Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, right, says his client, Sen. Don Meredith, feels he would not be facing the same level of criticism over his relationship with a teenage girl if he were a member of the “old white boys club" in the Senate.
Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, right, says his client, Sen. Don Meredith, feels he would not be facing the same level of criticism over his relationship with a teenage girl if he were a member of the “old white boys club" in the Senate. (COLIN PERKEL / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By JAYME POISSONNews reporter
Sun., March 19, 2017
The lawyer for embattled Sen. Don Meredith says his client feels he would not be facing the same level of criticism over his relationship with a teenage girl if he were a member of the “old white boys club.”
“His Senate colleagues would not have come down so harsh on him thumping those bells of resignation or expulsion which has never happened in the Senate’s history,” lawyer Selwyn Pieters told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.
“There’s a lynch mob mentality that’s going on right now that’s not helpful to anyone.”
Meredith — the subject of a recent damning report by the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, which found he broke Senate rules when he had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, promised her committee work that would get her started on a career, and tried to do business with her parents — has admitted to wrongdoing and apologized for his “moral failing.”
But amid mounting calls from his colleagues to resign, he said he has no plans to leave his Senate post.
In an interview with The Canadian Press last week, Meredith, 52, said he believed he’s been a victim of racism since the allegations about his affair were first published by the Star in the summer of 2015.
Where individuals of colour rise, he said, somehow they’re taken down — whether its “self-inflicted or orchestrated.”
“Absolutely, racism has played a role in this,” Meredith told The Canadian Press. “This is nothing new to me. There is always a double standard that exists in this country.”
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Meredith hung up on the Star when the paper first broke the story and has not commented to the paper since.
In another interview conducted earlier in the weekend with CTV’s Power Play, Pieters, a Toronto-based lawyer and longtime civil rights activist, said his client was being portrayed “as a sexual predator, and historically that is how people look at black men: as hypersexual, as sexual predators, as thinking with their penis as opposed to their heads.”
Pieters suggested that institutional racism has created a “double standard” in how ethical misconduct is treated in the senate. He pointed to white senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, who he said have engaged in improper conduct and have not been forced to resign or been expelled.
When reached by the Star via Twitter Sunday evening Pieters said he was “not doing any more interviews on Senator Don Meredith’s case.”
In his interview with Power Play, he defended his client’s relationship with the teenager, known only as Ms. M, who was 16 when it began.
“Nothing improper happened,” he said. “It takes two to tango.”
Pieters said that the young woman was above the age to legally consent to having sex.
“A teenager or a person who is . . . able to consent is able to have sexual relationships. I mean, in some cultures people marry at 12. You have very old men marrying people at 12. So I don’t buy this thing about power and about protecting and all that sort of stuff,” he said.
The relationship between Meredith and the teenage girl began in 2013 when Meredith, 48 at the time and a Pentecostal pastor from the GTA, met the then 16-year-old at a church event. Over a two-year period it progressed from flirtatious chats over Skype and Viber to sexually explicit live videos during which Meredith would masturbate while the woman took off her clothing, to intimate sexual relations that included fondling. They had sexual intercourse before and after the woman turned 18.
At the same time, Meredith, a married father of two, was suggesting he could help the woman further her career. He was also speaking with her parents about potential business arrangements and to her older sister about a non-profit initiative.
In her March 9 report, Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard said Meredith failed to uphold “the highest standards of dignity” of the Canadian Senate. Meredith, the report states, “drew upon the weight, prestige and notability of his office, as well as his relative position of power as a much older adult to lure or attract Ms. M, a teenager who by virtue of her age was necessarily vulnerable.”
Pieters, who called Meredith’s behaviour “completely becoming of a senator,” also suggested that the young woman may have had other motives when she told her story to the Star.
“I don’t know whether that was in a bid to distort him or what that was,” Pieters said, adding.
“This was not something that he was doing something in the bushes or he was doing something on the street. It was in the privacy of his room and her room.”
Meredith, who was kicked out of the conservative caucus by Stephen Harper after the allegations first surfaced and is now an independent senator, is facing a separate investigation into allegations of workplace harassment by former staff. Ottawa police began a criminal probe but Ms. M decided not to proceed because, she said, police would not guarantee her identity would be kept confidential. Meredith is currently on sick leave.