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Senate censures Sen. Michael MacDonald for 'insensitive' comments on 'Freedom Convoy'

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OTTAWA -

Senators have voted to condemn one of their own, following a colourful rant covertly recorded during the self-styled "Freedom Convoy" protest last year.

The Senate ethics watchdog found this spring that Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald violated the code of conduct.

The Nova Scotia senator was caught on video in February 2022 castigating downtown Ottawa residents who complained about the protests, saying locals were overpaid and underworked.

MacDonald apologized for his remarks in the Senate, and he told media he had been drinking on the evening in question.

The Senate's ethics officer ruled he had breached six sections of the code that governs senators, including two related to his conduct and four others for a lack of compliance in the investigation itself.

The ethics officer determined that the Red Chamber must formally censure members whose conduct undermines the Senate's reputation, and senators recently voted to do so.

On Nov. 30, the chamber voted on division to issue the sanction against MacDonald, which does not come with any penalties but holds symbolic value.

Sen. Dennis Patterson spoke out against the censure, saying the scope of the ethics code seems to go beyond other parliamentary rules that only focus on senators' conduct while they are carrying out their Senate-related duties.

"Not agreeing to the remediation recommendations of the (ethics officer) is quite different than not co-operating," Patterson added, in remarks right before the vote last week.

Patterson was a former Conservative colleague of MacDonald's, but left the party during the convoy protests, which saw thousands of demonstrators gridlocking downtown Ottawa over their opposition to COVID-19 public-health measures.

He said at the time that he was "appalled that we appear to be associated with extremists," whom he argued undertook a "hostage occupation of the heart of our Canadian democracy."

MacDonald apologized again last week for his "insensitive" remarks, and added that he regretted his conduct during the investigation. He said a parliamentary committee had treated him fairly.

"I was eager to move on, yet felt embarrassed, isolated and frustrated by the process. But I could have handled it better; that is entirely on me," he told the chamber.

The watchdog's investigation had been prompted by complaints from nine of MacDonald's peers.

Shortly after the video footage emerged, MacDonald apologized in the chamber, and stressed that the conversation wasn't meant to be recorded.

In the recording, MacDonald is heard saying he doesn't want to be recorded. The videographer responds by saying "OK."

MacDonald then goes on to some frank remarks.

"It's everybody's f--king city, this is the capital of the country. It's not your goddamned city just because you have a six-figure salary and you work 20 hours a week. You haven't worked a full week in two years. It's sickening," MacDonald says in the recording.

In the video, MacDonald refers to his wife as "a Karen" -- a derogatory term for a self-entitled woman -- for opposing the protests. Despite police ordering protesters to clear the scene, MacDonald says that "I don't want them to leave."

Senate ethics officer Pierre Legault said the senator's request to not be filmed showed "an intentional failure to exercise dignified reserve and restraint," and that his comments left a "significant impact" on the institution.

The watchdog added that the senator's initial apology was undermined by his comment that his comments weren't meant to be captured on video.

"Senators are expected to represent Canadians, not denigrate, mock and demean them, while encouraging illegal activities at a time when a state of emergency had been declared," Legault said in a July report.

The ethics officer and MacDonald argued over the mandate of his office, such as pushing back on a request to know whom MacDonald was dining with before the video, to tell whether he had been conducting Senate business.

The Senate ethics committee, staffed by MacDonald's peers, issues a report in September finding that he had not appropriately complied with the investigation.

"It was a direct challenge to the integrity and mandate of the Senate-approved process by which senators -- and the Senate itself -- are to be held accountable," the report reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.

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