Ex-senator Don Meredith's staff to be compensated $498K for harassment, abuse

OTTAWA — The Senate of Canada will pay nearly half a million dollars in compensation to nine employees of disgraced former senator Don Meredith who say they suffered abuse, including sexual harassment, on the job.

The decision revealed Wednesday to award $498,000 in compensation — plus $30,000 in legal fees — comes more than a year after a four-year Senate investigation concluded there was a pattern of inappropriate behaviour by Meredith while he was a senator.

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That included demeaning, belittling and humiliating staff members as well as kissing, touching and intimidation that created what the Senate ethics officer described as a "poisoned work environment."

But it was only this summer that former Quebec appeals court judge Louise Otis was brought in to look at potential compensation for the employees following complaints about a lack of recognition of their suffering.

The Senate says the compensation amount announced Wednesday was based on Otis's recommendations.

"Harassment was experienced by almost all complainants in various forms which, however, had the same constant: an abuse of authority that created a poisonous work environment," Otis's report says.

"These acts of misconduct manifested themselves in particular by humiliation, denigration, sudden attacks of yelling and screaming, telephone calls during the night to perform additional work, requirement of work during sick leave, threats, bullying, intimidation.

"Almost all complainants described their work experience as 'the worst thing that ever happened to me in a workplace.' "

The Senate's slowness in dealing with the complaints is an aggravating factor in determining what the victims should be paid, the report says.

It does not specify how much should be paid to each complainant. Brian Mitchell, a lawyer who represents some of the victims, declined to go into detail, saying all his clients signed non-disclosure agreements.

Still, Mitchell said: "We are pleased that all parties worked together to arrive at a settlement of an issue that has been dragging on for over seven years.

"It's our hope that this is indeed the end and that this matter has drawn to a satisfactory conclusion."

Mitchell had previously complained about the compensation process on his clients' behalf — among other things, they weren't initially permitted to have lawyers assist them in dealing with the Senate.

Meredith, who was first appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, resigned from the upper chamber in 2017 rather than face probable expulsion.

The Senate's ethics committee had just recommended he be expelled after concluding he had used his position to pursue a sexual relationship with an underage girl.

Meredith, a Pentecostal minister, has not been charged criminally in connection with any of these matters.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

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