Senate ethics committee reviews Don Meredith's case, ponders possible sanctions
Toronto-area senator could be suspended for his sexual relationship with a teenage girl
Members of the Senate's ethics committee met to review the case of embattled Senator Don Meredith on Wednesday, beginning the process of formally sanctioning the Toronto-area senator for his relationship with a teenage girl.
Committee members met behind closed doors at 3 p.m. to study the Senate ethics officer's report, which was compiled after a two-year investigation into Meredith's sexual relationship with a young woman he first met at an Ottawa church when she was just 16.
Options under consideration range from a reprimand to outright expulsion from the upper house, but no conclusion was reached.
Meredith, a 52-year-old 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 (ISG). He 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 her report detailing the case — but has said he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion when she was over 18.
Ricard's report found that 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. Ottawa police investigated the matter but dropped the case without pressing criminal charges.
Meredith will not appear
Meredith did not appear at the committee Wednesday because the senators met in camera with no invited guests. Under the Senate's own rules, Meredith must be given the opportunity to appear before the body at some point to mount a defence of his behaviour.
He had retained Toronto lawyer Selwyn Pieters to represent him during his appearances before the committee, but Pieters said Monday he is no longer representing Meredith. Pieters had said that Ricard unfairly targeted his client as a "predator" because he is a black man.
Because Ricard found Meredith breached his obligations under the ethics code, it is not a matter of if, but how he will be punished, according the rules. There are a number of remedial measures the committee can recommend the Senate impose on Meredith for his transgressions, including:
- Reduction or removal of access to Senate resources, like budgets and staff.
- Removal of Senate assignments, duties or powers.
- Elimination of the right to speak or vote.
- An invitation or order to apologize.
- A censure, admonition or reprimand.
Elaine McCoy, the leader of the Independent Senators Group, has already asked Meredith to step away from her caucus, and she has removed him from all of his committee assignments.
The ethics committee will deliver its recommendations to the Senate chamber, and all senators will then have a chance to vote on sanctions against Meredith.
Senators considering expulsion
There have been near universal calls for Meredith's resignation since Ricard released her report two weeks ago.
Peter Harder, the Trudeau government's representative in the Senate, has said Meredith should resign, and if he does not leave voluntarily the chamber's leadership will consider its options.
The Senate has never expelled one of its own, but came close after Liberal Senator Andrew Thompson posted continually dismal attendance records — he was present in the chamber only 28 times in a 14-year period — but they ultimately decided on a suspension because of concerns about constitutional complications.
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Similarly, the chamber suspended senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin for irregularities in their expenses, but those suspensions expired when the last election was called. All three have since returned to their seats.
A suspension is temporary, whereas an expulsion would remove Meredith from the chamber entirely, stripping him of his title and his right to sit in the chamber for good.
As CBC News first reported, some members of the Red Chamber are so determined to expel Meredith that they have tasked the Senate's law clerk with combing through the Constitution in search of a line they can use to expel him.
The clerk and other constitutional experts have pointed to Section 18 of the Constitution, which stipulates that Canadian parliamentarians should have the same privileges as a British MP. Members of the British House of Commons have the power to expel one of their own, and have used it sparingly to eject wayward MPs.
Liberal Senator Serge Joyal, vice-chair of the ethics committee and an acknowledged constitutional expert, declined to give his view on the constitutionality of trying to punt Meredith. But "it's part of the deliberations of the committee," he confirmed.
With files from The Canadian Press