by MacAndrew Clarke
As the Senate Ethics Committee reviews its recent Inquiry Report into the allegations made against Senator Don Meredith, there has been many developments. From the Senator’s refusal to resign to his claims of racism motivating the Senate’s investigation, many Canadians inside and outside of Federal politics have been paying attention and are wondering: “…what is going on?!” Further to that, the Ottawa Black community has been divided in whether Senator Meredith should resign. That said, the purpose of this op-ed is not to debate whether the Black community should get together and make a concerted call for Meredith to resign. Instead, this article focuses on why all Canadians should encourage Meredith to resign because if he is truly apologetic for his “moral failure,” then it is his responsibility to make concrete steps in remedying his mistake.
In a recorded interview with the Canadian Press, Meredith, accompanied by his lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, issued an apology to Canadians. He asked for forgiveness and stated that he will be taking a leave of absence based on advice from his doctor. However, he stopped short of saying what he was going to do after that. Some may say that the Senate should be allowed to conclude its investigation before suggesting that he resign, and in some instances, that may be acceptable, but this case is different.
When it comes to political scandals, most the information that is circulated, especially in its early days, is mostly speculative and hearsay. As time goes on, more concrete details emerge, but the question of whether someone broke a rule or not is sometimes still in the air. For example, the Senate expenses scandals that started in summer of 2012 and ended in the Summer of 2016 was an investigation into certain Senators re their expense claims. They too were under RCMP and Senate scrutiny.
Despite having the RCMP charges dropped, some Senators did pay back their expenses. There were also extra-judicial measures such as suspension and expulsion from their respective caucuses. They too were facing calls of resignation because it was a poor reflection on how taxpayers’ money was spent. The Senators in question also refused to resign despite reports finding them to have broken Senate rules. However, their investigations concluded and they adhered to the sanctions given by the Senate. One important fact to keep in mind is the report released by Ian Binnie, Special Arbitrator where he states: “I impute no bad motives to any of the Senators. They acted in accordance with what they believed to be their entitlement.” Why is this important? Let’s think it through.
Should the Senators have resigned regardless of the outcome? In all honesty, I felt like that they should have resigned. The Senate is an institution of “sober second thought.” In my opinion, it is a great responsibility and privilege to be a Senator and therefore adherence to the rules is what makes the Senate operational and effective as a branch of government. The Senate is also a brand that is supposed to reflect our democracy. That brand must be upheld as one that is of integrity, transparency, responsibility, and accountability. So, should a MP or Senator find themselves in a situation where they knowingly broke the rules, the honorable thing to do, would be to resign.
However, after looking through the details of that case, I can’t say that I believe that resignation would have been best because the facts show at least one of two things: 1) the Senators were not aware of the nuances behind filing expense claims, or 2) Senators filed their claims in the manner they understood them without seeking additional assistance. Neither result indicates an intentional breach. Resignation, in that case, would have been disproportionate to the act.
Now some may debate that the Senators were given too much benefit of the doubt which gives way to more questions: “Would a private citizen have such flexibility? Could an entry/mid-level employee at the Ontario Public Service (OPS) file improper travel claims and still get to keep their job?” These are great questions and once again, it boils down to context.
First of all, private citizens and public political officials respond to different authorities. Criminal acts have always been under the jurisdiction of either municipal or provincial police, and the RCMP. The disciplinary process we all undergo at our respective occupations is not only subjective to company protocol, it also depends on the facts surrounding each case, an assessment of our own actions and understanding of the rules, and the person(s) who will make a final decision.
Long story short, the answer is that it depends. It would be nice if all managers and Senior officials meted out their decisions equally across the board, but that’s not reality. Plus, depending on where someone works, there may already be significant training and awareness on how to do various aspects of a job properly as per the rules. That said, while a comparison can be made with the expense scandal, and it’s evident that there is a grey area, the issue with Meredith is not as ambiguous.
To begin, it’s important to keep in mind that Senator Meredith was subject to the same scrutiny and process as any other Senator. While apologizing, Meredith complained at how the “privacy of all concerned was not taken into account.” Some agreed with his assessment and others took it as far as calling it a “public lynching.” Let me tell you, I was very upset at that comparison and even more shocked to see Meredith saying that racism is trying to bring him down. If we are truly going to be “woke,” let’s start by calling things for what they are and what they are not. This is not a public lynching, it’s an investigation into a public figure who used their public profile and office for something morally wrong.
The Senate Ethics Officer (SEO) clearly wrote in his report how: a) many of the details in the report are already in the media, b) the Senate’s inquiry was not meant to be private, and c) the inquiry report was compiled using information and evidence from Meredith, Ms. M, and internal digital communication records from the Senate.
Secondly, Meredith and Ms. M were both given the same opportunities to present their claims and offer evidence to back it up. The evidence produced by Ms. M, according to the SEO’s report, were records of text messages, email messages, and screenshots of video communications. Senator Meredith provided no evidence. According to the report, Meredith said that he does not keep any record of his communications.
Lastly, we are well past the space of allegations. We are not in a situation where it’s debatable whether someone broke the rules. We are also not facing a case where the facts and evidence are questionable. What we are dealing with at this present moment is what the Senator ought to do rather than what the Senate should do. And we as Canadians have a right to voice our opinions.
In his pivot from racism, Meredith brought on a new lawyer, Bill Trudell, who feels that the calls for the Senator to resign: “…are not helpful.” As I eluded to earlier, Meredith has taken a leave of absence to deal with stress-related health concerns. While he remains behind the scenes, Trudell is hoping “to turn the temperature down” and seek a fair and proportional resolution. Now the legal maneuvering that Trudell will employ is none of my concern and it should not be yours either. Hopefully by now you may have realized that beyond an apology, Meredith has done nothing except claim his innocence.
But an apology is not the same as being innocent and it falls flat of sincere when there is no desire to make a change. In his apology to Canadians he wanted us to be clear that he had broken no laws, which is true to a degree. He did not break any criminal laws. The only reason the RCMP dropped its charges is because Meredith was found to have done nothing criminally wrong and Ms. M did not want to proceed in that manner. Further to that, the RCMP investigation was initiated by the SEO because there was a concern that a criminal act may have been committed. So it’s important to keep in mind that regardless of what people may feel about an older man having sex with a consenting teenager, the allegations, the inquiry and following investigation has absolutely nothing to do with if Meredith had sex and everything to do with how it happened.
It is easy to apologize, but taking responsibility is what makes an apology real. Now far be it from me to determine whether Meredith was genuine or not, but as my father always said: “actions speak louder than words.” In my opinion, an apology is the beginning steps of forgiveness. It is a personal acknowledgement that something was done wrong. Taking responsibility for a mistake requires a complete understanding of the situation, its resulting consequences, and how much the individual can contribute to its resolution.
Not only is Meredith fully aware of what he did and how he did it, we all are aware. The consequences of his actions continue to damage not only his reputation, but that of the Senate as well. Furthermore, acting like nothing happened in the face of concrete evidence is essentially the same as re-victimizing Ms. M and making her out to be opportunistic with hidden motives.
Let’s look at the facts: Meredith has expressed regret for what this has done to his family and the Senate, but his actions speak contrary to his appeal for forgiveness. Meredith even questioned the motives of the investigation because he could not understand how and why someone would keep such detailed records of his interactions. Well, to anyone who may not know, you don’t need to do anything to keep records of your communications on most modern devices such as laptops, smartphones, and computers. You don’t even need to file an Access to Information to get your own call history and email messages. That feature named “history” on electronic devices is not a customized interactive video on how that device came in your possession. So, the implied hidden motive has no basis.
Finally, this problem is because of Senator Meredith and no one else. He was not forced, bribed, or threatened into doing what he did. He cannot claim that he was not aware of the rules and standards regulating Senators because then his apology for the “moral failing” makes even less sense. How can someone be morally wrong and innocent of breaking any rules at the same time? That is possible if we still want to believe that there’s some conspiracy. But the facts speak for themselves.
This is not a setup nor entrapment. This is a moral failing that involved power, manipulation, and to add insult to injury, the tactics of dismissing and diluting a very serious issue only causes additional damage to everyone involved. So how is resignation the right thing to do? Resigning is more than declaring that you’re unable to continue your functions. Resigning, in a political sense, also means that there’s an understanding of how one’s personal actions are overshadowing the reputation and integrity of the office they hold. There used to be a time when Ministerial responsibility meant taking action even before a formal conclusion was reached. It was an act that stated clearly that someone would rather the business of their office proceed without causing any unintended consequences. In short, it was, and still is, the honorable thing to do, even in the face of such a dishonorable situation. Unfortunately, honor has yet to present itself.
Instead of making even the smallest steps to taking responsibility, the strategy has been to deny and never confirm. This is indicative not only through Meredith’s comments, the inquiry report cites how Meredith’s previous lawyer felt that the report had “too much details” and that some of the information should be left out. Regardless of why that strategy was suggested, we can see that Meredith truly believes an apology is enough and that the buck should stop there. It’s a Shaggy “it wasn’t me” defense coupled with a Trumpian style of deflection by using any and all excuses to shift the focus anywhere but on the person who in question.
In conclusion, what Senator Meredith has done is wrong. He’s admitted as such to a certain degree. Now it’s time to take responsibility. The argument that he’s being victimized by a lynch mob is not true. The claim of racism is also not true because even he himself said the same thing. I respectfully disagree with Meredith’s new lawyer when he claims that emotions are high and that the temperature needs to be brought down. These are serious allegations and the refusal to step down is perceived as either disingenuous or disgraceful. People may think he’s being targeted, and some may say that should he should be supported in act of love. But you can love someone with your eyes open. It’s time for Senator Don Meredith to rise up and do the right thing for himself, the Senate, and our democracy.
About the writer
MacAndrew Clarke holds a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science and a minor in Music from Carleton University. MacAndrew has dedicated himself to community building and advocacy through public, private, and non-profit organizations for many years. He has been contributing to Black Ottawa Scene since January of 2016. He can be reached either via email, Twitter, or Facebook.