‘To­tally un­ac­cept­able,’ ex-sen­a­tor’s em­ploy­ees say of com­pen­sa­tion process

Times Colonist - - Canada / World - TERESA WRIGHT

OT­TAWA — Two women who worked for for­mer sen­a­tor Don Mered­ith say the in­de­pen­dent process es­tab­lished by the Se­nate to de­ter­mine com­pen­sa­tion for Mered­ith’s ha­rass­ment vic­tims is “to­tally un­ac­cept­able” and is re-vic­tim­iz­ing them.

The two women spoke to the Cana­dian Press with their lawyer, Brian Mitchell. They have not been named pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to pre­serve their pri­vacy as vic­tims of ha­rass­ment and abuse.

They say they feel they’re be­ing bul­lied into tak­ing part in a com­pen­sa­tion process they be­lieve is un­fair and opaque.

“It’s dis­grace­ful to the Se­nate. They keep on call­ing them­selves hon­ourable mem­bers and, to me, this whole process is noth­ing but dis­hon­ourable,” one of the women said.

“I will not en­gage in a process where I can harm my­self more than I have been harmed by this in­sti­tu­tion.”

The second for­mer Mered­ith staffer agreed, say­ing she took a job with the Se­nate be­cause she be­lieved in the im­por­tance of the work there.

“I think that’s why it hurts so much that this in­sti­tu­tion that I did hold in very high re­gard seems more fo­cused on pro­tect­ing it­self than do­ing the right thing.”

For­mer Que­bec ap­peals court judge Louise Otis has been hired as an in­de­pen­dent eval­u­a­tor and has been tasked to speak with six for­mer em­ploy­ees in Mered­ith’s office and re­view all ma­te­ri­als from a four-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­pleted last year by the Se­nate ethics of­fi­cer.

That probe found Mered­ith re­peat­edly bul­lied, threat­ened and in­tim­i­dated his staff and re­peat­edly touched, kissed and propo­si­tioned some of them.

Mered­ith, who was ap­pointed by for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper in 2010, re­signed in 2017 after a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to an in­ter­nal rec­om­men­da­tion that he be ex­pelled over a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship he had with a teenage girl.

He has not faced any crim­i­nal charges.

The Se­nate’s pow­er­ful in­ter­nal econ­omy com­mit­tee launched the cur­rent eval­u­a­tion process last month to de­ter­mine “po­ten­tial com­pen­sa­tion” for Mered­ith’s for­mer em­ploy­ees.

Those par­tic­i­pat­ing in Otis’s eval­u­a­tion are not al­lowed to use lawyers, their le­gal costs won’t be cov­ered and Otis’s fi­nal de­ci­sions on com­pen­sa­tion will not be bind­ing on the Se­nate, according to let­ters sent to the for­mer staffers by the Se­nate’s le­gal coun­sel and by Otis.

The cor­re­spon­dence was pro­vided to the Cana­dian Press.

“If we have a video­con­fer­ence meet­ing, you may be ac­com­pa­nied by a sup­port per­son of your choice, pro­vided the per­son is not a lawyer as this is nei­ther a trial nor a ju­di­cial hear­ing,” Otis’s letter to the em­ploy­ees states.

How­ever, if they have any ques­tions or con­cerns, the em­ploy­ees are en­cour­aged to con­tact the Se­nate’s le­gal coun­sel — a “David and Go­liath” sce­nario their lawyer says is wholly un­fair.

“How can they de­fend them­selves, how can they tes­tify and how can they rep­re­sent them­selves when they don’t have the same level play­ing field of the Se­nate?” Mitchell said.

Sen. Sabi Mar­wah, the chair of the Se­nate’s com­mit­tee on in­ter­nal econ­omy, de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this story.

In a state­ment, Se­nate spokes­woman Ali­son Korn said the com­mit­tee unan­i­mously de­cided on the cur­rent “im­par­tial, in­de­pen­dent and cred­i­ble process,” which will take all facts con­tained in the ethics of­fi­cer’s re­port as true and proven.

Otis’s deter­mi­na­tion on dam­ages will be based on other three re­cent ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments in the RCMP, Cana­dian Armed Forces and De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence.

Mitchell, who said he will soon be rep­re­sent­ing two more of the six vic­tims, says his clients are con­cerned that Otis is not be­ing asked to con­sider the Se­nate’s duty to pro­tect them as em­ploy­ees.

“With­out look­ing at the li­a­bil­ity and ac­cept­ing li­a­bil­ity of the Se­nate for the acts that hap­pened to these vic­tims from the date of their em­ploy­ment with Sen. Mered­ith to the date hereof is, we sug­gest, an area that we hope the terms of ref­er­ence will be amended so that it will be a full re­view of all dam­ages that have been suf­fered,” Mitchell said.

Last week, Mitchell sent a letter to mem­bers of the in­ter­nal econ­omy com­mit­tee out­lin­ing his clients’ con­cerns and ask­ing for the process to be changed.

Se­nate lawyer Charles Feld­man wrote back say­ing the process was es­tab­lished to pro­vide re­dress to the em­ploy­ees af­fected by Mered­ith’s con­duct, and that the in­ter­nal econ­omy com­mit­tee wasn’t re­quired to do anything to re­spond to the ethics of­fi­cer’s find­ings, but has done so “of its own vo­li­tion.”

The two women say this makes them feel as though they should be happy the Se­nate is tak­ing any ac­tion.

“You can­not put us through six years of wait­ing … and then sud­denly say the time is now and also take it or leave it,” one of the women said.

Tues­day was the dead­line for the em­ploy­ees to in­form Otis if they planned to par­tic­i­pate in the eval­u­a­tion process, but Mitchell says his clients will not take part un­less Otis’s terms of ref­er­ence are changed.

Don Mered­ith

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