Senator Don Meredith dumps racism defence, hires new lawyer

Senator Don Meredith no longer feels he was targeted by the Senate's ethics officer because he is a black man, his newly appointed lawyer says.

Only a week after characterizing Lyse Ricard's two-year investigation as having a racist element, Meredith is now taking a different tack, as he continues his fight to sit in the Red Chamber after having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.

"Senator Meredith doesn't feel this whole issue, including the Senate's approach, is racially motivated," his new lawyer, Bill Trudell, said in an interview Thursday.

Meredith said just last week, "Absolutely, racism has played a role in this," adding it was "nothing new to me. There is always a double standard [for black men] that exists in this country."

In a thinly veiled swipe at Meredith's former lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, Trudell said he'll try to defend Meredith, and his conduct, without resorting to racial politics.

"I think that is a position I would not advance, it doesn't address the issue. It's not something that will be addressed here," he said in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics.

"Senator Meredith has made a serious mistake, but I firmly believe that everyone is bigger than his worst mistake, and I'm going to work hard to turn the temperature down and find a resolution as soon as possible," Trudell said, adding his client had used that defence "because he is under a lot of stress."

Pieters had said Meredith was being portrayed as a "sexual predator" because he is an imposing black man. He said Caucasian senators have conducted equally questionable behaviour and yet still hold on to their seats in what he called the "Rogue Chamber."

Ethics committee considers sanctions

Members of the Senate's ethics committee met Wednesday behind closed doors to begin the process of formally sanctioning the Toronto-area senator for actions that have been called "disgusting" by fellow parliamentarians.

Meredith could face a number of punishments for breaching the ethics code, including suspension without pay. Some senators are so determined to remove him from the Red Chamber, they are considering an outright expulsion, something Meredith's new lawyer is hoping to avoid.

Trudell said he will be consulting with constitutional experts to ascertain whether the Senate can expel his client.

Meredith, a 52-year-old Pentecostal pastor, was appointed as a Conservative senator by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 before becoming a member of the Independent Senators Group (ISG).

He denies many of the allegations levelled against him by the woman in question — who is identified as "Ms. M" in the ethics report detailing the case — but has said he had sexual intercourse with her on at least one occasion when she was over 18.

Ricard's report found that Meredith violated two sections of the code of ethics, namely that he did not uphold the highest standards of dignity inherent to his position, and that his actions reflect adversely on the institution of the Senate.

Ottawa police investigated the matter but dropped the case without pressing criminal charges.

"A breach of the code by any one senator reflects adversely on the Senate and all senators and affects the ability of the Senate and all senators to carry out their functions," members of the ethics committee said in a statement released after their meeting.

"The committee will continue its consideration of the [ethics report] over the coming days and intends to report its recommendations to the Senate as promptly as circumstances permit."

Under the Senate's own rules, Meredith must be given the opportunity to appear before the body at some point to mount a defence of his behaviour.