OTTAWA — The conduct of disgraced former senator Don Meredith and the upper chamber’s treatment of alleged victims of workplace misconduct and sexual harassment will be among the first matters senators address in the new year.
Senator Josée Verner, interim leader of a new coalition of senators, tabled a notice of inquiry Thursday to resurrect a damning report published by the Senate ethics officer during the summer.
“Maybe for Canadians it’s a small thing, but for victims it means a lot,” Verner told HuffPost Canada. The Canadian Senators Group interim leader said the notice will give senators an opportunity to share how “outrageous” the Meredith inquiry process has been.
Two days’ notice is required for notices of inquiry, which differ from motions in that they don’t culminate with a vote. The Senate’s next sitting days resume Feb. 4.
Listen: Senator’s ex-employee explains why he stuck with the job. Story continues below audio clip.
Verner said the bad behaviour of one senator “reflects on all of us,” which is why she wants the Senate to revisit and discuss the ethics report.
Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault’s June report validated the credibility of the testimonies given by alleged victims of harassment and sexual harassment from Meredith. The report took four years to complete.
Legault blamed senators for causing “significant” and “unnecessary” delays in his investigation by invoking parliamentary privilege to shield themselves from being interviewed.
Former employees in Meredith’s office raised concerns about his behaviour with human resources in 2013. Their allegations ranged from being forced to work unpaid overtime, being pressured to falsify Senate expenses to multiple claims of sexual harassment, and sexual abuse.
Three former employees previously told HuffPost that Meredith allegedly used his position of power to threaten damage to their careers if they reported him. He was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010.
Despite the concerns flagged to HR, a push by that department’s former director to investigate allegations in 2014, and a staff turnover rate that was high enough for the former Senate Speaker hire an outside investigator for a workplace assessment which ensued in an official Senate ethics office inquiry in 2015, Meredith remained in office until 2017.
He resigned from the Senate moments before an expulsion vote sparked by revelations from the Toronto Star of a sexual relationship with an underaged teen. Meredith’s relationship with the teen breached the Senate’s ethics code.
Senators move to revoke ‘Honourable’ title
Verner’s notice comes in the same week non-affiliated Sen. Serge Joyal tabled a motion to recommend to the prime minister and Governor General to strip Meredith of his “Honourable” title, an honorific he is presently entitled to carry for life.
It’s an apparent about-face after the Senate’s ethics committee responded to Legault’s findings by recommending no punishments be taken because Meredith already stepped down. Joyal is chair of the committee.
“The committee finds no compelling reason to depart from the default rule that the consideration of an inquiry report is permanently suspended when a senator ceases to be a senator,” the committee report read.
Joyal, appointed to the red chamber in 1997 by former prime minister Jean Chrétien, told the Senate Tuesday that Meredith should be afforded an opportunity to speak before senators if the ethics committee is authorized to explore revoking his “Honourable” title.
The suggestion was met with some resistance from Verner. The invitation to Meredith is a “slap in the face” for victims who have had their multiple requests to appear before senators denied, the Quebec senator said Wednesday in the chamber.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. We all understand that,” Joyal responded. “I agree with you that the victims feel that they are not being properly heard and treated.” He said he shares the same objective as Verner, to remove Meredith’s title, and cautioned, “the impact is so unprecedented that we should have a clear approach.”
Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin later stood to say that she heard from Meredith’s former employees when they appeared before the Senate’s human rights committee for an in-camera meeting. Martin said “there was information that we were able to glean from that session.”