Stripping Disgraced Former Senators of their Honorific Title


The Saga of Former Senator Don Meredith Haunts Us Still

Don Meredith resigned as a Senator from Ontario in May 2017 before the Senate could expel him outright on the recommendation of the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators.[1] The Ethics Committee found that Meredith’s sexual relationship with a young woman (who, according to the Ethics Officer’s initial report from March 2017, did not work in Meredith’s office) breached the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.[2]

CBC News reported on 1 October 2022 that the Ottawa Police have charged former Senator Don Meredith with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment.[3] The CBC’s article does not indicate whether the Ottawa Police laid these charges in connection to the Meredith’s relationship with the young woman over which he resigned in 2017; however, the Ethics Officer reported in March 2017 that the Ottawa Police had investigated this original case in 2015-2016 and decided in January 2016 not to press charges over what the Senate described as an improper relationship.[4] Meredith might have been charged for other offences. After all, his troubles first became public in June 2015 when the Star first broke the story on the aforesaid unethical relationship and Harper expelled him from the Conservative parliamentary party in response.[5] Meredith’s standing only continued to deteriorate over the next two years prior to his Nixon-style resignation to stave off expulsion. In January 2016, Ethics Officer started investigating allegations that Meredith verbally harassed and acted unprofessionally toward his staff;[6] in May 2017, some of Meredith’s former female staffers also alleged that he sexually harassed and groped them at work;[7] and the Senate ultimately awarded nine of his former staffers almost $500,000 in compensation in October 2020.[8] Meredith’s resignation in May 2017 prevented the Senate from investigating the new allegations of sexual harassment.[9]

The Senate’s Motions

After providing a straight-forward statement of the facts on 1 October, CBC News then interviewed retired Senator Serge Joyal on 6 October and implied in “Former Senator Charged with Sexual Assault Still Retains ‘Honourable’ Title for Life” that Don Meredith should no longer retain the privilege of styling himself “The Honourable” for life as all other former Senators can by default – the hypocrisy being too great even for the Senate of Canada to bear.[10]

As one of his last acts in the upper chamber, Serge Joyal, Senator of Kennebec, Quebec, had introduced a motion in December 2019 which proposed that the Senate ask the Prime Minister to advise the Governor General to strip former Senator Don Meredith of his title “The Honourable.”

“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.”[11]

The Senate never voted on Joyal’s motion. Joyal reached the constitutionally mandatory retirement age of 75 in early 2020, and the prorogation of August 2020 killed the motion on the Order Paper.

Joyal, being an expert in constitutional matters, crafted a motion using constitutionally correct wording: the Senate asks that the Prime Minister advise the Governor General to strip Meredith of “The Honourable” because the Governor General could only amend the Table of Titles To Be Used in Canada under the prerogative and on and in accordance with the Prime Minister’s advice. The Governor General acts on the advice of the Senate in conjunction with other legislative bodies under specific circumstances, such as in promulgating multilateral constitutional amendments under Part V of the Constitution Act, 1982, but the Governor General does not act on the advice of the Senate alone and directly in accordance with a motion.

Table of Titles to be used in Canada

1. The persons designated in Part I of the following Table shall by styled as set out in that Table. […]

TABLE

Part I

[…]

6. Senators of Canada to be styled “Honourable” during office and retired Senators of Canada to be styled “Honourable” for life.”[12]

The Prime Minister would tender an Instrument of Advice to the Governor General that Her Excellency exempt Don Meredith from this rule and thus strip him of his honorific title.

The Senate took up Joyal’s cause 29 November 2022 but ended up adopting a corrupted and constitutionally incorrect motion.

Senator Mary Jane McCallum originally introduced a more detailed version of Joyal’s motion:

MOTION 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—DEBATE

“That, in light of the reports of the Senate Ethics Officer dated March 9, 2017, and June 28, 2019, concerning the breaches by former Senator Don Meredith of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators as well as the statement made in the Senate on June 25, 2020, by the chair of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration expressing regrets to the victims of Mr. Meredith’s misconduct, the Senate call upon the Prime Minister to advise Her Excellency the Governor General to take the necessary steps to revoke the honorific style and title of “Honourable” from former senator Don Meredith.”

Senator Scott Tannas moved an amendment that would broaden the scope of the motion to include not only former Senator Meredith in particular, but also to create a new general policy of stripping any former Senator convicted of a criminal offence of his or her “The Honourable.” However, he inexplicably also altered the wording of the main clause and removed reference to the proper constitutional procedure by which the Prime Minister would advise the Governor General to amend the rules in the Table of Titles.

MOTION, AS AMENDED, FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL TO REVOKE THE HONORIFIC STYLE AND TITLE OF “HONOURABLE” ADOPTED

That, in the opinion of the Senate, Her Excellency the Governor General should take the necessary steps to revoke the honorific style and title of “Honourable” from:

(a) any former senator having been convicted of a criminal offence proceeded with by way of indictment; and

(b) former Senator Don Meredith, in light of the reports of the Senate Ethics Officer dated March 9, 2017, and June 28, 2019, concerning the breaches by the former senator of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, as well as the statement made in the Senate on June 25, 2020, by the chair of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration expressing regrets to the victims of Mr. Meredith’s misconduct.

The Prime Minister could, of course, still decide to advise the Governor General to exempt both Don Meredith and any other former Senator from paragraph 6 of Part I of the Table of Titles and thus strip them of their “The Honourables” in spite of Senate’s motion from 29 November 2022, or in the absence of any motion at all. Yet the Senate, which despite all evidence to the contrary from the last decade still insists on styling itself as a house of review that scrutinises bills carefully and moves slowly rather than hastily, should have known better and stuck to the constitutionally correct form.

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Notes

[1] A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair), Senate, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, The Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest, Second Report, 2 May 2017; John Paul Tasker, “Don Meredith Resigns from Senate Over Relationship with Teen,” CBC News, 9 May 2017.

[2] Senate, Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, Inquiry Report under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators concerning Senator Don Meredith, 9 March 2017.

[3] CBC News, Former Senator Don Meredith Charged with 3 Counts of Sexual Assault,” 1 October 2022.

[4] Senate, Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, Inquiry Report under the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators concerning Senator Don Meredith, 9 March 2017, at page 2.

[5] CBC News, Senator Don Meredith Kicked Out of Conservative Caucus,” 17 June 2015.

[6] CBC News, Don Meredith Staff Harassment Case Triggers Senate Code of Conduct Inquiry,” 14 January 2016.

[7] John Paul Tasker, “Ethics Committee Poised to Rule on Don Meredith, As Senator Faces New Sexual Abuse Allegations,CBC News, 1 May 2017.

[8] CBC News, Ex-Senator Don Meredith’s Staff to Be Compensated $489K for Harassment, Abuse,” 14 October 2020.

[9] Katie Simpson, “Second Ethics Investigation Could Be Mixed If Don Meredith Booted from Senate,” CBC News, 2 April 2017.

[10] John Paul Tasker, “Former Senator Charged with Sexual Assault Still Retains ‘Honourable’ Title for Life,” CBC News, 6 October 2022.

[11] Serge Joyal (Senator for Kennebec, Quebec), in “Notice Paper: Motions – No. 5, by the Honourable Senator Joyal, P.C.”, Senate of Canada, 43rd Parliament, 1st Session, Order Paper and Notice Paper, No. 3, 11 December 2019, at page 7.

[12] Privy Council Office, Honours and Awards: “Table of Titles to be used in Canada” in Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada: Appendices, Henry F. Davis and André Millar (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1968), at page 341.

About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
This entry was posted in Crown (Powers and Office), Parliament, Parliamentary Privilege, The Honours System. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Stripping Disgraced Former Senators of their Honorific Title

  1. Richard B says:

    Well said and entirely correct.

    We are reaching a point where the continued use of the style “The Hon.” might need to be reviewed for more than just former senators. It’s a much broader question. We have judges who have been criminally convicted as well as a former lieutenant governor and a privy councillor or two. As you know, only one Privy Councillor has had their membership revoked, and with it, their title, although there are a few other PCs where this may have an appropriate action.

    In any case, one need not address a disgraced individual with the prefix “Hon.” and that may be the most effective approach for those who feel it is inappropriate. Don’t dignify them with the title to which they are otherwise entitled.

    Like

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