Com­mit­tee calls for ex­pul­sion of sen­a­tor

Don Mered­ith ‘un­fit to serve as a sen­a­tor,’ scathing re­port says

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOAN BRYDEN

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 was with his fam­ily, hadn’t yet read the de­tailed re­port and would have no im­me­di­ate com­ment, his lawyer Bill Trudell told The Cana­dian Press. The sen­a­tor does have a right to speak to the Se­nate and a right of fi­nal re­ply and would de­cide in the next few days whether to ex­er­cise those op­tions, he added.

Trudell said there were as­pects of the re­port that trou­bled him, al­though he would not spec­ify ex­actly what whose were.

“What they call for is a unique, never-used­be­fore 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 whether the Se­nate does in fact have the power to kick Mered­ith out.

“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-yearold, 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 16; it pro­gressed from flir­ta­tious on­line chats to 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.

“This is a moral fail­ing on my part,” Mered­ith said in March in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press, with his lawyer in at­ten­dance. “As a hu­man be­ing, I made a grave er­ror in judg­ment, in my in­ter­ac­tions. For that I am deeply sorry.”

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.

COLIN PERKEL, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Sen­a­tor Don Mered­ith ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a teenager.

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