Ethics committee poised to rule on Don Meredith, as senator faces new sexual abuse allegations

The Senate's ethics committee will finalize its much anticipated report on the fate of Senator Don Meredith Tuesday as fresh allegations emerge of sexual abuse and harassment inside the Pentecostal preacher's office on Parliament Hill.

The five-member committee, composed of former judges and some of the country's top lawyers, has been reviewing an explosive report by Senate ethics watchdog Lyse Ricard for weeks. The report documents the Toronto-area senator's nearly two-year sexual relationship with a teenage girl known as "Ms. M."

Meredith denies many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question but has said he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion when she was over 18.

Sources told CBC News that the committee will sign off on the report Tuesday at the committee's final meeting on the matter, while the report is expected to be tabled publicly in the Senate either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the legislative agenda. The sources spoke to CBC News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the report publicly.

The deliberations will take place under the shadow of even more scandal after HuffPost on Sunday published the accounts of three former staffers, who spoke anonymously, alleging "alarming workplace behaviours" by Meredith, including years of harassment and sexual abuse in his Ottawa office.

According to HuffPost, the staffers said Meredith inappropriately touched his female employees, repeatedly groping their breasts and buttocks while they were supposed to be engaged in group prayer.

Meredith's executive assistant Nicole Waldron said Monday the senator had no comment to make about the allegations at this time.

Report will recommend punishment

Some of those allegations are the subject of a separate review by Ricard, which might never see the light of day if Meredith is removed from the chamber for his relationship with Ms. M. Under the ethics rules, investigations are suspended if a member leaves or is removed from the chamber.

Because Ricard found Meredith breached his obligations under the ethics code, it is not a matter of if, but how the senator will now be punished.

Meredith's lawyer, Bill Trudell, told CBC News his client will not be appearing before the committee again. Meredith had wanted another opportunity to state his case, but that invitation was not forthcoming.

"I suspect nothing will happen [this week] except the anticipated release. I can't be more certain that that," he said in an email. "The process after the report is issued in the Senate itself is something we will be educated on. They will consider it at some future point."

There are a number of remedial measures the committee can recommend the Senate impose on Meredith for his transgressions, including:

- Reduction or removal of access to Senate resources, such as budgets and staff.

- Removal of Senate assignments, duties or powers.

- Elimination of the right to speak or vote. 

- An invitation or order to apologize.

- A censure, admonition or reprimand.

- Suspension.

Senators determined to expel

The committee could also take the extraordinary step of recommending Meredith be expelled from the chamber, something that has never been done in Canadian history.

The move could raise fundamental constitutional questions as, at first glance, the Constitution Act, seems to enumerate only five areas as to when a senator can be permanently disqualified: an absence for more than two consecutive sessions, allegiance or adherence to a foreign power, bankruptcy, treason or conviction of a felony or if a senator does not meet property qualifications.

However, as CBC News first reported, some senators believe they can rely on another section of the constitution that extends the same powers enjoyed by British MPs to Canadian parliamentarians, including the right to expel one of their own.

Sources told CBC News that there is a determination — on the part of virtually all senators from the various caucuses — to expel Meredith from the Senate, despite some of the legal haziness. There is a general sense that the Red Chamber cannot pursue its modernization and reform agenda with Meredith still sitting on its benches, drawing relentless negative media attention.

One source hypothesized that, based on conversations they've had with senators from the various groups, a motion to expel would be backed by at least 80 of the 99 sitting senators. (There are six vacancies.)

"We'll have the votes," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the vote wrangling is happening behind closed doors.

Minimum 5 sitting days

There will be a minimum of five sitting days of debate on the committee's report before there can be a vote to adopt (or reject) sanctions against Meredith. The report must be "disposed of" no later than the fifteenth sitting day after it was first introduced.

Therefore, the Senate could spend up to a month debating before there is a final vote — a considerable amount of time given the amount of legislation on the agenda with only weeks left before the chamber is expected to rise for the summer break. The report could also be referred back to the committee for further consideration, a move that could punt a decision to a later date.

Meredith will be able to speak in the chamber if he so chooses, and will be given the right of "final reply" before any vote on a sanction against him.

Meredith, 52, was appointed as a Conservative senator by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 before becoming a member of the Independent Senators Group. Elaine McCoy, the leader of the group, has already asked Meredith to step away from her caucus, and she has removed him from all of his committee assignments.