Ethics officer to review allegations against Don Meredith

Speaker of Senate confirms ethics officer will look into allegations of workplace harassment against former senator

OTTAWA – A one-time Conservative senator is now facing two ethics probes for his conduct inside and outside the Senate — the first senator to face such investigations since the upper chamber added more teeth to its ethics code last year.

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos said Thursday the Senate ethics officer has been asked to look into Sen. Don Meredith over the results of a workplace investigation that unearthed concerns about his conduct towards staff and his use of Senate resources.

Housakos said he and other top senators on the Senate’s internal economy committee felt it was “imperative” the investigation results be referred to ethics officer Lyse Ricard.

The review announced Thursday is in addition to a separate investigation by the Senate’s ethics officer after published allegations last month that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

Depending on the outcome of the latest ethics review, Meredith could face penalties ranging from a forced public apology on the floor of the Senate — which was the punishment for former Conservative Pierre Hugues Boisvenu when he was found last year to have violated the Senate’s ethics code — to suspension without pay, which is allowed under the new ethics rules.

The investigation report has not been made public, and the allegations it contains remain unproven. None of the staffers who took part, nor any whose stories are included in the report, wanted to file a formal complaint against Meredith, Senate sources said.

Sources told The Canadian Press that six former staffers who spoke with outside investigators made allegations of workplace harassment against Meredith, saying he was a bully, rude and unprofessional towards his staff.

Staffers who spoke with investigators also outlined that they had expressed concerns to Meredith over trips he took to New York and Washington, D.C., because the trips included enough personal business to question whether he should have expensed them to the Senate.

One of those trips, sources confirmed, was last year for Meredith and his wife to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The annual event draws some 3,000 politicians and diplomats, including the U.S. president and federal MPs. Meredith later repaid the Senate for the trip.

Meredith didn’t have any spending problems reported in the auditor general’s June report into Senate spending. Ghislain Desjardins, a spokesman for auditor general Michael Ferguson, said the office wouldn’t comment on the details of Meredith’s audit.

The Senate first ordered the investigation into Meredith’s office in February after top senators, including former Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin, witnessed what they felt was a troubling turnover of staff in Meredith’s office. The upper chamber hired outside investigators to speak with former staffers and Senate human resources officials as well as Meredith himself.

Six staffers who left Meredith’s office in the last four years and spoke with investigators are not identified in the report and only took part on the condition that their names be protected.

Two more staffers who left Meredith’s office in the last four years declined to take part, but had their stories told second-hand to investigators by the six staffers who did speak, a Senate source with knowledge of the report told The Canadian Press Wednesday.

Meredith spoke with investigators in May and Senate sources said he denied the allegations against him.

The former Conservative senator who now sits as an independent has not returned multiple requests for comment left for him on his Senate cell phone, Senate email and at his Richmond Hill home.

The workplace review comes after a separate investigation already under way by the Senate’s ethics officer after published allegations last month that Meredith had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

The woman told the Toronto Star that Meredith initially believed her to be 18, but she told him her true age within six weeks of the pair’s first meeting at a Black History Month event at a church in Ottawa.

The Star report said the woman, who is now 18, had sexually explicit online chats with Meredith and that the relationship progressed to kissing and touching before she turned 18.

She said the pair had intercourse twice after she turned 18 before the 50-year-old Meredith, a married Pentecostal minister who is a father of two, broke off the relationship earlier this year.

Meredith quit the Conservative caucus after the allegations were published.

He has since faced calls for his resignation from senators of both stripes. Through a lawyer retained after the Star story was published, Meredith stated he fully intends to respect the internal procedures of the Senate.

Last year, the Senate expanded its ethics code to allow it to punish senators found to have behaved in a way that could damage the reputation of the upper chamber, a response to the spending scandal involving Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.

The ethics officer was given more power to go public with her work and recommend new punishments, such as suspension, that weren’t previously available.

Follow @jpress on Twitter.

© The Canadian Press, 2015

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