Thursday, June 25, 2015

Canadian Senator and Pentecostal pastor Don Meredith is dumped from the Conservative caucus

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
I Timothy 3:2-3 (NIV)

Those who are tired of hearing about financial scandals involving members of the Canadian Senate might find it refreshing to find that the body of "sober second thought" now has a sex scandal to deal with. Maybe they should call the Canadian Senator "Randy Don," as opposed to his more famous namesake, the late American football quarterback and broadcaster "Dandy Don" Meredith.

As reported by Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star, June 17, 2015:

A Canadian senator who is under investigation for workplace sexual harassment is facing a new allegation that he had a sexual relationship with a teenager during the past two years.

Don Meredith, 50, has been a senator since 2010 and is also a Pentecostal pastor with the Praise Centre in Toronto.

Soon after the allegations against Meredith were published on the Star website, the Prime Minister’s Office took swift action to oust him from Conservative circles.

“Senator Meredith is no longer a member of the Caucus,” spokesman Stephen Lecce said in an email.

According to the young woman, who is now 18, the relationship began soon after she turned 16. She met Meredith at a church event in Ottawa.

She said it began with sexually explicit chats over Skype and Viber in which Meredith asked her to remove her top and underwear. She said he then masturbated on camera.

The relationship progressed to physical intimacy, kissing and touching before the girl turned 18. Soon after she turned 18, the woman said, they had intercourse twice.

When the senator broke it off earlier this year, he told her in a text message that he did so because “God has spoken to me and am (sic) not happy with me ... I should be leading you not making you.”

The Star has conducted detailed interviews with the woman in person and over the telephone. The Star has also viewed text and email messages the two exchanged.

Meredith, reached by the Star on Tuesday, said he was too busy to answer questions.

“I’m just in a meeting right now; I can’t speak to you,” Meredith said. The senator hung up when the Star began asking questions.

Following the call, the Star sent two sets of written questions to Meredith. The Star left requests for comment on the issue of an alleged inappropriate relationship on Meredith’s cellphone, at his Toronto area church, and his Senate office in Ottawa. Meredith has yet to respond.

In Canada, the age of consent for sexual relations is 16. However, the age of consent is 18 if there is a relationship of authority, trust or dependency.

Meredith was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010. He had run unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate in the 2008 byelection in Toronto Centre. A landscaper by trade — his company is called Donscape Landscaping Services — Meredith had become prominent in Toronto for speaking out against youth violence.

Last week, CTV’s Robert Fife reported that Meredith is under investigation by the Senate for “allegations of workplace sexual harassment and bullying.” According to the CTV report, “four of Meredith’s former female employees and four other Senate staffers allege he made sexual advances, used sexual innuendo, and was often rude and vindictive.”

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos confirmed to media outlets that an investigation he called a “workplace assessment” is underway. The woman the Star interviewed did not work for the senator and has no connection to the workplace harassment allegations.

In an online biography at the Pentecostal Praise Centre in Vaughan, Meredith is described as having a strong commitment to religion and youth. He is also known for his comments on the importance of family values...

...Meredith met the young woman, who was then a girl, at a religious event. The woman is embarrassed and troubled by the relationship. Because of the nature of the allegations and her young age, the Star agreed to protect her anonymity...

...Why is the woman telling her story now?

Last week, CTV, followed by other media, including Canadian Press and CBC, revealed in a story that Meredith was under a Senate review due to a high turnover of staff at his office. CTV stated that the review began in February and that the senator was facing allegations of sexual harassment.

The woman the Star interviewed said she was concerned that the investigators would not believe what the former staff members were alleging and she wanted to add her voice to the story...

...The woman has provided text messages and emails that reveal a relationship dating back to March 2013...

...Following the reports on the sexual harassment investigation, Meredith, his wife and their daughter took to social media to counter any allegations that he has done anything wrong.

Their daughter, who is in her early 20s, tweeted on Tuesday night, “What kind of a person do you have to be to wake up in the morning and decide let me try and steal this person’s happiness?” She also tweeted, “There are way too many cruel individuals out there seeking to ruin people’s lives.”

Late last week, Meredith’s wife, Michelle, tweeted an image of the “Meredith Family crest,” and told her followers, “We stand united.” Another tweet said, “Let your haters be your motivators. Celebrating me.”

Meredith has sent two tweets to his followers, both on June 11, the day after the CTV report on the workplace sexual harassment allegations.

“A lion never loses sleep over the opinions of sheep,” says the first tweet, accompanied by a photo of a male lion.

The second is accompanied by a photo of a green-eyed eagle: “When a storm is coming, all other birds seek shelter. The Eagle alone avoids the storm by flying above it. So in the storms of life, may your heart soar like an eagle.”

Meredith has previously been criticized for improperly claiming he had a doctoral degree (he is no longer allowed to call himself “Dr. Meredith” on Senate correspondence), and for expensing to the Senate a Washington trip he and his wife took to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. Meredith repaid the funds.
According to Senator Meredith's biography at the Parliament of Canada website:

Ontario Senator Don Meredith is the fourth person of African descent, and the first ever Jamaican to serve in the Senate of Canada.

A businessman and community advocate, he is an ordained minister and volunteer pastor of Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries in Vaughan, Ontario.

A passionate champion of youth empowerment, in 2002, he co-founded the Greater Toronto Faith Alliance Centre where he continues to serve as volunteer Executive Director to engage, encourage and empower marginalized youth, adults and newcomers.

Senator Meredith introduced Bill S-213 that was passed to nationally recognize January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day.

His commitment to youth leadership, led him to create a National Youth Strategy, and in 2014 he organized the first-ever Parliament Hill-based live-streamed on-line youth summit.

His work in Ottawa also includes sitting on the Fisheries and Scrutiny Committees; co-chairing the Canada-CARICOM Parliamentary Friendship Group; spearheading efforts to erect a national monument in honour of the military contributions of Black Canadians; and urging the Government of Canada and the international community to better respond to crisis-laden global hotspots.

He holds a Master’s degree from California State Christian University and a Honourary doctorate in Divinity from the Canadian Christian Clinical Counsellors’ Association. Senator Meredith has commissioned an Ambassador of Peace for the Universal Peace Federation and is also a recipient of various awards including: The Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award, The Vaughn African Canadian Association Award of Excellence, The University of Toronto Advancement Achievement Award and The 2015 AroniAward for Youth Organization - GTA Faith Alliance.

He is married to Michelle, an educator and youth advocate who has a passion for those identified as special needs and at-risk. They have two young adult children.
The website of the Pentecostal Praise Centre in Vaughan, Ontario provides the following biographical information on "Dr." Don Meredith:

Rev. Dr. Don Meredith is the founder and volunteer pastor of Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries Inc., providing visionary leadership for the organization, as well as spiritual guidance to the membership and visiting guests.

Rev. Meredith was born in Jamaica and came to Canada when he was 12. He has a heart for people and desires nothing more than to see all people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and His glorious Kingdom. With a strong passion for Youth and their families, he wants empower them through education. He has dedicated his live to work with other Faith Leaders, Politicians, and Police to bring about change in how we Engage, Encourage and Empower our youth across Canada. He has earned the reputation of been an expert on these issues affecting Youth. His strong desire to empower the church to take their rightful place in society, allowing them to draw others to Christ. Rev. Meredith has gained the reputation of being one of Canada’s most dynamic servant-leaders, promoting spiritual change in Canada, by co-founding GTA Faith Alliance. His recognition as a prominent leader is the result of vision, focus, and the pursuit of Biblical excellence. He is a strong people person with a very positive attitude and compassion for people, has been noticed by world leaders including the Prime Minister of Canada, by appointing him as the fourth African Canadian to hold a seat in the Senate of Canada.

He is an alumnus of the prestigious California State Christian University, where he earned his Bachelor’s, and Masters Degree in Religious Studies. He was granted an Honorary Doctorate for his work with youth and been a voice of change.

Rev. Meredith, his wife Michelle, daughter Dominique, and son David currently reside in York Region.
If the About Us page at Pentecostal Praise Centre's site is any indication, the church's leadership consists of "Dr." Meredith, his wife Michelle, and his son David. Michelle Meredith is listed as "First Lady" and David Meredith as "Brother"--titles I haven't been able to find mentioned in the New Testament for positions of leadership in the church. In fact, this is the first time I've ever seen the title "First Lady" in connection with a church.

The perceptive reader will recognize terminology in "Dr." Meredith's biography such as "visionary leadership;" "bring about change;" "empower the church to take their rightful place in society;" "servant-leaders;" "vision, focus;" and "noticed by world leaders." He sounds like a good example of the cookie-cutter pastors who've imbibed the Kool-Aid of the Peter Drucker/Leadership Network/Willow Creek/Purpose Driven model of church growth and leadership, which increasingly goes in the direction of the "social gospel," a phrase usually used in connection with the mainline churches of the early 20th century--but increasingly characteristic of the "evangelical" churches of the early 21st century. Herescope is currently reposting some of the best and most important material on this topic--it really is must reading.

Whether the accusations against "Dr." Meredith are true or not, the tweets that he's posted, and that have been republished in the Toronto Star article, show that he's not now qualified for leadership in a church, according to the criteria laid down in I Timothy 3:2-3--he's no longer above reproach, and it's questionable how faithful he's been to his wife. I can't resist mentioning that "Dr." Meredith was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a man widely believed, especially by pastors--and, in my opinion, erroneously--to be an evangelical Christian. When it comes to appointing Senators or recruiting candidates to run for seats in the House of Commons, Mr. Harper seems to have quite an affinity for crooks and thugs.

Another aspect of the case of "Dr." Meredith that's mentioned in the Toronto Star article touches on something in evangelicalism that's always annoyed me, and that's the use of the title "Doctor" to refer to someone on the basis of degrees that are only honourary. This is an area in which the standards of the world are generally higher than in the church. It's not often in the world that people who have only honourary degrees refer to themselves as "Doctor" in everyday use or accept others referring to them as such, but I've seen this in evangelical circles for decades with people such as "Dr." Jerry Falwell, "Dr." Bill Bright, and "Dr." Billy Graham (I'm not, to put it mildly, an admirer of Rick Warren, but I have no objection to his using the title "Doctor," because he earned his degree). Even if "Dr." Meredith's honourary degree is legitimate, for him to use that as a title in everyday use is inappropriate, especially for someone in a position of Christian leadership. As the saying goes, it's like dancing in the mortuary--it's not illegal, but it's just not done--except of course, in evangelical circles, where it's done all the time.

July 27, 2015 update: Another investigation is taking place into allegations against Senator Meredith, as reported by Jordan Press of Canadian Press, July 16, 2015:

OTTAWA -- A one-time Conservative senator is now facing two ethics probes for his conduct inside and outside the Senate -- the first senator to face such investigations since the upper chamber added more teeth to its ethics code last year.

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos said Thursday the Senate ethics officer has been asked to look into Sen. Don Meredith over the results of a workplace investigation that unearthed concerns about his conduct towards staff and his use of Senate resources.

Housakos said he and other top senators on the Senate's internal economy committee felt it was "imperative" the investigation results be referred to ethics officer Lyse Ricard.

The review announced Thursday is in addition to a separate investigation by the Senate's ethics officer after published allegations last month that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

Depending on the outcome of the latest ethics review, Meredith could face penalties ranging from a forced public apology on the floor of the Senate -- which was the punishment for former Conservative Pierre Hugues Boisvenu when he was found last year to have violated the Senate's ethics code -- to suspension without pay, which is allowed under the new ethics rules.

The investigation report has not been made public, and the allegations it contains remain unproven. None of the staffers who took part, nor any whose stories are included in the report, wanted to file a formal complaint against Meredith, Senate sources said.

Sources told The Canadian Press that six former staffers who spoke with outside investigators made allegations of workplace harassment against Meredith, saying he was a bully, rude and unprofessional towards his staff.

Staffers who spoke with investigators also outlined that they had expressed concerns to Meredith over trips he took to New York and Washington, D.C., because the trips included enough personal business to question whether he should have expensed them to the Senate.

One of those trips, sources confirmed, was last year for Meredith and his wife to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The annual event draws some 3,000 politicians and diplomats, including the U.S. president and federal MPs. Meredith later repaid the Senate for the trip.

Meredith didn't have any spending problems reported in the auditor general's June report into Senate spending. Ghislain Desjardins, a spokesman for auditor general Michael Ferguson, said the office wouldn't comment on the details of Meredith's audit.

The Senate first ordered the investigation into Meredith's office in February after top senators, including former Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin, witnessed what they felt was a troubling turnover of staff in Meredith's office. The upper chamber hired outside investigators to speak with former staffers and Senate human resources officials as well as Meredith himself.

Six staffers who left Meredith's office in the last four years and spoke with investigators are not identified in the report and only took part on the condition that their names be protected.

Two more staffers who left Meredith's office in the last four years declined to take part, but had their stories told second-hand to investigators by the six staffers who did speak, a Senate source with knowledge of the report told The Canadian Press Wednesday.

Meredith spoke with investigators in May and Senate sources said he denied the allegations against him.

The former Conservative senator who now sits as an independent has not returned multiple requests for comment left for him on his Senate cell phone, Senate email and at his Richmond Hill home...
March 10, 2017 update: As reported by Jordan Press of Canadian Press, March 9, 2017:

OTTAWA – The Senate ethics officer says a Toronto-area senator broke the chamber’s code of conduct when he used the “weight, prestige and notability of his office” to have a sexual relationship with a “vulnerable” teenager.

In a long-awaited report released Thursday, Lyse Ricard said Don Meredith didn’t uphold the “highest standards of dignity inherent to the position of senator” and acted in a way that could damage the Senate itself.

The report found Meredith used his Senate cell phone for explicit chats, tried to help the woman land an internship on Parliament Hill, said he would appoint her to a committee looking at building a memorial to the first black soldier to receive the Victoria Cross, and seeing if he could help with her mother’s permanent residency file.

“Senator Meredith brought into the relationship the power and influence of the office of senator, while Ms. M was a vulnerable teenager,” Ricard wrote in her, at times, blistering critique.

“That dynamic pervaded the entire relationship, from the time it was initiated through to when it became sexual.”

Ricard also said she believed Meredith had sex with the woman at least once before she turned 18, twice after she turned 18, and engaged in numerous sexually explicit chats with the woman. The report said Meredith acknowledged he had sexual relations at least once with the woman after she turned 18.

Meredith did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the report’s findings.

However in a letter attached to the report, Meredith, an ordained minister, told Ricard that he deeply regretted what happened, but that God, his wife, and his two children had forgiven him.

Meredith said he placed himself under the guidance of spiritual advisers, engaged in “continuous prayers of repentance” and sought the forgiveness of his family, went to counselling, started one-on-one ethical guidance to a former senator (who isn’t named in Meredith’s letter), completed a professional development course, and reviewed the ethics code.

“The lessons and habits that I have learned from these efforts will ensure that any breach of the code will never be repeated,” Meredith wrote.

However, Ricard said the measures weren’t enough and don’t remedy the harm his actions caused the Senate.

It will now be left to senators to decide what, if any, punishments Meredith will face.

Appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper, Meredith quit the Conservative caucus in June 2015 after the Toronto Star first reported on the relationship. Meredith now sits as an independent.

Ricard said the two met in at a Black History Month event at a church in Ottawa in February 2013 where Meredith, then 48 years old, was a speaker.

The two then started text messaging and speaking on the phone.

As for her age, the report says the woman told Meredith three weeks after meeting that she was 16, but Meredith told Ricard he could not recall when that happened. Ricard sided with the woman’s version of events.

The woman said the two started having sexually explicit chats online in April 2014. During these chats, Ricard wrote, Meredith progressed from admiring her taking her clothes off to masturbating; Meredith couldn’t recalled masturbating on camera, “but if he did, ‘it was an interaction.'”

Ricard wrote that in December 2014, a few days before the woman’s 18th birthday, the woman said she and Meredith were in her apartment when Meredith “gave her what he called a ‘teaser'”, something Meredith denied. The woman said Meredith “penetrated her with his penis for about maybe a minute,” which Meredith denied.

Meredith told Ricard he never penetrated the woman before 2015.

The relationship ended in May 2015 and the two haven’t had contact since.

Ricard said she found the woman to be a credible witness. The woman’s testimony was often directly supported by text messages and emails she had kept, as well as with Meredith’s Senate cell phone records, Ricard wrote.

Ricard said that Meredith denied certain interactions occurred, saying that the woman was lying about events that the documentary evidence suggested had actually occurred.

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