Senate ethics committee recommends Don Meredith be expelled
Historic decision punishes Ontario senator for sexual relationship with teenage girl
The Senate's ethics committee is recommending Senator Don Meredith be expelled from the Red Chamber and his seat be declared vacant.
The five-member committee, composed of former judges and some of the country's top lawyers, has been reviewing an explosive report by Senate ethics watchdog Lyse Ricard for weeks. The report documents the Toronto-area senator's nearly two-year sexual relationship with a teenage girl known as "Ms. M."
After its thorough review, the committee is unanimously recommending the entire chamber administer the harshest of all punishments against one of its own members.
If carried through, it would be a first in Canadian history. Some senators, notably Mike Duffy, have faced temporary suspensions, while others accused of unsavoury behaviour have voluntarily retired before facing expulsion.
Meredith's Toronto-based lawyer, Bill Trudell, had proposed a one- or two-year suspension without pay as an adequate sanction.
The committee said in its own report tabled Tuesday that it felt that nothing less than expulsion would suffice, because Meredith's behaviour has so badly damaged the "integrity and dignity of the institution."
"He has abused his privileged position of authority and trust by engaging in behaviour that is incompatible with his office," the report reads.
"He has brought disrepute to himself and to the institution. Your committee is of the opinion that Senator Meredith's misconduct has demonstrated that he is unfit to serve as a senator. His presence in the chamber would in itself discredit the institution. No lesser sanction than expulsion would repair the harm he has done to the Senate."
Senator Raynell Andreychuk, the chair of the committee, said Meredith never took responsibility for his actions. "In the eyes of the committee, Senator Meredith's is one of the most egregious breaches in the context of our role as senators."
"Senator Meredith is unfit," she said.
Meredith, 52, a Pentecostal pastor, was appointed as a Conservative senator by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 before becoming a member of the Independent Senators Group.
Meredith has denied many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question, but he admitted he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion when she was over 18. However, Ricard found reason to believe Meredith and Ms. M had intercourse three times, including once when the woman was 17 years old. The ethics officer ultimately concluded the Toronto-area senator was not a reliable witness.
Thus, Ricard's report found Meredith violated two sections of the code of ethics, namely that he did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and that his actions reflect adversely on the institution of the Senate.
"Senator Meredith will not be commenting until he does so in the Senate," Trudell said in an email to CBC News.
Minimum 5 days of debate
Now that the committee has made its recommendation, it will be up to the Senate as a whole to vote on expulsion.
There will be a minimum of five sitting days of debate on the committee's report before there can be a vote to adopt, or reject, sanctions against Meredith. The report must be "disposed of" no later than the 15th sitting day after it was first introduced.
Therefore, the Senate could spend up to a month debating before there is a final vote — a considerable amount of time given the amount of legislation on the agenda with only weeks left before the chamber is expected to rise for the summer break. The report could also be referred back to the committee for further consideration, a move that could punt a decision to a later date.
Meredith will be able to speak in the chamber if he so chooses, and will be given the right of "final reply" before any vote on a sanction against him.
Conservative Newfoundland Senator Fabian Manning said most senators are leaning toward accepting the committee's recommendation.
"We haven't had a record of this in the past, but I'm sure that most senators are, in my opinion, leaning in that direction [of expulsion]," he told reporters outside the Senate chamber Tuesday. "It's not something that any of us are comfortable with, to be honest with you, but it's something that we've got to deal with."
Sources told CBC News, before the committee's report was tabled, that there is a strong determination — on the part of virtually all senators from the various caucuses — to expel Meredith from the Senate. There is a sense that the Red Chamber cannot pursue its modernization and reform agenda with Meredith still sitting on its benches, drawing relentless negative media attention.
One source hypothesized that, based on conversations they've had with senators from the various groups, a motion to expel would be backed by at least 80 of the 99 sitting senators. (There are six vacancies.)
"We'll have the votes," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the vote wrangling is happening behind closed doors.
Independent Quebec Senator Andre Pratte said he welcomed the suggestion Tuesday that Meredith should be shown the door for good.
"I think Canadians expect no less than such a sanction against Mr. Meredith, and if we did not do that Canadians would have been very disappointed, very critical of us, and rightfully so."
Conservative Quebec Senator Leo Housakos, the chair of the Senate's powerful internal economy committee, said he too supports the recommendation to expel. "I think we've shown in the past, in the Senate, that we're unforgiving when it comes to behaviour that's not appropriate. It is unfortunate for Senator Meredith, but he will have to face the consequences."
Committee defends legal right to expel
Ottawa police investigated the matter but dropped the case without pressing criminal charges and, as a result, there were questions about the Senate's constitutional ability to expel a member.
At first glance, the Constitution Act seems to enumerate only five areas as to when a senator can be permanently disqualified: an absence for more than two consecutive sessions, allegiance or adherence to a foreign power, bankruptcy, treason or conviction of a felony or if a senator does not meet property qualifications.
Andreychuk tried to put an end to legal haziness Tuesday, adding that the list is "not exhaustive."
"The right to suspend or expel one of its members is an inherent privilege to any legislative body necessary to protect its dignity and efficiency," she said.
The committee sought a legal opinion from the Senate's law clerk, Michel Patrice, on this matter, she said, and he pointed to Section 18 of the Constitution Act as appropriate legal cover.
The section confers on members of the Senate the "privileges, immunities or powers ... enjoyed, and exercised by the Commons House of Parliament in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland."
British MPs are able to deliver the ultimate sanction, and remove a member from the House with a simple majority vote on a motion. (The power is used rarely, and there are only three examples in the last 100 years.)
According to Patrice, Section 18, drafted by the Fathers of Confederation, can be read to mean that a Canadian parliamentarian can have no fewer powers than a British MP, including the same right to expel.
"The exercise of a parliamentary privilege is of the exclusive domain of the Senate; courts of law cannot review the exercise of a parliamentary privilege once its existence and scope have been authoritatively established," Patrice is quoted as saying in the report.
(Patrice's full legal opinion is available here.)
The deliberations over an expulsion vote will take place under the shadow of even more scandal after HuffPost on Sunday published the accounts of three former staffers, who spoke anonymously, alleging "alarming workplace behaviours" by Meredith, including years of harassment and sexual abuse in his Ottawa office.
According to HuffPost, the staffers said Meredith inappropriately touched a female employee, repeatedly groping her breasts and buttocks while they were supposed to be engaged in group prayer.
Meredith's executive assistant Nicole Waldron said Monday the senator had no comment to make about those allegations at this time.