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Former employees of ex-Ontario senator Don Meredith will receive $528,000 in damages from the Senate, after a retired judge who put forward a recommendation to the senate to pay for damages. He called it a “unique and sad episode” in Senate history.
Louise Otis, the retired Québec Court of Appeal justice who was in charge of assessing the claims, wrote that “Abuse of authority is a form of harassment.” She also noted that complaints against Meredith were seven years old, and the Senate had investigated the “poisonous work environment” in Meredith’s office multiple times over the course of five years, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
Senator Don Meredith, who previously worked as a landscaper in Toronto, resigned in 2017 following troubling allegations that he had sexual relations with a 17-year-old high school student. The Senate Ethics Office cited in a 2019 investigation other complaints from Senate staff that Meredith “engaged in some form of harassing, bullying, threatening or intimidating conduct.”
Justice Otis stated that evidence showing Meredith’s misconduct included “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 and intimidation.”
A Report From The Independent Evaluator said that “Almost all complainants described their work experience as ‘the worst thing that ever happened to me in a workplace.” Justice Otis wrote that Meredith’s behavior was “abusive and oppressive”
The settlements, which are at the expense of the taxpayer, include $498,000 in payments to nine former employees, and $30,000 in legal fees. There are also additional fees which have not been detailed. The complainants had previously rejected a payment of $5000.
Brian Mitchell, a Toronto Lawyer who is representing two of Meredith’s former staffers, says “We are pleased this matter has drawn to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.”
Female staffers have accused Senator Meredith of exposing his genitals, hugging and kissing female staffers, putting his hands under one employee’s skirt, calling an employee after hours to ask, “What are you wearing? Can you send me a picture?”, calling a colleague a “bitch” and once pointing to a woman constable’s handcuffs and remarking: “You should come back to my office there, and we should try them out together”. Meredith denies all these claims and has never been charged with any crime.
Justice Otis added that “the toxic work environment generated anxiety, fear and tension for most claimants. Most experienced adverse health consequences as they lost sleep, took medication and had to consult therapists.”
The report stated that most of the women staffers quit their jobs. Others were fired “when they were not responsive to the abusive and oppressive conduct of Mr. Meredith.”
A formal apology was offered to Meredith’s former staff by the Senate committee on internal economy. “We believe them,” said Senator Sarabjit Marwah (Ont.), chair of the committee. “Mr. Meredith’s misconduct warrants an unequivocal condemnation from the Senate.”
The base annual salary of a senator was $150,600 in 2019. and members may receive additional salaries in right of other offices they hold.