Senator Don Meredith is being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion for the two-year sexual relationship which he had with a teenager.
The outraged media and the public at large are convinced that he is guilty of moral depravity that is totally unacceptable for a senator. They are also being influenced by the fact that he is a senior church pastor who is married and the father of two children.
The pastor-cum-senator is not charged with any criminal offence. The judicial authorities, having conducted their own investigation, apparently concluded that no breach of the law occurred or that the evidence was not strong enough to secure a conviction.
Consequently, his conduct has been the subject of a formal investigation and a Report that will be considered by the Ethics Committee of the Senate.
The Report has been prepared by the Senate’s Ethics Officer, Ms Lyse Ricard and it is harshly critical of the senator’s conduct.
It concluded that Mr. Meredith had violated two sections of the code of ethics: he failed to maintain the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and he acted in a manner that reflected adversely on the institution of the Senate.
The Report went into the details of the two-year relationship. When they first met at a Black History Month event at an Ottawa-area church in February 2013, Meredith was 51 years old and the woman was 16.
The following excerpts from the Report reflect the evaluation of the “credible” testimony and evidence presented to the Ethics Officer by the woman (referred to as “Ms. M”):
“Senator Meredith drew upon his weight, prestige and notability of his office, as well as his relative position of power as a much older adult, to lure or attract Ms. M, a teenager who, by virtue of her age, was necessarily vulnerable… He exploited Ms. M and the power imbalance between them.”
“Senator Meredith made promises and suggestions to Ms. M that would draw on the resources, weight and authority of his office as senator, as well as his external professional connections apart from that office, to promote, assist and advance Ms. M and members of her family.”
On the other hand, the Report also made clear references to the lack of credibility in the submissions made to the Ethics Officer by Senator Meredith during the course of her investigation and at its conclusion. His responses frequently amounted to partial denials, and indications that he had “no recollection of” the details of their sexual interactions.
There appear to be reasonably sound legal arguments to support the view that a plenary session of the Senate has the authority to expel a senator.
That is likely to be the outcome of the case if the Ethics Committee accepts the conclusions and the recommendations in the Report. A reprimand or suspension does not appear to be on the cards.
Senator Meredith has put forward two alternative considerations to counter the demands that he should resign or be expelled from his post as a senator.
Firstly, he has indicated that his relationship with the woman does not fall within the purview of the Senate. It was, he said, a personal matter in respect of which no criminal charges were laid.
No one has taken this first opinion seriously. Even if he thinks that it is a personal issue, the nature of the “moral failing” to which he admits justifies an investigation into whether he breached the Senate’s code of ethics and whether he is fit to hold office.
He further suggested that he was being victimized because of his race, an inference that other (supposedly, white) senators had or would be treated less harshly.
This second opinion deserves a response, both in respect of race and in the context of possible personal or political bias against him.
Two wrongs do not make a right.
The senate erred grievously when it failed to change the rules and even continued to make payments to Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau in respect of expenses that were not illegal but were clearly unethical.
And the same goes for Senator Brazeau’s whose personal conduct involving repeat incidents of violence towards women also makes him unworthy of sitting in the Red Chamber.
These are all matters of ethics.
Considering all of the circumstances, the various opinions and the interests of all the parties, including Mr. Meredith himself, it is highly desirable that he resign from the Senate.