The interim leader of the Conservative Party didn't mince words about Senator Don Meredith and his sexual relationship with a teenager.
"I just think his conduct is reprehensible," Rona Ambrose told host Terry Milewski in an interview for CBC Radio's The House. "Of course he should resign."
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- NDP calls on Trudeau to intervene in Senate's dealings with Don Meredith
Last week the Senate's ethics watchdog, Lyse Ricard, found the Ontario senator had breached the Red Chamber's ethics code by engaging in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a young woman that started when she was 16 years old.
The extensive 33-page report catalogues how Meredith first met the woman at a Black History Month event at an Ottawa-area church in February 2013 and later proceeded to have a relationship of a sexual nature with her until May 2015.
Meredith denies some of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question — who is identified as "Ms. M" in the report — but concedes he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion.
He was nominated to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper, but was expelled from the Conservative caucus in June 2015, when initial reports of the relationship emerged.
The senator said Wednesday he believes he has been the victim of racism. He said when individuals of colour rise, somehow they're taken down, whether it's "self-inflicted or orchestrated."
Ambrose said her thoughts are with "this poor young woman, a girl. She was a girl who actually had the courage to come forward and talk about something like this when she's up against someone with so much authority and status and power," said Ambrose.
Ambrose joins a chorus of voices calling on Meredith to step down amid questions of whether the Senate has the power to force him to do so. Senate sources have said they believe the upper chamber does have the power to expel a senator and declare the seat vacant, and can do so by a simple majority vote.
Meredith lawyer says no crime committed
Selwyn Pieters, Meredith's lawyer, said Friday that his client has done nothing that warrants his removal from the Senate.
Meredith waited until Ms. M was 18 to have penetrative sex, the lawyer said, and the age of consent is 16 and thus no crime was committed.
Some have suggested Meredith's behaviour could possibly be criminal as he was in a position of power — he wrote an internship letter for Ms. M, offered to do business with her parents and co-operate on a non-profit initiative with her sister — in which case the age of consent would rise to 18 under Criminal Code provisions.
Ricard found reason to believe that Ms. M and Meredith had "teaser" sex when she was 17. Meredith has denied that allegation.
"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."
Pieters said the ethics officer looked at his client as a "predator" from the outset of her investigation because he is a black man. "One has to consider the race factor here," he said in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics.
The Toronto-based lawyer said Caucasian senators have conducted equally questionable behaviour and yet still hold on to their seats in the "Rogue Chamber," a nickname Pieters said was bestowed on the Senate long before Meredith's sexual relationship was made public.
He refused to specifically name any senators, but Liberal Senator Colin Kenney has faced sexual harassment allegations in the past. The ethics officer eventually cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Meredith told The Canadian Press he was taking a leave of absence from the Senate on the advice of his doctor, and would be considering his options in the coming days and weeks.