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Christie Blatchford: In the Scheer versus Beyak battle, she got more right than he did

 

Christie Blanchford - National Post - http://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-in-the-scheer-versus-beyak-battle-she-got-more-right-than-he-did

Scheer called her racist, she’s called him a liar, and that, remarkably, is where it sits

So as it turns out, there’s a chasm between what Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says happened and the account of Lynn Beyak, the senator he booted out of the Conservative caucus last week.

In a Jan. 4 statement, Scheer said two days earlier, he learned that Beyak had posted on her website about 100 letters from Canadians in support of her remarks on residential schools, and that some of these contained offensive comments about Indigenous people. He gave one example, which I’ll get to shortly.

But, Scheer also said, “I demanded Senator Beyak remove this content from her website. She refused.” As a result, he said, he and Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith removed her from caucus.

In an internal communication to caucus, which Beyak later made public, Scheer added, “Senator Beyak admitted that she intentionally posted racist correspondence about Indigenous Canadians to her Parliamentary website.”

On Monday, Beyak said flatly all of that was untrue.

“Neither I nor my staff ever spoke with Andrew Scheer or anyone from his office, at any time,” Beyak said in a statement.

Referring to the internal memo that accused her of deliberately posting allegedly racist comments, she said, “That statement is completely false. I would never say or do such a thing.”

Neither side would add a thing to that. Scheer’s spokesman, Jake Enwright, simply referred reporters to Scheer’s original statement and Beyak’s spokesman, Gerald Myall, said only that Beyak “is not answering any questions or giving interviews at this time.”

So, Scheer called her racist, she’s called him a liar, and that, remarkably, is where it sits.

The letter Scheer cited read in part: “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.”

Scheer said that promoting “this comment is offensive and unacceptable for a Conservative Parliamentarian. To suggest that indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians, is simply racist.”

But that was just a part of the letter, from someone identified as “Paul” on Beyak’s website.

Paul also wrote, immediately after the excerpt Scheer used, this: “Until that happens, it appears they will let everyone around them die. It’s (a) brutal way to live but that’s how it looks to me.

“If you took a bunch of Amish farmers from southern Ontario and banished them to a reserve in Northern Ontario, within a year they would have built all of their members a new home, a new church and barns for every homestead.

“Within a year, they would have dug wells and built a water treatment plant even if it was a simple sand, gravel and charcoal facility.

“Within two years, they would be exporting lumber and furniture to southern Ontario.

“At the same time, the aboriginals relocated to Amish country near Kitchener would have burned down the house and left the fields to gully and rot.”

And before the offending paragraph, Paul wrote this: “From the history I have read, it is likely that the Aboriginals received better treatment and education than society gave the Irish, the Scots, the Polish, the Jews and other minority or out-of-power groups, like the poor…”

One of the points Paul was attempting to make was one that many who wrote Beyak, and whose letters are also posted on her website, also made — that it was a much harsher world then, for everyone, that spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child was one of the operating credos of the day, and that it’s unfair to judge solely through the rear-view mirror.

I suspect unlike at least some of those who have commented upon these letters, I’ve read them all.

Only two — the one Scheer cited and another — have received any attention. CBC News seized upon another, which read in part: “I often wonder what problems they (aboriginal communities) would have today if no one learned to read or write … no sports … who would be naïve to think that alcohol, drugs, incest would not have founds its (sic) way into the lives of the North’s children.”

Yet even that letter acknowledged, as did many, that “We both agree that there were many atrocitys (sic) committed at residential schools.”

Much of the mail was written in response to Beyak’s March 7 speech in the Senate last year, in which she acknowledged the mistakes of residential schools — “in many instances, horrible mistakes that overshadowed some good things that also happened at those schools” — rued that none of what governments of both parties have done in the past has worked and wished aloud for a national audit of monies spent on the Indigenous file, and a national referendum of “every single Indigenous person” over 12 “to ask them what they want for their future. Where do they want to live, and what do they want to do?”

As one of the letter writers said, “… isn’t it just possible that reserves are an unreasonable attempt to preserve a way of life that is incompatible with modern expectations?

“For example, one can live a hunting, fishing lifestyle way up north in the wilderness; but can one have such a life and also expect advanced hospitals, education, access to inexpensive food, etc?…Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Senator Beyak’s suggestions are not the best solutions.

“But why is it wrong to brainstorm solutions? Why is it wrong to ask hard questions?”

Beyak describes most of those who wrote her as thoughtful and compassionate.

Certainly, she’s more right about the tone of those letters than Scheer was. And in the current he said/she said, that may be telling