Can the Senate Expel Don Meredith?

House of Commons

The House of Commons in Ottawa.

Don Meredith’s future as a Senator is up for debate. Since he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, many of his Senate colleagues have sought to expel Meredith from office. They reaffirmed this on Tuesday, May 2nd, when a senate committee recommended Senator Don Meredith be expelled from the Upper Chamber.

The report claims expulsion is the only sanction that would, “restore the dignity, reputation, and integrity of the position of senator and the institution of the senate.” It’s clear the Senate wants Don gone. What remains unclear is whether it is even possible for the Senate to expel him in the first place.

The problem lies in the fact that Meredith has not been charged and convicted of a crime. Under normal circumstances, the Senate has narrow grounds on which it can expel one of its own. Serious crimes are one such ground — failure to appear in the Senate for an extended period is another. Sexual impropriety is not, in itself, considered reason enough to ‘fire’ a Senator.

That’s where it gets complicated. And by complicated, we mean constitutional.

Whether the Senate can expel Don Meredith will ultimately come down to our oft-forgotten founding documents. Rarely have news commentators been so eager to delve into constitutional law.

On one hand, Senate law clerk Michel Patrice researched the issue and found the Senate has the same power to discipline its members as British Members of Parliament under s.18 of the British North America. Of course, others disagree. The power to expel an elected MP may not necessarily extend to senators, who are appointed by the federal Canadian government and not chosen by the public.

Legal experts and government officials will to debate the fine constitutional details. Meanwhile, the reputation of the Senate will continue to languish.

Senator Meredith’s indiscretion comes at a time when the Senate already is struggling to rebuild and ‘modernize.’ Between the trial (and acquittal) of Senator Mike Duffy, criminal charges (ultimately dropped) against Senator Patrick Brazeau, and off-colour remarks (without consequence) by Senator Lynn Beyak, the Senate has found itself at an all-time low in the eyes of the Canadian public.

Some call for the Upper Chamber to be reformed. Others wish to elect the Senate as our American neighbours do. There is even a movement to abolish it altogether. Regardless, of the Senate does not find its footing soon, its relevancy could become an election issue.

This entry was posted in Canada and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.