POLITICS

Don Meredith Sorry For 'Moral Failure' But Not Ready To Resign

03/16/2017 04:42 EDT | Updated 03/17/2017 08:53 EDT

TORONTO — Embattled Sen. Don Meredith begged forgiveness for his "moral failing" over his sexual relationship with a teenager but said Thursday he was not ready to resign.

Speaking out for the first time since a damning ethics report, Meredith told The Canadian Press he was taking a leave of absence from the Senate on the advice of his doctor and would be considering his options in the coming days and weeks.

"This is a moral failing on my part," a grim-faced Meredith said in a wide-ranging interview, with his wife Michelle quietly at his side. "As a human being, I made a grave error in judgment, in my interactions. For that I am deeply sorry."

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Sen. Don Meredith says he believes there are no legal grounds to fire him, despite Senate sources who have said they believe there are grounds for his removal. (Photo: Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

Meredith, 52, repeatedly apologized to his wife, children, his fellow senators and all Canadians for the relationship that took place with the woman known only as Ms. M.

His wife and children have forgiven him, he said, and he asked for the same forgiveness from his Senate colleagues and Ms. M.

"I believe in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation," he said as his Toronto lawyer looked on. "We're humans, and humans make mistakes."

A chorus of voices has called on Meredith to step down amid questions of whether the Senate has the power to force him to do so. Senate sources have said they believe the upper chamber does have the power to expel a senator and declare the seat vacant, and do so by a simple majority vote.

The six-year senator said he hoped his contrition should be enough to assuage those who have been calling for him to step down.

At the same time, he said, he believed there were no legal grounds to fire him, despite Senate sources who have said they believe there are grounds for his removal.

"I've broken no laws, and I want all Canadians to understand that."

Meredith's lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, said Section 18 of the Constitution only allows removal for someone convicted of a felony, too many missed sessions, bankruptcy or treason.

"Taken at its highest, the allegation against Sen. Meredith is a moral failing, it's not a legal failing," Pieters said.

Last week, a scathing report from Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard said Meredith failed to uphold the "highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator" and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.

The report said Meredith had sexual relations with a woman once before she turned 18, and twice after she turned 18, and also had explicit online chats with her. Meredith acknowledged in the report that he had sexual relations with the woman, but only after she turned 18.

Ricard ruled that Meredith used his position as senator improperly and that he violated the Senate's ethics code.

Meredith said Wednesday that he believes he is the victim of racism.

"Absolutely, racism has played a role in this," Meredith said. "This is nothing new to me. There is always a double standard that exists in this country."

Where individuals of colour rise, he said, somehow they're taken down —whether its "self-inflicted or orchestrated."

"Taken at its highest, the allegation against Sen. Meredith is a moral failing, it's not a legal failing."

Meredith, an ordained minister and father of two, was adamant that there was no criminal case against him. Ms. M has said that she declined to press charges to protect her identity, but Meredith called that "hearsay" and said police have the discretion to lay charges on their own initiative.

"I've broken no laws, and I want all Canadians to understand that."

Senate insiders have said they expect the ethics committee to deliver its report on March 28, the first day back from a two-week break.

Both Meredith and his lawyer said they believed that he has a right to speak to the report as a matter of procedural fairness.

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