ripped from their homes and sometimes literally from their parent's arms, would likely have appreciated getting their hands on a few bad apples, as some of them were indisputably, and often deliberately, with the knowledge of the government and – in the name of "science" – starved.
These kids often worked in the fields to produce food that never made it to their plates but, enthused, Senator Beyak spoke in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples: "Nobody meant to hurt anybody, the little smiles in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are real, the clothes are clean and the meals are good. There were many people who came from residential schools with good training and good language skills, and, of course, there were the atrocities as well."
Just try putting that on the end of everything, "Yeah, we went camping, saw a beautiful sunset, roaring fire, roasted marshmallows. Of course, there were the atrocities as well."
"Lovely dinner last weekend, walked through the city streets, wore my new skirt. Of course, there were the atrocities as well."
There is no context in which "of course, there were the atrocities as well" sounds good.
I'm not sure what report Senator Beyak read (I'm going to keep calling her "Senator" because I want that to sink in, this woman is charged with providing our nation with sober second thought). She may have mistakenly picked up a Madeline book and believed that from the years 1876 to 1996, Canada operated a system whereby First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and sent to an old house in Paris that was covered with vines where the nuns only spoke lyrically, in rhyme.
The 2015 report that emerged from Truth and Reconciliation Commission's in-depth, thoroughly researched six-year study of the system is a horrifying read. To take chuckles, fine-dining and fresh laundry away from that document requires a truly superhuman level of myopia. I'd say it was a Herculean task, except Hercules would take one look at the Senator's fact-bending mission and say "Whoa man. Wrestling a lion is one thing, but even I can't twist the truth that hard. That Senator from Dryden, formally in the insurance and real estate businesses, she is a mythic beast."
Mental abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse, were endemic to the residential-school system. The "students" were often kept in substandard conditions and 6,000 children died while in what is farcically called "care," largely because of malnourishment and disease. The schools had graveyards, and many graves were unmarked. But let's be clear about this: Even had the schooling been adequate – hell, had these kids been given top-notch education and wonderful care, had the Canadian government sent thousands of Indigenous children to the equivalent of Trinity College School – it would still have been the wrong thing to do.
It was wrong because it was forced or coerced and it was wrong because the intention was never noble, despite Senator (arghhhh!) Beyak's massive history rewrite.
These children were kept from their families, their land and their culture with the clear intention of ending that culture. They were punished for speaking the only languages they'd ever known. They would write letters home in a language their parents often couldn't read. Some kids made it home for two months a year, some went years without returning to their communities. Some of the many who never made it home at all died while desperately trying to get back where they belonged.
What percentage of these kidnapped kids – and Jim Miller, a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan and a committee witness that day, did say "that there is a very small minority that had a good experience" – would have to be sanguine about this arrangement for this to be anything less than an atrocity?
Senator (thanks soooooo much, Stephen Harper) Beyak claims to know lots of these blissed-out former residential-school graduates; indeed to have "many friends" who have sent her "testimonials about many good experiences."
If this line of hers seems familiar, it may because only weeks ago, speaking on Bill C-16, a bill that expands anti-discrimination and hate crimes protections to transgender people, Senator (Jesus wept) Beyak claimed that she was opposing the bill partly on behalf of her late husband, Tony – founder of the Taxpayers Coalition of Fort Frances, who would have been greatly distressed to see Canadians divided by special interest groups.
Senator (Jesus banged His head slowly against His desk) Beyak does have a point: Let people get away with identifying as gay or straight today and the next thing you know they'll be throwing up a website, putting up a list of demands and then dancing through the streets proudly calling themselves "Taxpayers of Fort Frances," with their tax returns hanging out there for all the world to see.
Won't someone think of the children who hate math and/or Fort Frances?
"John, and my other gay friends who have lived in quiet dignity together celebrating 50-year anniversaries without expecting or getting a single thing from government, never had to face any kind of discrimination or uncomfortable feelings," before "the radical fringes of some special-interest groups" gave sex "more attention than it deserves" and we reached a point where gay people "expected all of Canada to be their closet," Senator (God is dead and we have killed Him) Beyak lamented.
She seems to be under the impression that now gay couples demand and get a card and champagne from their MP for the golden anniversary, instead of the basic human rights straight people have long enjoyed.
No one is asking for anything extra, Senator, although they might deserve it because the notion that the "majority" of LGBT people, "by living in quiet dignity," stayed safe and happy as closeted clams is absurd, ahistoric and willfully blind to all the beatings, job losses and discrimination LGBT people faced and still face.
This woman has the weirdest collection of friends. They are a wealth of anecdotal evidence in support of all the bees in her bonnet, and with all the experts and research at her disposal, it is these unnamed friends she's citing helping to formulate Canada's laws.
She's a fan of the White Paper, a policy that proposed ending the special legal relationship between the Canadian state and Indigenous people and ripping up the Indian Act. And lo and behold, "the Native people still talk to me about it," she said of the very unpopular, hugely problematic, rejected White Paper. "The ordinary folks on the ground … who just want to go to the mall, get their nails done, get their hair done" tell her the White Paper is the way to get to that dream mall, she claimed.
"I was disappointed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report in that it didn't focus on the good," she complained. "The people I talk to are Christians."
Well, life is full of disappointments, Senator (All Schools Matter) Beyak.