POLITICS
04/24/2018 15:47 EDT | Updated 04/24/2018 18:15 EDT

Senate Ethics Officer Quietly Resumes Don Meredith Inquiry

It was put on hold for nearly four months.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press
Don Meredith is seen in his Toronto lawyer's office in downtown Toronto on March 16, 2017.

OTTAWA — The Senate Ethics Officer has resumed its inquiry into allegations that former senator Don Meredith harassed and sexually abused his parliamentary staff for years.

Pierre Legault revealed the news in a bulletin posted on the Senate Ethics Office's website on April 13, announcing the inquiry resumed the previous day.

Legault halted the inquiry last year "at the request of another authority due to the fact that that authority was conducting its own investigation." That authority was the Ottawa Police Service, HuffPost Canada has learned.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Senators wait for the start of a vote in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 22, 2018.

Legault served as the Senate's interim ethics officer when the decision was made to suspend the inquiry on Dec. 1. Days later, he was formally nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be the upper chamber's permanent ethics watchdog.

During an appearance before the Senate to face questions about his appointment, Legault was asked by Quebec Sen. Josée Verner if he could "assure the alleged victims that there will be a report at some point so they can have closure and turn the page on a dark chapter in their lives."

Legault said the investigation was "ongoing" and made no mention of its suspension 10 days earlier. He told senators: "A report will be produced, but the code prevents me from sharing any more information or details."

Concerns about process

In an interview Monday, Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran said she followed up with Legault after his appearance in the Senate with questions related to the Meredith inquiry.

"I asked about what was happening. He wrote back and said, 'Oh I suspended that investigation and I put the notice up on my website on Dec. 1.'" The response caught the independent senator by surprise. "I had no idea."

The former human rights lawyer has a long history of work advocating for survivors of sexual violence and harassment. She was appointed to the red chamber by Trudeau in 2016.

'That's confidential. I don't have to answer your question.'- Sen. McPheran quotes an email she received from the Senate Ethics Officer

McPhedran told HuffPost that she sent another follow-up to Legault asking if he notified those directly affected by the inquiry that it had been suspended.

"And he wrote back, 'That's confidential. I don't have to answer your question,'" she said, adding that the Senate Ethics Officer refused to answer a question about process "under this cone of silence."

An investigation published by HuffPost Canada last year found Senate human resources were notified of workplace issues in Meredith's office as early as July 2013. Former staff members alleged they were regularly told to work overtime without pay.

One former staffer alleged Meredith, a Pentecostal minister, would encourage prayer in the office, placing his hands on her shoulder before moving them down to touch her breast and bottom.

Listen to an excerpt from one of her interviews with HuffPost Canada. Her voice has been changed to protect her identity:

The Senate's weak reputation of processing complaints against sitting senators created toxic workplace, said all the former staff members who spoke to HuffPost.

The senator's alleged behaviour continued without penalty up until his resignation last May.

The Senate Ethics Officer has resumed his inquiry into the workplace allegations in the midst of the #MeToo movement. It's a new political climate that has expedited legislation such as Bill C-65, the government's anti-harassment bill.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu tabled the bill last year, which aims to prevent workplace harassment in federally regulated workplaces — extending measures to Parliament Hill staffers for the first time. It also proposes measure to improve the process of filing and investigating complaints.

The parliamentary committee on human resources studied the bill and presented its report to the House on Monday. It is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Sen. Verner as a Conservative senator. She quit the Tory caucus last year and currently sits as an independent. This story has been updated.