Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he feels let down by the "extremely appalling and disappointing" situation with Patrick Brazeau, a senator he appointed.
Brazeau was charged Friday morning with assault and sexual assault following an arrest Thursday morning in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa.
He was kicked out of the Conservative caucus shortly after his arrest. He will now sit as an Independent.
The charges against him haven't been tested in court.
Speaking in Burnaby, B.C., Harper said Friday the allegations against Brazeau shouldn't obscure that most people in the Senate work hard and take their responsibilities seriously.
"Obviously, the situation with Senator Brazeau is terrible. It is extremely appalling and disappointing, and we all feel very let down," Harper said, pointing out that the charges against Brazeau are "extremely different" from the allegations against Brazeau and two other senators that they claimed expenses they weren't entitled to.
Harper reiterated his call for an elected Senate with limited terms. The Conservative government has referred legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada to see whether a constitutional amendment is needed to make those changes.
Brazeau released with conditions
Brazeau, who appeared in court Friday wearing a dark grey coat, did not have his lawyer present for his first appearance at about 9:15 a.m. ET. The senator told the court he hadn't been able to reach his counsel, and his case was suspended briefly.
When he appeared again shortly before 10 a.m., he was released on $1,000 bail until his next court appearance on March 22.
His release carries additional conditions:
- He cannot carry a firearm.
- He cannot communicate with or be within 150 metres of the complainant.
- He cannot change his address.
There is a publication ban on the complainant's name.
In court, Brazeau gave an address in Maniwaki, Que., as his home. It caused some confusion in the court when it did not match the Gatineau address on the charge sheet.
Crown prosecutor Sylvain Petitclerc told reporters outside the court that Brazeau said he would live in Maniwaki for the remainder of the proceedings. Petitclerc called the charges "serious."
Brazeau is under investigation for discrepancies in the living expenses he has claimed as a senator. On Friday, the Senate committee overseeing an audit into senators' expenses announced it has retained the services of accounting firm Deloitte so external auditors can review the submissions of Brazeau and two other senators: Ontario's Mac Harb and P.E.I.'s Mike Duffy.
The investigation stems from allegations that the senators live primarily in Ottawa but claim to live more than 100 kilometres outside the capital so they can collect a living allowance.
Brazeau was escorted by court security from a counter where he signed off on the conditions to a stairwell leading to the exit. Surrounded by journalists for the brief walk from the counter to the stairwell, he said nothing.
Police called to dispute
Brazeau was arrested on Thursday morning after a call to 911.
Gatineau police Const. Pierre Lanthier told CBC News that a 38-year-old man spent the night in custody following his arrest.
The two charges are summary conviction offences, which carry smaller penalties and shorter jail sentences than indictable offences.
Even if convicted, Brazeau may not be forced to give up his Senate seat if his sentence is less than two years.
The senator has weathered several controversies since his appointment in 2009.
'Never should have been nominated'
New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice said Friday after question period that Brazeau never should have been nominated in the first place, and that the nominations of Brazeau and Duffy show Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a problem with political judgment.
"We're calling into question the political judgment of the prime minister in these nominations. How was it that someone like Patrick Brazeau was named to the Senate, with a job for life? For taxpayers it will cost, until 2049, $7 million," Boulerice said.
"He has some personal problems. The justice [system] will follow its course, of course. But the problem is the Senate and the political nominations of this government and the Liberals before."
Government House leader Peter Van Loan told MPs in the House that serious charges had been laid.
"Mr. Speaker, because of the seriousness of these events, the senator was expelled from caucus. The legal system will see to this affair," Van Loan said.
Brazeau kicked out of caucus
Marjory LeBreton, the government Senate leader, sent a letter to Brazeau's office and caucus members on Thursday morning informing them of his removal.
"In light of the serious nature of the events reported today [Thursday], Senator Brazeau has been removed from the Conservative caucus. As this is a legal matter, I cannot comment further," LeBreton said in a statement.
A senior government source said Harper was saddened and shocked by the latest Brazeau developments, and took action immediately.
In question period, Harper called the matter serious.
"Obviously, Mr. Speaker, I think our understanding is that these are matters of a personal nature rather than Senate business, but they are very serious, and we expect they will be dealt with through the courts," he said.
With files from Laura Payton