OTTAWA – The Senate’s ethics committee met behind closed doors Wednesday to consider what sanctions can or should be imposed on disgraced Sen. Don Meredith for engaging in a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
Options under consideration ranged from a reprimand to outright expulsion from the upper house, but no conclusion was reached.
Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk said the committee has an obligation to give Meredith a “reasonable opportunity” to speak to the committee before it reports back to the Senate with a recommendation for remedial action or sanctions.
Meredith has taken sick leave and was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, but Andreychuk said the committee is “in communication” with his lawyer. She would not say whether Meredith being on sick leave could delay the proceedings.
“We’re going to move as quickly as we can and do our job (as) fairly as we can,” she said. “We don’t always control dates and times.”
Meredith has rejected near-universal calls from fellow senators for his resignation since Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard issued a damning report earlier this month that concluded he had violated the chamber’s code of ethics.
The married Pentecostal pastor, 52, improperly used his Senate position to lure the vulnerable teen, identified only as Ms. M, Ricard concluded.
Meredith’s relationship with Ms. M began when she was just 16, the report said. 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.
Meredith has acknowledged the relationship but maintains he only had intercourse with the teen after she had turned 18.
In an interview with The Canadian Press last week, Meredith apologized for what he described as “a moral failing” but said he would not resign from the Senate.
The Senate, which must sign off on whatever sanction the ethics committee recommends, has never expelled a senator before and it’s not clear whether it has the constitutional authority to do so when the senator in question has not been convicted of any crime.
However, some senators and experts have pointed out that the Constitution does give the Senate and House of Commons the same powers as the British House of Commons, which can permanently expel a member.
Liberal Sen. Serge Joyal, vice-chair of the ethics committee and an acknowledged constitutional expert, declined to give his view on the constitutionality of trying to punt Meredith. But “it’s part of the deliberations of the committee,” he confirmed.
The Senate could also suspend Meredith without pay, as was done with senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau when they were under police investigation for alleged irregularities in their expense claims.
However, a suspension lasts only until the end of a parliamentary session and must be renewed at the start of every new session. In the case of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, their suspensions expired and they are now all back at work in the chamber.