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Senator Plett Speaks on the Motion Regarding Senator Lynn Beyak

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Speaking on the Motion to Instruct Senate Administration to Remove the Website of the Honourable Lynn Beyak from Any Senate Server and Cease Support of Any Related Website until the Process of the Senate Ethics Officer’s Inquiry is Disposed Of

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Pate, seconded by the Honourable Senator Marwah:

That the Senate administration be instructed to remove the website of the Honourable Senator Beyak from any Senate server and cease to support any website for the senator until the process undertaken by the Senate Ethics Officer following a request to conduct an inquiry under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators in relation to the content of Senator Beyak’s website and her obligations under the Code is finally disposed of, either by the tabling of the Senate Ethics Officer’s preliminary determination letter or inquiry report, by a report of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators, or by a decision of the Senate respecting the matter.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Honourable senators, this has been adjourned in Senator Bovey’s name, so I would like to speak under the agreement that it be adjourned in her name again when I am done.

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

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Plett: Thank you, Your Honour and colleagues. I rise today to speak to Senator Pate’s motion, which proposes to remove Senator Beyak’s website from the Senate server. My comments today will focus entirely on process.

I am choosing not to express my opinion on some or any of the comments on Senator Beyak’s website, as others have, because I believe my opinion on the content is entirely irrelevant to this discussion as, quite frankly, I believe the opinion of others is as well.

This motion, of course, comes after the content in question has already been referred to the Senate Ethics Officer for a ruling. It has been stated already that the Senate’s code of ethics was passed unanimously in this chamber, and we, as senators, established the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer.

I believe we have a tremendous ethics process, one that we should all be proud of. In fact, not so long ago we saw the process work fairly and effectively when we believed the behaviour of a senator was in violation of our code and sought a remedy through the appropriate channels.

The motion we have before us seeks to pre-emptively offer up a sanction before the Ethics Officer has even ruled as to whether or not there was a violation.

Reference has been made to the use of Senate resources. Quite frankly, I find those concerns baseless. There is no additional expense or cost to Canadian taxpayers to have Senator Beyak’s website remain on the Senate server.

On that note, this does not represent a Senate endorsement of this material any more than it would represent an endorsement of the material on any of our websites. The sencanada.ca profile page on each senator on the Senate of Canada website is, of course, guided by different principles. However, our individual websites are created, controlled and edited by us, as individual senators, and the political staff in our offices.

I am sure there are things on Senator Pate’s website that I might find offensive, just as there may be things on my website that she might find offensive. In no way does the material on one senator’s website reflect the views or values of another senator and certainly not of this institution.

On that note, I need to say, to be entirely transparent, that I have never been on Senator Pate’s website, and I have never been on Senator Beyak’s website. We all have the freedom in this country not to log onto websites we do not like and to not seek out material we do not wish to see, just like we have a switch on a television that we turn off when there is a show we do not want to watch.

Further, colleagues, there is an argument to be made that this impedes on Senator Beyak’s ability to communicate with those she represents — a point that Senator Beyak has already made quite well in this chamber.

Those in favour of this motion have stated that this is not a matter of freedom of speech or freedom of expression, citing that the comments expressed border on hate speech. Colleagues, this is precisely a matter of freedom of expression. The chartered right to freedom of expression exists in order to protect speech we do not like. That is precisely why the protection is imperative. And while some may find the content on Senator Beyak’s website reprehensible, to suggest that the content falls under the legal category of hate speech is simply inaccurate.

Perhaps, most dangerously, this motion has opened up debate which risks influencing the investigation of the independent Senate Ethics Officer. Everything we do in this chamber is precedent-setting. We must always be mindful of that. There is a movement, a push towards censorship, that has gained traction in many facets of society and has even recently crept into this chamber. In an age of safe spaces, trigger warnings and offence-taking culture, there are now opinions that are deemed the wrong opinion. I can’t help but wonder at what point some of my views, which are clearly expressed on my website, will be deemed hateful by senators in this chamber.

This, colleagues, is not a far-fetched concern. Honourable senators will recall not too long ago a senator in this chamber accused me of bigotry for using the term “these people” when referring to those who do not fit into either male or female categories. Ironically, on the same day, the Minister of Justice and sponsor of Bill C-16 used that precise term in reference to exactly the same group. That is a very serious charge to level against anyone who simply disagrees with you.

That same senator attempted to discredit the testimony of witnesses at committee by erroneously claiming that they were all White men, as if their race and gender dictate the validity of their argument. On that, I state explicitly in my commentary on that matter that I believe there are two genders. Regardless of the wealth of evidence to support this assertion, this viewpoint is increasingly viewed by some ideologues as intolerant and bigoted.

This is not simply a viewpoint of evolutionary biologists. There are many religions that believe in the Old Testament. As I say every time that I quote scripture, I don’t often quote scripture in this chamber, but here goes again. Genesis 5:2 states, “He created them male and female . . . .” Yet, I am left wondering how long until that content on my website is deemed so hateful that someone moves it should be taken down. How long until my stance on the sanctity of life is said to be so unacceptable and triggering that it should not be expressed on my website?

The Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Trudeau government have been explicitly clear that this viewpoint is entirely unacceptable. The party will not allow those who have a difference of opinion on when life begins even to seek a Liberal Party nomination. That is absolutely outrageous. They staged a walkout in the Status of Women Committee because the selected chair, a young feminist woman, happened to be pro-life, and the summer grants application requirement has only added to this display of intolerance.

The government has repeatedly portrayed pro-life Canadians as a radical fringe group whose views are not to be tolerated in a progressive society. Based on the latest data, only about half of Canadians agree with the unrestricted access to abortion which our present law allows for. The other half either supports some restrictions or are entirely opposed to abortion.

With that in mind, to suggest that there is some medical, ethical or scientific consensus on when a life is a life is absurd. It does not even exist within the pro-choice community. Yet the government has taken this deeply personal, emotional and divisive debate and chosen winners and losers. They have chosen the right opinion and the wrong opinion. The right one, of course, is the belief of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When I asked Senator Harder about this on February 14, pointing out that pro-life groups are not in violation of any enshrined right, as the government keeps suggesting, his response was truly appalling. He stated:

Again, as the government has made clear, what is being dealt with in the summer job program is to provide the assurance that the core funding being given by the Government of Canada is not to support activities which are in counterpoint to the views of the government and the policies and law of Canada.

“. . . in counterpoint to the views of the government and the policies and law of Canada.” This statement truly says it all, colleagues. The government could not be clearer. Those organizations that do not endorse Justin Trudeau’s personal agenda need not apply. Additionally, according to this statement, those who support activities that are contrary to the policies and laws of Canada should not be supported.

In essence, that means that any advocacy group working to influence a change in the law would not be an eligible applicant, which is the core mandate of any advocacy group. Would the LGBT groups advocating for a change in a law prior to the passage of Bill C-16 been denied access to funding? Of course not.

Honourable senators, the removal of a senator’s website, a primary method of communication, should never be taken lightly. In an age where words like “bigotry” and “hate” can be thrown out on a whim, sadly even in this chamber, I have no confidence that a similar censorship motion will not be brought forward in the future when the “wrong opinion” is expressed. For that reason, it is abundantly clear to me that we should let the independent process run its course.

When Senator Pate was asked by a number of senators why we would move forward with a motion like this when we have already sent this to the Senate Ethics Officer for his consideration, she responded by saying that this is temporary and that it is still our duty to represent minority interests in the meantime. There is no question that it is our responsibility to represent minority interests.

However, regardless of how you slice it, this motion is punitive. It is a sanction on a matter for which we have not received a ruling. At this point, we have simply posed the question to the Senate Ethics Officer. We cannot speculate as to what his response may be.

For Senator Sinclair, an eminently qualified judge, to support this motion, a motion that accepts a sanction before there has been a ruling, is surprising and troubling. I do not believe that Senator Sinclair would accept that in his courtroom, and he should not accept it here. The comments in question have already been made and are already out there in the national media and the highly accessible public record. The strong opposition to this material has garnered even more media attention. To suggest that further action on the website at this point, while we await a decision of the Senate Ethics Officer, will somehow cause excess undue hardship to Indigenous peoples in Canada is preposterous. This motion is evidence that it is no longer enough to simply express one’s distaste or opposition to something, but even in the midst of allowing the tried-and-true process to take its course, we have senators doubling down just so no one forgets exactly how offended they are. That’s all that this motion is, honourable senators.

Colleagues, as you are well aware, I find it troubling that we are even having this conversation before this esteemed officer of Parliament has rendered his decision. I think it is entirely inappropriate. If Senator Beyak is found to be in breach of our ethics code, then our chamber should, and must, follow the established process and entertain and ultimately determine appropriate sanctions at that point. For that reason, I believe it would be beneath us to upend the process at this point, and I strongly recommend that either this motion be withdrawn or we vote against it.

 

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