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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Remarks from March 25, 2019 Meeting of Fort Frances Town Council

Remarks | Check against delivery.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. And good evening, everyone. Tonight I would like to comment on two items of importance to the constituents I hear from.

First, as many of you know, I have been closely involved in the Town’s efforts to reopen the Fort Frances mill and to secure a stable, equitable supply of wood fibre to support our local economy.

The Town’s working group continues to be engaged on this file, and despite disappointing news last week, I want to ensure our constituents that we still have tools at our disposal and there is an ongoing discussion between the province and the corporate parties involved. We will continue to be part of that discussion and to advocate for the province to use every means available to protect our community’s key economic asset.

None of us should accept the proposition that this is a private business deal in which the public has no role. After all our community and governments have invested in this facility, we will not stand by while a private transaction threatens to strip the economic benefit of publicly owned forest resources from our District. Those benefits should be prioritized for this community, and we are not done fighting.

I want to commend Mayor Caul and our Administration for their leadership and continued efforts on this important file.

Second, I want to use the remainder of my time to speak on a matter closely related to the mandate of some of the committees I serve on for this council and elsewhere in the community – and those include the Diversity Committee, the Right Relations Circle, the community legal clinic, and Borderland Pride. The statements which follow are my own, but I believe that they are important, timely, and that they resonate with many members of our community.

On March 19, the Senate Ethics Officer released its report under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators concerning Senator Lynn Beyak. Senator Beyak has ties to Fort Frances, and has been touted as another voice for our region in Parliament. In light of recent events, it is difficult to see how that can continue.

The Ethics Officer concluded what many of us already inferred – that the Senator breached Senate rules by posting letters on her Senate website that contained indisputably racist content. These letters refer to First Nations people as “milking” the system, as using the history of residential schools as a crutch for handouts, and otherwise cast doubt on the well-documented history of residential schools, as set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Not only did Senator Beyak give air and credibility to the misinformation and outright hatred underlying these letters, but she did so from a place of authority and privilege – one where she ought to have had a full view of the facts – particularly in light of her own history in this region and her involvement in our local school board.

I recognize that we are all on a personal journey to better understand the unique barriers, history, and social circumstances that disadvantage our neighbours and may give rise to intergenerational harms. Sometimes we make mistakes. And in my own community involvement, I believe that “safe spaces” are not spaces for condemning those errors or misjudgments, but for learning from them and moving on with that knowledge.

But Senator Beyak has conceded nothing. In fact, she has doubled down. The Ethics Officer’s report discloses that the Senator has expressed the view that racism does not exist in Canada. She has said that those who say racism exists in our society are seeking to divide Canadians. She has even stated that the Commissioners of the TRC engaged in ‘reverse racism’, which is a ludicrous claim.

These comments are completely unacceptable and irresponsible, when we all know differently – and can read it in the news every single day – right here in Northwestern Ontario and abroad.

Racism has been identified by two consecutive reports as the cause of botched investigations into the deaths of Indigenous young people in Thunder Bay. Racist conspiracy theories about immigration reared their head at the ‘United We Roll’ convoy to Ottawa this winter. It was race-based hatred, fueled by untruthful online content, which caused a white man to gun down 50 people at a mosque in New Zealand 10 days ago – and another far closer to home, in Quebec City, just 2 years ago. And just yesterday, I observed a local businessperson had taken to posting white supremacist content on social media.

Make no mistake – racism is alive and well. It lives here as much as anywhere else. And it is being fed by irresponsible political leaders right across this country.

It has been 6 days since the Ethics Officer’s report was released. In 6 days, Senator Beyak has not removed the racist letters from her website. And in 6 days, she has continued to besmirch not only the integrity of the Senate, but to embarrass our community, and disrespect the trauma of so many of the people who live here.

This is playing out at a time when true political leaders in our region – and around tables like this one – are working hard to snuff out hate, to reconcile our differences, and to plot a positive and honest path forward – one envisioned by the treaty relationships which helped found this country.

I am proud to serve on a municipal council that is committed to building a better community for everyone and that is working with its neighbours to achieve those goals. But doing so requires that we be uncompromising on our principles of inclusion, human dignity, respect, and our commitment to the facts.

We are a region in demographic and economic transition, and there are so many priorities that a Senator for Northwestern Ontario could use her office to support. Residential school denialism isn’t and shouldn’t be one of them.

This circus has been a stain on the political character of this region on the national stage. If the Senator will not – finally – face the facts and use her office to advance the priorities of our communities, she should resign.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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