Senators urge Don Meredith to resign after 'disgusting' relationship with teenage girl
'It would be appropriate if the senator vacated his seat,' Trudeau's point man in the Red Chamber says
Leaders from all sides of the Red Chamber were unequivocal in their denunciation of Senator Don Meredith today while calling on him to resign after the release of a damning report that detailed his two-year sexual relationship with a teenager.
"I would be very disappointed if he walks through the doors of the Senate again," Newfoundland Conservative Senator David Wells told reporters. "We're all disgusted, I don't think the Senate is any place for a person of that character. The things he has done are disgusting and are wrong by any measure."
Meredith, who was appointed as a Conservative senator by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 before becoming a member of the Independent Senators Group (ISG), denies many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question — who is identified by Lyse Ricard, the ethics officer, as "Ms. M" in the report — but concedes he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion.
Ricard found reason to believe Meredith and Ms. M had intercourse three times, including once when the woman was 17 years old.
Meredith, 52, denies the allegation.
Black man 'made an example of'
CBC News spoke to a woman over an intercom at the Richmond Hill, Ont., home of the senator. She refused to identify herself, but clearly had knowledge of the Senate ethics officer's report.
She said Meredith has no immediate plans to resign from the Senate, and the family does not appreciate the way the media have reported the story thus far. She said there should be an investigation into how this report was leaked to the media (the report was not leaked, but rather posted publicly on the watchdog's website).
"Canada would be losing somebody who has done so much, especially for the black community.… It would be a great loss, and a loss to new Canadians," she said. "He should remain in the Senate."
The woman referred to ethical charges against other senators, and said, "Ask yourself why that was never released in such a manner and why the only black male senator has been made an example of," she said.
She said it would be unorthodox to remove Meredith as a senator when he has not faced a court of law. "I'm just saying that unless a senator has violated, or has been criminally charged, etc., etc., there has never been a [precedent] like this set," she said.
Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, said he has written to Meredith to ask him to immediately resign. "I read the report last night, after it was tabled, and I find the report very disturbing. It would be appropriate if the senator vacated his seat."
"The whole Senate will determine what sanctions, if any, will be imposed," he said, if Meredith does not voluntarily resign. Harder said it was not immediately clear if the chamber had the ability to expel Meredith outright, but, according to his reading of the rules, it is a possibility.
Ricard found that Meredith violated two sections of the code of ethics, namely that the Toronto-area senator and Pentecostal pastor did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and that his actions reflect adversely on the institution of the Senate.
Ricard's report will be referred to the Senate's ethics committee for review, which may recommend that the Senate as a whole take action — including a suspension.
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In the meantime, the ISG has asked Don Meredith to step aside from its caucus, "in light of the very serious findings," a joint statement from senators Elaine McCoy and Larry Campbell said. "We are also calling upon the Senate ethics committee to meet as expeditiously as possible to study the report and make recommendations to the Senate on this matter without delay."
McCoy, the convener of the ISG, said Meredith will be removed from all Senate committees — he sits on the veterans affairs subcommittee — and her "personal advice" to the senator is to resign. McCoy said she spoke to Meredith Friday morning and he accepted the decision to boot him from the caucus.
The Alberta senator later told Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton she did not regret accepting Meredith into the ISG, after he was removed from Tory caucus when the sexual allegations initially surfaced, adding every Canadian is entitled to due process. But, she told Barton, the ethics officer's findings must now be accepted as fact.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Meredith's expulsion is "a question for Senate leadership. … It is not for me to weigh in on how the Senate should conduct itself, but every politician in Canada, senator or MP, needs to conduct themselves in a way that is worthy of the public trust placed in them."
While engaged in a sexual relationship with her, Meredith wrote a letter of reference for Ms. M in support of her application for a parliamentary internship program. He also communicated with the woman's parents to discuss "business dealings," and sought to collaborate with the woman's sister on a non-profit initiative.
"Senator Meredith drew upon his weight, prestige and notability of his office, as well as his relative position of power as a much older adult, to lure or attract Ms. M, a teenager who, by virtue of her age, was necessarily vulnerable," Ricard said in her report. "He exploited Ms. M and the power imbalance between them."
'No reason to keep him here'
Conservative Senator Vern White, Ottawa's former chief of police, said Meredith should be expeditiously removed from the Red Chamber given the nature of his behaviour.
"There's no possible reason to keep him there," White told reporters outside the Senate. "I'll tell you what my feelings are: He shouldn't be there, but I'm one of 105 [senators]. I tend to think lots of people feel that way. We have to deal with people who behave in this manner, and we will do that.
"I am absolutely looking forward to what the ethics committee comes back with," White said.
Meredith told the ethics officer that he is seeking spiritual guidance, is in "continuous prayers of repentance," and was studying the ethics code, things he said show he is remedying his behaviour. Ricard said that is simply not enough given the serious nature of his transgressions.
With files from the CBC's Travis Pereira