Sen. Don Meredith has been formally asked to appear on April 4 before the Senate ethics committee, which is considering whether and how to punish him after a report found he used the prestige of his office to pursue a sexual relationship with a teenager.
Meredith’s lawyer, Bill Trudell, told Canadian Press his client will honour the invitation, but that it was not clear what form his appearance would take, given that the senator is on sick leave. Committees are usually equipped to accommodate phone or video conferencing.
Meredith, 52, has rejected calls from fellow senators to resign ever since a March 9 report by ethics officer Lyse Ricard found he had used the “weight, prestige and notability of his office” to “lure or attract” a “vulnerable teenager” identified as “Ms. M” into a sexual relationship.
“Senator Meredith engaged in a pattern of behavior that advanced an improper relationship” with Ms. M, after first meeting her at an Ottawa church function when he was 48 years old and she was 16, the report stated. The relationship included having intercourse at least once before she turned 18, Ricard found. Meredith also agreed in testimony that he had intercourse with Ms. M in February 2015, the report states, soon after she had turned 18.
Meredith's story is the latest controversy facing the Senate of Canada, following Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak's remarks earlier this month that there were positive elements to the residential school system—where indigenous children suffered years of abuse. Those comments angered the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, among others.
Parliament's upper chamber has also tried to move beyond the high-profile criminal trial of Senator Mike Duffy, in which he was acquitted on 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery last year. The federal ethics watchdog is continuing her examination of Nigel Wright, once former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, who paid Duffy $90,000 to help him reimburse the Senate for living expense claims.
Committee to review sanctions including Senate suspension
Not only did Meredith breach the Senate code of conduct, Ricard wrote, but remedial measures the senator proposed on March 7 did not go far enough to repair the damage. His proposals included counselling with his wife and taking a professional development course on "self-regulation," according to the report. Meredith has begged forgiveness for his "moral failing" and says he made a "grave error."
The Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators is scheduled to meet Wednesday behind closed doors to consider Ricard’s report. Meredith has been invited to attend a subsequent meeting next Tuesday, April 4.
The process surrounding the committee's application of "appropriate remedial measures or sanctions," and the chance for Meredith to appear at the meeting, is laid out in the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.
Sanctions can include a suspension from the Senate, curtailing access to Senate resources, stripping of Senate duties or powers, blocking speaking or voting rights, ordering an apology or censure.
The rules around senators being permanently disqualified and vacating their seat are outlined in the Canadian constitution, and generally are triggered by other factors such as long-term absence, foreign obedience, bankruptcy, treason, criminal conviction or residency requirements.
National Observer's questions to Meredith and Trudell about the senator's attendance at the ethics committee meeting were not answered in time for publication. The acting clerk of the committee, Shaila Anwar, declined to answer questions about the meeting.