OTTAWA — The Senate ethics committee has recommended that the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling disgraced Sen. Don Meredith for engaging in a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
It’s now up to the full Senate, which has never before expelled a member, to decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation, which also calls on the chamber to declare Meredith’s seat vacant.
“He has brought disrepute to himself and to the institution,” the committee said in a scathing report released Tuesday.
“Your committee is of the opinion that Sen. 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.”
Meredith must be given five sitting days in which to respond to the report, should he wish, so a vote on his fate can’t occur before next Tuesday at the earliest.
Meredith’s lawyer, Bill Trudell, said the senator was with his family and had no immediate comment on the report. The senator has a right to speak to the Senate and a right of final reply and will decide in the next few days whether to exercise those options, he added in an interview.
Trudell said he’s troubled by aspects of the report, although he would not specify exactly what those were.
“What they call for is a unique, never-used-before power to expel,” Trudell said. “What they are saying is that there is no other alternative and that’s precedent-setting. I suggested there were alternatives.”
According to the report, Meredith’s lawyer proposed that the senator be suspended without pay for one or two years. But the committee concluded that “a suspension would reinstate only temporarily the Senate’s dignity and integrity, which would again be compromised when Sen. Meredith would resume his seat.”
The Senate has undisputed authority to suspend senators and did so recently with senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau while they were under investigation for allegedly filing fraudulent expense claims.
Its power to expel is less clear.
The committee ultimately accepted the legal opinion of the law clerk and parliamentary counsel to the Senate that the Constitution confers on the upper house the same privileges enjoyed by the United Kingdom’s House of Commons. Since the U.K. Commons can permanently eject a member, so too can Canada’s Senate.
Trudell said he was not in a position to comment on the legality of expulsion.
“Constitutional experts will want to weigh in and I’m sure that the Senate itself will want to be satisfied that the work of the committee can be adopted,” he said.
The committee’s recommendation follows an explosive report from Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard earlier this year.
She concluded that Meredith, a 52-year-old, married, Pentecostal minister, had failed to uphold the “highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator” and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.
According to Ricard, Meredith began a relationship with the girl when she was just 16; it progressed from flirtatious online chats to fondling and sexually explicit live videos and, eventually, to sexual intercourse — once shortly before the teen turned 18 and twice after. She also found that Meredith had abused his position as a senator to take advantage of the teen.
Meredith has called the affair a “moral failing” but insists he did not have intercourse with the girl until after she turned 18 and has rejected fellow senators’ near-universal demand that he resign.
Sen. Raynell Andreychuk, chair of the ethics committee, received a standing ovation from most senators after summarizing the report — a telling sign that Meredith’s fellow senators seem keen to force him out since he won’t go voluntarily.
Meredith has publicly apologized to his family, his fellow senators, the woman in question — known only as Ms. M — and to all Canadians, hoping the contrition would be enough for him to hold on to his seat.
“As a human being, I made a grave error in judgment, in my interactions. For that I am deeply sorry,” he said in a March interview with The Canadian Press.
But while the committee acknowledged that Canadians would “undoubtedly be willing to accept that senators are human,” it found Meredith’s misconduct too egregious to excuse. The report notes that this was not an isolated incident but a case of an inappropriate relationship that lasted for two years.
Moreover, the committee said it was troubled by the fact that Meredith has never acknowledged that he “failed to uphold the dignity and public trust bestowed on him” or that his actions have damaged the institution.
“The committee could have considered suspension as appropriate had he taken immediate action to repair the prejudice his breach of the (ethics) code has caused but, after due consideration, the committee rejected this option as Sen. Meredith had taken no steps towards restoration.”
In addition to Ms. M case, Meredith is under separate investigation by the Senate ethics officer for allegedly sexually harassing and bullying members of his staff.
— with files from Colin Perkel in Toronto
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press