CITY HALL – Ottawa council is officially asking Coun. Rick Chiarelli to resign his council seat in light of documented allegations of repeated inappropriate sexual behavior towards staff members.
The long-running saga was back at the council table yesterday (Nov. 25) as council received integrity commissioner Robert Marleau’s 90-page document on his findings in to an investigation in to the councillor’s behaviour based in part by the evidence of two women who came forward to testify on their experiences working for Chiarelli.
“I conclude (Chiarelli’s) conduct is a shocking and astounding failure to treat the complainants with the respect they were due and required of him by the code of conduct,” read Robert Marleau’s report. “(Chiarelli) has deliberately engaged in a course of vexatious and troublesome comments against several individuals; he was absorbed in planning and executing volunteer subterfuge recruitment campaigns by objectifying the sexuality of his female employees; he abused his staff by tasking them with improper duties and functions.”
Marleau recommended two, 90-day pay suspensions for Chiarelli, the harshest penalty allowed.
Council voted unanimously to accept the integrity commissioner’s report Chiarelli violated the code of conduct, suspending his pay another 180 days and removing him from standing committees for the rest of the term.
Council also unanimously approved motions to write the Ontario government to allow for the vacating of a council seat when an elected member is found to have committed serious misconduct, and for the mayor to issue a formal apology on behalf of council to the women harassed by Chiarelli. Motions also include the removal of the councillor’s seat at the table “so no other councillor will have to sit beside him,” Coun. Jenna Sudds said. It is also requested Chiarelli’s salary be given to non-profit organizations that deal with violence against women
“I would like to thank the to brave women who came forward to help provide the information for this report,” Mayor Jim Watson said in his address to the issue prior to introducing three council motions on the issue. “Elected municipal officials must be held accountable for what they do. Obviously, this harassment has no place in the workplace.”
Chiarelli, who did attend the council meeting but reclused himself from this discussion, was not spared by his absence.
“The fact Chiarelli refused the opportunity to engage in this investigation is profoundly disappointing,” Watson said and also accused Chiarelli of stonewalling the investigation. “Coun. Chiarelli I would like to say to you, your silence speaks volumes.”
The mayor also had a statement for prospective city employees.
“We have listened and heard you,” he said. “We are committed to making the City of Ottawa a safe place to work. Healing and change takes time. We must sit in our own discomfort about these events. It took a lot of courage for the two women to come forward. Systemic change is needed to make sure this doesn’t happen ever again.”
Chiarelli has denied the accusations and declared a conflict of interest with the report and is challenging the integrity commissioner’s jurisdiction in court. A hearing is scheduled for January 2021.
In a statement issued after council’s vote, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark issued a statement, saying “The conduct of Coun. Rick Chiarelli towards female staff is completely unacceptable. Our government has been absolutely clear that we do not tolerate or condone this behaviour.”
While council passed a motion to ask the Ontario government for the power to remove an elected member, Clark suggested he would not do it.
“Allowing the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to remove, at his sole discretion, elected Members of Council is not a power I believe the Minister should have – despite how useful it could be in situations like this,” said Clark. “I therefore, in the strongest terms possible, urge Coun. Chiarelli to resign his position.”
Following the meeting, Coun. Chiarelli’s office released a statement on behalf of the councillor.
“Coun. Chiarelli will not be resigning,” it read. “He was democratically elected to serve a four-year term and he intends to do so.”