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Speech from the Throne- Motion for Address in Reply

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, I want to start off with a prayer in my language.

[Editor’s Note: Senator McCallum spoke in Cree.]

Thank you, Creator, for giving me the privilege of waking another day, for giving me breath once again. Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing Mother Earth once again because that is what we live for. If we don’t have Mother Earth, we won’t be here. Thank you for giving me the ability to come here, to stand here and to speak and to help me to do the work that needs to be done. Thank you to the elders, who provide me with guidance to speak my truth and the courage to stand my ground and to protect my loved ones.

Honourable senators, on September 23, the Governor General read the Throne Speech in this chamber. In part, it read:

Every day on our shared planet, millions face hardships that test the human spirit. Extreme weather, wildfires, poverty, conflicts, discrimination and inequalities. Rarely though, has all of humanity faced a single common insidious enemy. An invisible enemy that respects no borders, thrives anywhere, hits anyone.

The speech goes on to say:

We Canadians did our part. . . . while caring for one another.

While the Governor General was speaking about COVID-19, it is important to note that all of humanity has always faced another common insidious enemy, an invisible enemy that respects no borders, thrives anywhere, is intentional and hits only some. What makes this enemy even more dangerous is that it has infiltrated very deeply into every structure and process of Canadian society, including Parliament Hill. This invisible enemy is racism and its end effect, discrimination, but their effects are anything but invisible.

These effects are socially constructed, and it is in the cracks caused by racism and discrimination that COVID-19, like other parasites, flourishes and tests our human spirit. How have we, as parliamentarians, responded to the blatant racism and discrimination in Canadian culture? How have we cared for one another?

Just as there are many people who think COVID-19 is a hoax, many others think that racism in Canada doesn’t exist. But COVID-19, as has been shown, has exposed the cracks and gaps where society has neglected to do due diligence and provide equality, equity and justice to all. COVID-19 attacks the most marginalized, many of whom are people who have been unable to give voice, like the majority of residents in our care homes or those who have become institutionalized.

It also attacks those who have given voice but whose voices remain neglected or have been silenced, like the First Nations, Inuit and other Canadians whose basic needs aren’t being met. Man-made inequalities based on discrimination test the human spirit differently because they are intentional and malicious.

Honourable senators, socialization through policies and programs for First Nations is an example of institutional racism. The only avenue of fundamental reform has been to add policies to existing programs and systems and to cope with the resulting confusion. Because of these tendencies, institutional racism directed at First Nations, when viewed in historical context, consists of layers of outdated programs and policies. The danger here is that the result of this chaos becomes the basis for stereotyping of First Nations.

If you lived a life where you didn’t know if the rules would suddenly change and affect your access to health care, if you didn’t know what rules might change in your contribution agreements, and if you didn’t know what funding you were getting from one year to the next, I bet your heads would spin too.

The danger is that when society doesn’t support or advocate for a segment of the Canadian population that is marginalized — in this case, First Nations — their silence gives liberty to the government to continue to draft policies and laws that are used to further subordinate First Nations. This example then emboldened the general population to act out in ways such that they, too, showed racism and discrimination — without repercussion and often supported by the RCMP. I have many stories of my own, including some perpetuated in the Senate.

One example is that a senator feels she can tell the story of my experiences in residential school and challenge me that hers is the true story, completely invalidating my lived experience.

Another example is that Canadians feel they can ignore the rule of law and a Supreme Court decision and commit violence with no legal repercussions, as we are seeing happening with the Mi’kmaq.

In the book entitled A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott, she states on page 104:

Brent Bezo in The Impact of Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma from the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, describes how the Holodomor, a forced starvation that killed millions of Ukrainians, undermined its victims’ lives:

[Holodomor survivors] reported that the confiscation of food, personal property and homes rendered them “bare” and resulted in the complete loss of traditional means to independently support, look after, and maintain themselves and their families. This loss was reported as a “destruction” of independent self-sufficiency that was a “deliberate act to break the will of the Ukrainian people” and “to show people that they would not become independent Ukrainian people.”

She goes on to say:

When I first read that my breath caught in my throat. Never before had I seen a non-Indigenous person so succinctly sum up the way that my people’s experience of genocide worked.

In the chapter “On Seeing and Being Seen,” Ms. Elliot writes on page 23:

I’ve heard that when you see someone you love your pupils get bigger, as if your eyes themselves want to swallow them up and trap them inside.

I, myself, feel that love when I meet former students of residential school.

Honourable senators, when I entered the Senate, I didn’t expect another senator to write a story about First Nations’ experience in residential school. I also didn’t expect to have her story supersede reality and become accepted by Canadians as fact — over my story and the stories told by thousands of former residential school students. She not only appropriated but outright misrepresented those life experiences, based on a few examples.

Her story, as well as her supporters, featured the stereotypical Indians: drunken, dysfunctional, lazy, non-taxpayers, wanting to live on welfare and having the audacity not to learn from the “good experiences” in residential school. Why, colleagues, do we continuously get dragged into the Canadian spotlight in such a negative way?

As I said at the outset, the insidious act of racism thrives anywhere, including here. As the Governor General said in the Throne Speech, “For too many Canadians, systemic racism is a lived reality.”

Was this — a story portrayed by a White woman — more “Indian” than the stories of the former students, including myself? The impact of the stories posted on the website didn’t go away simply because they were taken off the website; they have the ability to perpetuate a lifetime of racist thoughts and discriminatory acts. The letters have certainly perpetuated a rash of hateful letters that are still being circulated.

As Ms. Elliot states on page 30:

If you can’t write about us . . . for who we are as a people, what we’ve survived, what we’ve accomplished despite all attempts to keep us from doing so, if you can’t look at us as we are and feel your pupils go wide, rendering all stereotypes feel like a sham, a poor copy, a disgrace — then why are you writing about us at all?

Honourable senators, what Senator Beyak has done is to illustrate the acts of discrimination that have been long perpetuated on former students of residential schools and their descendants. Like the current virus impacting us all, she has been able to penetrate the cracks and gaps of the relationship between First Nations and the different levels of government and other Canadians, denigrate a group of fellow Canadians, and think she can get away with it.

Senator Beyak was suspended by the Senate and required to complete certain tasks. Following that, the Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators tabled a report in the Senate recommending her reinstatement. That report, in the normal course of time, would be considered and voted on by the Senate.

With prorogation this summer, Senator Beyak’s suspension was also effectively brought to an end and she became a senator again, though without the Senate’s decision on the Ethics Committee report. Leaving aside the merits of the suspension, it is troubling that this would be the end of this situation.

It is troubling, colleagues, for two reasons.

First, if we take our responsibilities seriously to oversee senators’ conduct and hold each other accountable when we misconduct ourselves, then we are duty-bound to complete the process. We cannot let prorogation do our work for us. That is not what a responsible organization would or should do. As things stand, doing nothing further amounts to a delegation to the Ethics Committee of the decision on Senator Beyak’s reinstatement. I don’t think a question such as this is for the Senate to delegate, nor for the Ethics Committee to decide.

In the normal course, following prorogation, the committee would typically re-table its report and the matter would return to the Senate for a continuation of its consideration of this important matter.

The second concern is for the senator in question in a situation like this. If a senator does fulfill the conditions required for reinstatement, it is my belief that the Senator should be entitled to return to the Senate by a decision of their peers — not to return simply because the clock has run out on the suspension.

So I ask, colleagues: Is the Senate a credible institution if we do not have in place the processes to deal with these questions in principled ways? As of now, we don’t seem to have these processes in place, or at least we are not relying on them. It is this unwillingness or inability to act that we must address internally; otherwise we risk becoming a federal institution that perpetuates systemic racism.

Honourable senators, as the Governor General pointed out in the Throne Speech, “There is work still to be done, including on the road of reconciliation, and in addressing systemic racism.”

Thank you.

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