OTTAWA – The head of the Senate’s ethics committee says all options are on the table when it comes to possible punishments for Sen. Don Meredith over his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.
While she wouldn’t go into details, Sen. Raynell Andreychuk’s committee will have to decide whether the answers it heard from Meredith were enough to spare him from a recommendation that he be expelled from the chamber.
Andreychuk said the committee wants to promptly finish its deliberations on the complicated case, weighing the impact of its decision on Meredith, other senators and the public, as well as how it will effect the reputation of the Senate, which is trying to distance itself from years of scandal.
Andreychuk, a Conservative from Saskatchewan, didn’t say when a final decision would be made.
“This is not a criminal case. This is a disciplinary case,” said Andreychuk, a former provincial court judge.
“Patience is the word to make it fair, and taking in all the factors.”
The Senate ethics committee met behind closed doors for almost three hours on Tuesday, with much of that time granted to Meredith to testify about an ethics investigation that concluded he abused his position as senator when he had a sexual relationship with a teenager.
After his testimony, Meredith left by a side door and didn’t speak to reporters.
No one involved in the meeting discussed details of what Meredith said, citing committee confidentiality rules.
Bill Trudell, Meredith’s lawyer, said the Toronto-area senator had to take frequent breaks during what was described as professional, engaged questioning. Meredith is on sick leave from the Senate, but wanted to testify in person, Trudell said.
Trudell said he believes Meredith may have to meet the committee again, or file more documents, given the complexity of the arguments and some unanswered questions arising from the meeting.
Trudell urged the public not to prejudge the outcome of the hearings. He also said senators who have publicly called on Meredith to resign or be booted from the chamber should let the process play out.
“The public in this country respect process and the process is in place,” Trudell said after the meeting.
“I absolutely don’t agree that the public is going to demand something without respecting the process. That’s not the way we work in Canada.”
Meredith’s case is the first time the ethics committee has had to deal with a critical finding under the revamped ethics code that gave the Senate the right to discipline members for personal conduct.
Ethics officer Lyse Ricard’s report last month said Meredith didn’t uphold the “highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator” and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.
The ethics report found Meredith, 52, had sex with the woman once before she turned 18 and twice afterward and also engaged her in explicit online chats. Meredith acknowledged a sexual relationship, but only after the woman turned 18.
Meredith has since apologized publicly for what he called a moral failing, but said that shouldn’t mean an end to his time in the Senate.
His closed-door testimony is part of a process the committee must go through before it can recommend what, if any, punishments Meredith should face. It will be up to the Senate as a whole to decide Meredith’s fate once the committee releases its recommendations.
The Senate has never expelled one of its own and there is a divide within the chamber about whether it has the power to do so.
Senate officials believe the upper chamber has the constitutional power to expel a member by a simple majority vote. Senators are more divided on the issue.