Photo above is of Senator Don Meredith, who received an ACAA Excellence in Politics award in 2011.
By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
OTTAWA, Ontario — Don Meredith, the first ever Jamaican to serve in the Senate of Canada and fourth person of African descent, now sits as an Independent senator for Ontario after being ousted from the Conservative caucus over allegations he had sex with a teenager.
His removal has generated much discussion on social media and in various gatherings, including the church.
On Sunday night, the Toronto Star reported that Ottawa law firm Conway Baxter Wilson LLP issued a two-sentence statement saying, “Sen. Don Meredith has retained Ottawa lawyer, Colin Baxter, and that he fully intends to respect the internal procedures of the Senate.”
Meredith could face disciplinary sanctions pending the outcome of an investigation of the allegations. Senate Speaker, Leo Hausakos, has referred the matter to the Senate ethics officer, Lyse Richard, for a preliminary review to determine if she should initiate an inquiry under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.
This comes at a time when the senate is in the limelight for the findings of the Auditor General’s report on senators’ expenses, and when more is being revealed about the senate, in the court case of suspended Senator Mike Duffy who is standing trial on 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
On June 17, the Toronto Star reported that Meredith, 50, who was appointed a senator by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, had a two-year affair with a young woman, who said, they began a relationship in 2013 when she was 16.
It reported that they had sex twice soon after she turned 18, and that earlier this year Meredith broke off the relationship with a text saying that God was not happy with him.
The report said the woman had sexually explicit online chats with Meredith and that the relationship progressed to kissing and touching before she turned 18. It included text messages between the senator and the young woman.
The age of consent for sexual relations in Canada is 16, however, it is 18 if there is exploitation or a relationship of trust, authority or dependency.
The story broke one week after CTV News reported the Senate had initiated an independent workplace assessment, concerning allegations of workplace sexual harassment and bullying in the senator’s office sparked by an unusually high turnover of staff.
Meredith told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, Robert Fife, that he was under no investigation whatsoever.
A businessman and community advocate, Meredith is an ordained minister and volunteer pastor of Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries in Vaughan, Ontario.
A passionate champion of youth empowerment, in 2002, he co-founded the Greater Toronto Faith Alliance Centre where he continues to serve as volunteer executive director to engage, encourage and empower marginalized youth, adults and newcomers.
An active youth advocate, who wants to remain anonymous, said the Afro-Caribbean diaspora “need to know and understand that we’re not defined by our leaders but we have a role to play, in terms of supporting our leaders when they are trying to work for the betterment of the Afro-Canadian diaspora.”
However, he said, this also requires holding these leaders accountable in situations or circumstances where they have made a bad judgment.
“Everyone makes mistakes but accountability is about the person and the community behind that person, acknowledging that there was a mistake and trying to right the wrong of that mistake. I think that as a people, the diaspora has a very integral role to play in terms of the accountability of leaders, because it allows us to groom future leaders for the opportunities that may come, and it teaches them particular lessons with regards to that as well,” the youth worker said.
Wendy Vincent, a former staffer at Queen’s Park, was shocked when she read the news report online.
“Harper was too hasty in picking him and he is a slick character. There is an age factor here that is highly disturbing,” she said, expressing her exasperation at leaders who are not held accountable, being propped up by the community..
One person who attended a church in Brampton on Sunday, said the issue was mentioned at the pulpit by the pastor who preached.
Meredith recently attended the inaugural Black Government Leaders Summit in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, co-chaired by Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Minister Responsible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games, and Tony Ince, Nova Scotia Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
Asked how this development with Senator Meredith might affect the plans resulting from the inaugural summit, Minster Coteau said he was proud to co-chair the summit alongside Ince.
“Together, we were able to reach across partisan lines and connect with fellow legislators to identify and address issues affecting Canada’s black community. The important work we started in Birchtown will continue moving forward and I eagerly await the next opportunity to join my colleagues again for another productive summit,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister Ince declined to make a comment on the matter.
Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the NDP is proposing to abolish the senate, if elected prime minister in the upcoming federal general election.
However, this was something Prime Minister Harper supported in a bid to reform or abolish it but the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2014 that it needs the agreement of seven provinces with half the country’s population to set term limits on senators or allow for elections for Senate nominees.
The court also ruled that the unanimous agreement of all provinces is needed, and even the agreement of the Senate itself, to abolish the Senate.
On January 29, 2014, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau released all 32 Liberal senators from their partisan responsibilities, making them independent senators.
Grace-Edward Galabuzi, associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University, thinks the senate has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had.
“I think the senate, like the senates in all the provinces that previously existed, has outlived its existence. It doesn’t add very much to the process of lawmaking. It does not represent the people. It is a place where those who have done good work for whomever is in power are rewarded and it has become an embarrassment. I think the time has come and gone for the senate to just simply be abolished. Let us have the House of Commons as an expression of the will of the people that is sufficient in a modern democracy,” he said.
Galabuzi said there is no need to have a chamber of people who are appointed by whomever is in power, to simply reward those who have been either funding their campaigns, or who have been going out to campaign for their party as opposed to doing the business of the state.
Senator Meredith introduced Bill S-213 that was passed to nationally recognize January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day.
His commitment to youth leadership, led him to create a National Youth Strategy, and in 2014 he organized the first-ever Parliament Hill-based live-streamed on-line youth summit.
His work in Ottawa also includes sitting on the Fisheries and Scrutiny Committees; co-chairing the Canada-CARICOM Parliamentary Friendship Group; spearheading efforts to erect a national monument in honour of the military contributions of Black Canadians; and urging the Government of Canada and the international community to better respond to crisis-laden global hotspots.
He is married to Michelle, an educator and youth advocate who has a passion for those identified as special needs and at-risk. They have two young adult children.
The other senators of African descent are: Anne Cools (appointed 1984), Donald Oliver (appointed 1990), now retired, and Calvin Ruck, who died in 2004 (appointed in 1998).