Don Meredith 'groomed' teen for sex, former police chief says

Laura Payton, Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer

OTTAWA -- A former police chief-turned-senator says the Senate ethics officer's report describes how Don Meredith groomed a teenager for a sexual relationship.

Vern White, who was the chief of police in Ottawa prior to being appointed to the Senate, told CTV's Question Period he believes Meredith broke a law against sexual exploitation, section 153 of the Criminal Code.

"It was sickening and look, I've investigated a lot of cases," said White, who was a police officer for 32 years.

"He groomed her for two years. You watch the actions he takes, [and] everything he does is preparing himself for sexual activity with that young lady."

Meredith is on sick leave from the Senate following a report by Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard. The report describes how Meredith met the young woman, named in the Senate report only as Ms. M, and how the two began text-messaging. It also describes how he offered to have her appointed to a committee working to recognize Canada’s first black soldier, and details in graphic detail the sexual relationship.

Meredith maintains he didn't have intercourse with the woman until she turned 18. Ottawa Police investigated the allegations but didn't lay charges against Meredith.

The age of consent in Canada is 16 years old, except for the exploitative situations described in section 153.

White said the Criminal Code provision describes what Meredith is alleged to have done.

"It talks about people in a position of trust or power who literally groom someone between the age of 16 and 18 years for sexual favour. That's exactly what is described by the [Senate] investigator," he said.

White says it's possible the police didn't lay charges because the young woman didn't want to pursue them. Many sexual assault victims don't press charges to avoid having to testify in court.

Meredith said last week that part of the backlash against him is due to racism.

"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."

White called that "ludicrous."

"This is all about his actions... His perspective is if that I ask for forgiveness, all will be forgiven and forgotten. The truth is when it comes to this, he needs to be held to account and he'll be held to account, I believe, in the Senate."

In an interview with CTV's Question Period, Meredith's lawyer said he'll make "the decision that's best for him and the country" about whether to resign or remain in the Senate.

"The reaction is a bit of hysteria, quite frankly. These senators have to understand...there's a process of procedural fairness and natural justice," Selwyn Pieters said.

"There's a lynch mob mentality that's going on right now that's not helpful to anyone."

While the Senate ethics committee is expected to start discussing the ethics officer's report this week, Pieters didn't guarantee Meredith would be there.

"Sen. Meredith right now is on sick leave and I've written to the clerk of the ethics committee telling her he's on sick leave and he will appear when the doctor clears him to return to work," he said.

White says a number of legal authorities have all told him the Senate has the power to expel Meredith based on the Senate ethics officer's report, though he admits it would be unprecedented.

"He shouldn't be in the Senate. He doesn't deserve to be called senator or honourable," White said.