'It takes two to tango': Sen. Meredith's lawyer defends client
Published Friday, March 17, 2017 7:25PM EDT
On Friday, Selwyn Pieters, a lawyer for embattled Senator Don Meredith, came to his client’s defence in an interview with CTV Power Play about the middle-aged politician’s sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
“Nothing improper happened,” Pieters unequivocally told CTV’s Power Play from Toronto. “It takes two to tango.”
Pieters painted the controversy surrounding his client as being a matter of institutional racism, saying that there are “double standards” in how issues of ethical misconduct are dealt with in the Senate. He raised the cases of white Senators accused of violating the Senate’s ethics code, such as Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, who still retain their seats in the Red Chamber.
“Black people in public places and in highly visible public jobs are invariably taken down,” Pieters said. “They’re portraying him 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.”
On March 9, Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard released a damning report about Meredith’s sexual relationship with the teenager, who is referred to only as Ms. M, stating that the Ontario senator failed to abide by “the highest standards of dignity” of the Senate when he “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.”
The report, which is available online, is filled with lurid allegations about Meredith’s relationship with the teen, which began in 2013 when she was 16 and ended sometime after her 18th birthday. Meredith was 48 when the two met at a Black History Month event at a church.
Meredith also allegedly promised the teen committee work, wrote her a reference letter for a Parliament Hill internship, and tried to do business with her parents.
“His behaviour is completely becoming of a Senator,” Pieters said in his client’s defence. “This was not something that was done in public… This was not something where 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, a married father of two and an ordained Pentecostal minister, was nominated to the Senate in 2010 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper. Soon after the Toronto Star broke the story of Meredith’s relationship with the teenager in 2015, he was booted out of the Conservative caucus. Meredith has sat as an independent ever since.
Although Meredith has repeatedly admitted to wrongdoing, he has defied calls from senators from across the political spectrum to resign from the upper house.
On Thursday, speaking to The Canadian Press with his wife and Pieters by his side, Meredith broke his silence about the Senate Ethics Officer’s report, admitting to his “moral failing” but also stating that “racism has played a role in this.”
“I believe in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation," Meredith said. "We're humans, and humans make mistakes."
Pieters denied that Meredith had used his position of power to woo the teenager, who, he said, “was above the age of consent.”
“He didn’t exploit anything -- it was a consensual sexual relationship,” Pieters said. “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.”
Pieters even suggested that there may have been ulterior motives behind the teenager’s decision to share her story with the Toronto Star.
“I don’t know whether that was in a bid to extort him or what it was,” he said.
Pieters declined to offer his personal opinion on Meredith’s conduct, saying, “I will leave that to his god to judge him.”
“The fact remains that this was a consensual relationship between two people who can consent,” he added. “And regardless of how it’s twisted and turned, regardless of the noise that’s being made, he has apologized for his moral failing and asked for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that should be the end of the matter.”
As of 2016, Senators make a base salary of $145,000 and are able to hold their positions until the age of 75. Meredith is currently 52.
With files from The Canadian Press