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Motion Concerning Former Senator Don Meredith—Debate Adjourned

Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators

Motion Concerning Former Senator Don Meredith—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Serge Joyal, pursuant to notice of December 10, 2019, moved:

That, in order to preserve the authority, dignity and reputation of the Senate of Canada, and in light of the following reports from the First Session of the Forty-second Parliament:

1.the Senate Ethics Officer’s Inquiry Report under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators concerning [then] Senator Don Meredith, dated March 9, 2017;

2.the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators presented on May 7, 2017;

3.the Senate Ethics Officer’s Inquiry Report under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators concerning former Senator Don Meredith, dated June 28, 2019; and

4.the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators tabled on July 29, 2019;

the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators be authorized to examine and report on the advisability of adopting the following motion:

That the Senate call on the Prime Minister to recommend to Her Excellency the Governor General that former senator Don Meredith be excluded from the application of section 6 of the Table of Titles to be used in Canada, and no longer entitled to the style of “Honourable”, and that former senator Meredith no longer receive any precedence or status that would normally be accorded a former senator.;

That in conducting its examination of this question, the committee afford former Senator Meredith the opportunity to be heard by the committee;

That notwithstanding the provisions of rule 12-28(1), the committee be empowered to meet in public for the purposes of this study if it accepts a request from former Senator Meredith to that effect; and

That the committee present its final report no later than January 31, 2020.

He said: Honourable senators, I will not impose a lengthy speech on you as I did earlier, but I would be remiss if I did not bring to your attention a certain number of considerations in relation to Motion No. 5 standing in my name, which is an unprecedented motion. This motion raises an unprecedented issue. In the last 152 years of Confederation, neither the Senate nor the House of Commons has considered the necessity to invite the Prime Minister to recommend to the Governor General the removal of the name of a senator from the table of titles.

I will explain why this has never happened in the context of the constitutional prerogative that the representative of Her Majesty enjoys in relation to title. In our constitutional system, the title or the fount of honour belongs to Her Majesty. In other words, it is a Royal Prerogative. It’s only Her Majesty who can grant a title to a Canadian. When the representative of Her Majesty, that is the Governor General, exercises that responsibility on behalf of Her Majesty, the Governor General acts on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. In other words, the precedence and the constitutional obligation for the Governor General is to request the opinion or the advice of the Prime Minister when granting a title.

If there is such a Royal Prerogative in the hands of the Governor General, it is important that the Governor General follow the table of titles that has been adopted and submitted to the Governor General. On that table of titles, there are six groups or categories of Canadians who enjoy the title of “honourable” for life — I repeat, six groups of Canadians.

The first category is the Governor General of Canada who will be styled “right honourable” for life. In other words, a former Governor General will always enjoy the status of “right honourable.”

The second category is the Lieutenant Governor of a province to be styled “honourable,” not “right honourable.”

The third category is the Prime Minister of Canada who will enjoy the title of “right honourable” for life.

The fourth category is the Chief Justice of Canada. For instance, former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin will be “right honourable” for life.

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The fifth category is a privy councillor of Canada, so ministers of the Crown, a person who has been a minister of the Crown. I happen to have that title, to be “honourable” for life, not because I’m a senator but because I was a minister of the Crown. I was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council.

The sixth and last category includes senators of Canada to be styled “honourable” for life. Members of the House of Commons are not. Even the Speaker of the House of Commons is not, unless there is a specific recommendation made to the Governor General as per the third group of Canadians.

As you will understand, senators are in a very privileged position in terms of title. You are “honourable” and you should act honourably not only when you are a senator but once you have left this chamber, like it will happen to me in a couple of weeks.

Since the beginning of Confederation this chamber has never made a recommendation or invited the Prime Minister to advise the Governor General to remove the title of “honourable” of any senator.

So you will understand that if we are to consider this initiative to remove the title, we have to be very careful in the process that we follow. It cannot be done out of fury, anger, vindication or in extreme situations because we happen not to like one person in particular.

If this chamber invites the Prime Minister to make that recommendation for a former senator, it has to be for very serious reasons. Those serious reasons, honourable senators, are enumerated in the full inquiry that the Ethics Commissioner has been conducting. This matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest, and the committee met on March 9, 2017; May 7, 2017; June 28, 2019; and finally, July 29, 2019. Last summer when this chamber was adjourned, the standing committee met, wrote a report and tabled it with the Clerk.

That report, of course, is damning. There’s no doubt about that. It’s damning because the behaviour of former Senator Meredith in relation to his former employees and his conduct with some employees on Parliament Hill, according to the report he was found not to have demonstrated or respected the ethics that are expected from a senator.

Hence, the committee concluded that the conduct of Senator Meredith was reprehensible and certainly not a model or exemplary for any senator.

The question then is, Senator Meredith has left this chamber. He is no longer within our reach in terms of ethics or the capacity of our committee to sanction him or recommend a sanction to this chamber for him.

The only sanction that could be considered was, in fact, to look into the opportunity to remove not only the title of “honourable” but any opportunity for former Senator Meredith to attend state ceremonies. Those are the two parts of the proposal before you. If you look at the proposal, it states quite clearly, first, that Senator Meredith should no longer be entitled to the style of “honourable.” Second, that former Senator Meredith no longer receive any precedence or status that would normally be accorded a former senator.

Let me give you an example of this. What is a ceremony of state? Many of you will remember when our former Speaker passed away, former Senator Pierre Claude Nolin. I say that with great esteem and friendship for him. I referred to him, of course, in my opening remarks this afternoon.

We attended the funeral of the late Speaker Nolin at the Notre-Dame Basilica, in Montreal, and there were special sections for senators. Any senators, past or present, were invited to sit with the group of senators as former or current senators.

In other words, in ceremonies of state, where you have a position as a senator or a former senator, then Senator Meredith would be invited to attend as any former senator.

In the context of his name, he could always sign “Honourable Senator Meredith” because, of course, he is entitled, according to the table of titles, to the title “honourable” for life.

Before we do this, before we take a stand in this chamber to invite the Prime Minister to recommend that approach to the Governor General, what should we be doing? It is a very serious precedent that we would be creating.

Our approach is to propose to you that there should be an opportunity to follow what I call the respect of fundamental justice, due process. What is due process? Due process is when you remove a benefit that a person enjoys or when you deprive somebody of something that that person is entitled to, you give an opportunity to that person to state his or her case.

You might say, “Well, senator, you have invoked four damning reports that I have just enumerated.” This is enough to take the initiative.

I would invite you to pause, honourable senators, and to think twice before we do this. It is important for the purpose of the principles that we follow in this chamber to follow the procedure that we have in the code, which is at section 49, and says that before we determine a sanction or a measure:

. . . the Committee shall afford a Senator who is the subject of a report the opportunity to be heard by the Committee.

It’s section 49(2).

In other words, let’s give him an opportunity to be heard because if we would be swayed as a chamber to immediately take the decision to call on the Prime Minister to do this, I think we have to be exemplary in the process that we should follow. This process is to afford him an opportunity to be heard. It is to sit in public, if Senator Meredith requests it, so that he could state his case, so that it would be for everybody to realize or to be informed of the arguments that Senator Meredith might want to propose, but not to be called into an open-ended process but one that has a deadline. In other words, that the Ethics Committee be requested to invite Senator Meredith to give his opinions on this initiative and that the committee would report on the motion proposed, at the latest, by January 31, so that it comes to an end.

You may ask me, “Yes, but, senator, why did the Ethics Committee not consider that before? We could have taken a stand in May, when the report was tabled in the chamber.” The simple answer is that this sanction does not appear in the code.

If you look again at section 49 subparagraph (4) and I could list all of them:

(a) the return of any gift or other benefit;

(b) any remedial measure;

(c) the reduction or removal of access to Senate resources . . .

(f) an invitation or order to apologize;

(g) a censure, admonition or reprimand . . .

Those sanctions do not list the specific issue of keeping the title of “honourable” and continuing to be a part of a ceremonies of state.

So it is important that you consider the code as it stands now does not allow the committee to take such action on its own. Hence, the motion before you today, to invite the committee to look into that recommendation and then make a report to this chamber by, at the latest, January 31.

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We thought that this approach is more in sync with our procedure, which is due process. It affords the opportunity to a person to appear, and affords the opportunity to appear in public if it is so chosen by the person. But being constrained by a timeline, which is to report by January 30, according to a decision this chamber might make when it comes back, it would have a report in front of it to take a final decision.

There is a distinction between the motion I have introduced and the one that the Honourable Senator Verner has introduced. I want to pause to commend Senator Verner for her interest in this issue. As a matter of fact, Senator Verner spoke to me last summer about this. We had an exchange of information. She is a former Minister of Heritage, I am a former Secretary of State, and both of us have been responsible for state protocol, which is the respect of title, state ceremonies and so forth. We share a common experience; hence, our common interest in relation to this.

The essential difference between the two motions is not in the objective. The objective is to ask this chamber to eventually pronounce on the call for the Prime Minister to recommend the removal of former Senator Meredith on the table of title.

But on the whole, the only distinction is really the procedure that should be followed to come to a conclusion.

Honourable senators, with that, I bow to your attention and care in considering this important motion.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: The senator’s time has expired.

Senator, are you asking for five more minutes for questions?

Senator Joyal: Certainly, to answer Senator Verner’s question.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): I have a couple of questions. I’ll pose both of my questions, or maybe three questions, at the same time for expediency’s sake.

Senator Joyal, thank you very much for your comments. Let me say I agree with your comments and the approach and what you’re trying to do.

You explained at the start, Senator Joyal, about the “Right Honourable” and the “Honourable” titles. I have two questions. First, you are saying that the intent would be to ask the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General. My first question is: Would the Prime Minister be able to say “no”? Would the Governor General be able to say “no”?

My next question is: I would hope this would never happen — it has only happened here once in 152 years — but what would happen if the Governor General, who is the top, did something that would possibly prompt the Senate to have the “Right Honourable” title removed from the Governor General? Would there be a process to do that?

Senator Joyal: Thank you, senator, for your question.

Regarding the first one, read the text of the motion. The words are very well chosen. The motion calls on the Prime Minister to make a recommendation to the Governor General.

We, as a chamber, don’t have the power to recommend that the Governor General remove the title, because on the exercise of prerogative, the only person, according to our constitutional obligation, is the Prime Minister because the granting of a title — the fount of honour — is still held by the Queen. It’s still a Royal Prerogative.

We could make a speech on the appropriateness for one to have his title and the other to have his title removed, but the power to recommend to the Governor General is in the hands of the Prime Minister. The only thing we can do is call on the Prime Minister.

[Translation]

In French we would say, “l’inviter.”

[English]

In other words, to “invite,” so it’s polite.

If the Prime Minister says “no,” or doesn’t act following the motion that the report be adopted by this chamber, it will be for the public to react, but not for us to impose any sanction on the Prime Minister.

To your second question: What would happen if at a point in time we would want or think it appropriate that the title of “Right Honourable” be removed? It would be the same approach: We have no direct capacity to adopt a motion that would give an order to the Governor General to strike the title “Right Honourable” from the name of a person who is entitled to have it on the list of precedents that I have just read to you.

In other words, our powers are very limited. It’s a power to invite because we are in the realm of prerogative, and prerogative is still held by the Crown. There are very few prerogatives still held by the Crown. This is one, and it’s not legislated. It’s part of the inherent power in the hands of Her Majesty, being the head of state of Canada.

[Translation]

Hon. Josée Verner: Senator Joyal, thank you for being transparent when explaining to our colleagues that I communicated with you in the summer to inform you that a group of senators in this chamber was planning to move a motion, the subject of my notice yesterday, to revoke the title of “Honourable” from Senator Meredith. I was going to mention to you that your committee studied the Legault report, tabled June 29, and that it made no recommendations in its short, eight-page report. It only provided observations and comments. It specifically stated what is found on page 3 of the report, and I quote:

[English]

While the committee is required under the Code to recommend remedial measures or sanctions to the Senate when the SEO finds that the Code has been breached, the permanently suspended nature of the committee’s consideration of the inquiry report means that the committee will make no such recommendation in this case.

[Translation]

The fact of the matter is that you’ve changed your mind. That said, I’ll just ask my last question. First, our motions have the same objective — that is very clear — but they differ with respect to how to achieve it. We do not believe — I do not believe, and other senators here do not believe — that at this time senators could easily debate this motion and make a decision because it is only a recommendation.

[English]

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: The senator’s time has expired.

Senator, are you asking for another five minutes?

Senator Verner: Yes.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Is leave granted?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

[Translation]

Senator Verner: Thank you.

In your motion, you offer Senator Meredith the opportunity to come and defend himself, which he refused to do. It is noted in the report of the Senate Ethics Officer, on page 9 of the Legault report, that after several attempts, Senator Meredith finally decided to stop cooperating with the investigation.

The fact of the matter is that he had his chance to be heard. Nonetheless, that isn’t the case for the victims. To date, no one has agreed to hear the victims. That’s what is shocking to many senators in this chamber. You received a meeting request from the victims on February 26 and you didn’t follow up on that. To the victims, it’s a slap in the face to find out today that Senator Meredith may once again be heard while they cannot.

Senator Joyal: Thank you very much for asking that question, Senator Verner. This will allow me to clarify a particular point that I believe will go a long way in helping all senators to understand the situation. The Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators only has jurisdiction over senators. We have no power to act when it comes to the condition of the victims in the specific case to which you are referring. The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration has the responsibility to act on behalf of the Senate as an employer.

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We aren’t responsible for passing judgment on the Senate as an employer. We can only pass judgment on Senator Meredith’s conduct. I have tremendous empathy for the victims, and I know they have the right to expect their employer to treat them fairly considering the harm they have suffered and everything they have been subjected to over the past few years. The inquiries took a very long time — too long. We all deplore that. One of our recommendations is to review the process and speed up the inquiries.

[English]

Justice delayed is justice denied. We all understand that. I am one of the first to plead for this. It is in our report. But in the context of what we have in front of us today, considering that the committee didn’t have the authority to look into that important sanction, which is to remove the title “honourable” and participation in any state ceremony, that never happens. That is not listed in the sanction of the code. I humbly submit to you that the procedure to follow is the procedure that we have in the code for the nature of the precedents that we are creating.

Today the issue is for a breach of the code; tomorrow it could be for another reason. In that context, it is advisable that we have a dual process procedure. I agree with you that the victims feel that they are not being properly heard and treated. I will not pronounce on the responsibility of Internal Economy, I know that the matter is on their radar. But at this stage, for what is the responsibility of the Ethics Committee, that’s the approach that we propose, which we think will set a path and send a very strong message for any senator who leaves this chamber that he or she still bears the title of “honourable” because he or she has been a senator.

We carry a responsibility. That’s what this motion will signal. I totally concur with you, senator, our objective is the same; but the impact is so unprecedented that we should have a clear approach. To respect a process that gives to a person who will be bearing that shame of having lost his or her title, a due process approach that will be very short, in the context of being completed by January 30.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I wish to offer information that may be helpful.

First, I want to thank Senator Joyal for a very clear and important explanation of due process, the unprecedented situation that we have before us and the gravity with which all of us must consider your motion, and what that process will follow, bearing in mind the importance of what Senator Verner and others have expressed about the serious nature of what we are discussing.

In terms of the victims and their testimony, the Human Rights Committee held a private session. It was an in camera session to hear from some of the victims. It was very emotional and compelling testimony. Senators around the table, including myself, heard from the victims. It would be important for your committee to be aware of that and how this information — there may be a transcript but I would need to clarify how or if the meeting was recorded. But we did hear testimony.

I wanted to make you and the chamber aware that there was information that we were able to glean from that session. Thank you.

(On motion of Senator Bernard, debate adjourned.)