OTTAWA – A prominent and polarizing senator is expected in court this morning after police were called to his home in connection with a domestic violence incident.
Patrick Brazeau’s court appearance comes after the prime minister swiftly turfed him from the Conservative caucus Thursday following a 911 call that led police to the senator’s Gatineau, Que., home.
While his house was described as a crime scene, police refused to confirm the man they arrested there and held in custody was Brazeau.
They said their investigation was ongoing and also refused to comment on the condition of the victim.
Brazeau’s office said Thursday that while he’s no longer sitting as a Tory, he intends to remain in the Senate as an independent.
If he is charged today, he would be placed on leave from the Senate, and though he could still attend sessions, his access to benefits would be curtailed.
He would only be suspended if convicted of an indictable offence.
The seeming infallibility of senators has led to repeated calls for reform — or outright abolishment — of the Senate for years.
Brazeau’s exit from caucus is the latest stain on the institution, which has already had a rough few months.
And Brazeau appeared to kickstart it.
After The Canadian Press reported last summer that he had the worst attendance record in the Senate, Conservative Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton asked for a study into attendance rules.
Brazeau cited personal reasons for the absences.
Then, Liberal Sen. Joyce Fairbairn retired because she was suffering from dementia, but she had been attending the chamber and voting with the full knowledge of her party after being diagnosed.
Finally came an ordered audit of senators’ housing files, following reports suggesting some are charging for living allowances designed for out-of-province residents, even though they apparently live in or quite near Ottawa.
Senate reform was an early pledge from the Conservative government and Harper did eventually introduce a bill that would impose term limits and create a mechanism for elections.
But rather than use his majority muscle to see it passed, he’s now sent it on to the Supreme Court for review.
How senators get appointed is often an easy target for criticism, with an appointment to the chamber often seen as a thank-you post for party donors, supporters or former politicians.
Brazeau’s appointment to the Senate in 2008 created an immediate outcry.
He was 34 when called to the red chamber, making him the third-youngest appointee in its history and giving him quick access to a gold-plated pension and six-figure salary that most his age will never see.
He joined while still a national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; Brazeau is a member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec.
His relationship with the broader First Nations community has been fraught with tension.
He eventually resigned from CAP in January 2009 after news broke that an employee there filed a sexual harassment complaint against him with Ontario’s human rights tribunal.
He was also linked to allegations of CAP misspending of federal funds that were supposed to pay for aboriginal health programs. Conservatives argued, at the time, that the misspending happened before Brazeau took over as congress chief.
Brazeau went on to become an outspoken advocate from the Senate for greater transparency from First Nations on how they spend federal dollars.
In that vein, he was highly critical of Chief Theresa Spence, who went on a hunger strike to force renewed talks between the federal government and aboriginal leaders. At the same time, the dire social and economic conditions on her reserve were under scrutiny as her band has received millions in federal funding.
Spence refused to meet with him when he tried.
He also criticized the wave of protests under the Idle No More banner, saying aboriginal activists weren’t setting a good example.
Brazeau’s views have led to some of his own band members to denounce him, saying he’s gone rogue.
“We are working very hard at the community and Nation level to bring about meaningful and accountable changes but Sen. Brazeau’s dismissive and condescending statements leaves no room for meaningful dialogue,” said Chief Gilbert W. Whiteduck said in a news release earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Brazeau’s own finances have come under scrutiny.
He has been in the spotlight recently over allegations he was using addresses other than his own in order to access a housing allowance from the Senate and an aboriginal tax credit.
Other senators are under investigation for similar allegations related to the housing allowance.
But the prime minister made clear Thursday that Brazeau’s removal from the Tory caucus wasn’t linked to government.
“It’s known that in light of the serious events that have been reported today, I have removed Sen. Brazeau from the Conservative caucus,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Commons.
“Our understanding is that these are matters of a personal nature rather than Senate business, but they are very serious and we expect they will be dealt with through the courts.”
Friday, February 8, 2013