Motion 81 - To Call Upon the Prime Minister to Advise the Governor General to Revoke the Honorific Style and Title of “Honourable” from Former Senator Don Meredith
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 81. I would like to thank Senator Verner for having the courage to speak truth to incidents of sexual violence in the Senate workplace. This is not a race issue. This is not a religious issue. This is an issue of violence against employees, and specifically against women, in the Senate.
I would like to acknowledge the survivors for persevering for over 10 years, living trauma-inflicted lives because of inadequacies within our workspace. I would like to apologize that you had to go into survival mode for so long. The fact that the trauma you endured took place publicly and in a space like the Senate is unconscionable.
As senators, we cannot continue to be complicit by remaining silent, nor should we be empowered in our silence through procedural tools like parliamentary privilege, for it is this exact privilege that allowed the first critical report on this issue, the 2016 Quintet report, to remain hidden from the public eye.
I understand that, due to a pending court case, we cannot address all of these issues. However, we must acknowledge that we can address some of these issues, including the matter before us, through Motion No. 81. The court process is entirely separate and parallel from what is occurring in the Senate. This ability to act is afforded to us as adjudicators of our own matters.
Honourable senators, the courts are not addressing the issue of removing the title “Honourable.” The Senate is not foraying into any judicial processes or procedures. As the CBC article on October 6, 2022, stated, Don Meredith was charged by the Ottawa Police Service with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment. As we can see, there is an inherent difference in what the court is examining as opposed to the motion before us today.
As many of the senators sitting in the chamber today were not appointed at the time of these egregious acts, including myself, I would like to further highlight some of the activities of Don Meredith. The same CBC article from October 6 brings these issues to light when it states:
Six former Senate employees and a parliamentary constable also have alleged Meredith acted inappropriately toward them while he was serving in the upper house.
The alleged behaviour included unwanted kissing and exposure of his penis, along with yelling and aggressive behaviour in the office.
Honourable senators, it has long been accepted that senators enjoy the privilege of being masters in their own house. With this inherent and recognized privilege comes “disciplinary authority over its members.” These powers are vested in us through section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act. You will remember that I had raised this with my motion to expel a senator.
In Parliamentary Privilege, the Canadian Constitution and the Courts, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal argued that:
. . . it is unthinkable that Parliament would seek to deny its employees the benefit of labour and human rights protections which Parliament itself has imposed on every other federal employer.
In the matter of privilege, an interim report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament from 2015 stated that collective rights of the Senate and the House of Commons exist to sanction or discipline for breach of their privileges and for contempt.
Furthermore, in the 2015 report of the Rules Committee entitled A Matter of Privilege: A Discussion Paper on Canadian Parliamentary Privilege in the 21st Century, the committee wrote:
. . . it is for Parliament, not the courts, to determine whether in a particular case the exercise of the privilege is necessary or appropriate. In other words, within categories of privilege, Parliament is the judge of the occasion and manner of its exercise and such exercise is not reviewable by the courts.
Is an exercise of these rights appropriate in this case? I say that there was a breach of both privilege and ethics when Don Meredith exhibited forms of violence in the workplace — violence that has been verified. The Senate must do the right thing and remove the title “Honourable” from Don Meredith. Passing this motion would call on the Prime Minister to begin, in earnest, that process by advising the Governor General to render this ultimate decision.
The critical point is that the Senate will be seen as employing sober second thought, standing up for what is right and supporting our co-workers in their extended fight for justice by voting to remove the title “Honourable” from Don Meredith.
I would like to further quote from the CBC article from October 6 on this matter, which states:
The granting of titles such as “honourable” is a royal prerogative in the hands of the Governor General, who generally acts on the advice of the prime minister of the day.
The article goes on to quote former senator Serge Joyal, who said:
It cannot be done out of fury, anger, vindication or in extreme situations because we happen not to like one person in particular. . . .
Colleagues, we are heeding this advice and are not making this move out of fury. Rather, we are doing it in support and solidarity with our co-workers who have been terribly impacted by Don Meredith.
When it is used as a title for senators, the title “honourable” indicates eminence or distinction. It is a term to denote a person worthy of honour, one who is honest, moral, ethical and principled. It doesn’t belong in the same context as sexual and institutional violence, a form of domestic violence in the workplace.
Do we not have a responsibility to make Canada, and our very institution, a better and safer place for all, not just for us privileged senators? Don’t we have a unique responsibility of serving the public interest as senators with the need to uphold the dignity, honour and integrity of our office and Parliament?
We have a unique role as appointed — not elected — legislators. Our privileges are qualified by our obligations, including those relating to decorum and ethics. As senators, we need to refrain from acting in ways that could reflect adversely on the position of senator or on the institution of the Senate, especially in respect of violence and harassment.
The importance of public perception and public confidence cannot be overstated. We have seen how negative perceptions about a senator’s conduct can harm public confidence in individual senators. Every single one of us in this chamber gets shed in the same harsh light.
I, for one, resent having the despicable behaviour of Don Meredith held up against the work that I do. As senators, we understand the importance of maintaining the highest standards of dignity, both in regard to the integrity of the office and relating to public confidence.
Honourable senators, we have heard the hurt and harm done to our co-workers by the personal conduct of Don Meredith over an extended period of time and his refusal to take responsibility for his actions. There is no place for sexual violence within the institution of Parliament. Only by accepting responsibility that this has gone on too long and by making this long overdue reparation will we be able to move forward toward modernization.
Taking away the title “honourable” sends a message to our institution, an institution where Don Meredith held a senatorial position for too long in light of his shocking actions. It would send a message to all senators that, as part of modernization, we need to review the Senate’s own functioning as an institution and how behaviour like his is explicitly unacceptable in 2022.
Colleagues, this motion represents a step toward restoring connections, accountability, truth, trust and transparency between senators and their employees, and between men and women. This is the least we can offer our co-workers by acknowledging the complicated effects of prolonged and repeated abuse by the allegedly honourable Don Meredith. After 10 years of stagnation, it is time this is done.
In passing this motion, we support the survivors, and turn this into a positive event that can be used as a springboard for change in our collective behaviour and decorum. It would make the Senate a better place. We cannot continue to allow the survivors to be stuck in time, targets of this unresolved trauma. These incidents have been aired and should never be forgotten lest they happen again. If the title is retained, we cannot move forward as an institution.
Meredith ran away in cowardice before he could be expelled. Let us belatedly take the just action of removing the title “honourable” so that his ownership of that title does not continue to taint us all.
We can no longer protect senators at the expense of our staff, who are rendered vulnerable, just because senators are viewed as the apex of this institution. This unilateral protection is unbalanced, and should not be in place today. Staff need protection. They do not need to be told, as has occurred in the past, that they cannot be helped because staff come and go but senators are forever. There is no place in this institution for such thinking.
Colleagues, this place let our employees down. Our employees didn’t let us down. It has been 10 years, and we’re still talking about it. The time to act is now.
I would like to request that a standing vote take place on this motion. Let’s do the honourable thing, and do justice for our co-workers. Thank you, kinanâskomitin.