Council calls for Chiarelli to resign, suspends pay 180 days

OTTAWA — Ottawa city council is calling on Coun. Rick Chairelli to resign from office following the integrity commissioner’s report outlining allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour by the veteran councillor towards two former staff members.

Council voted unanimously to accept the integrity commissioner’s report that Chiarelli violated the code of conduct, suspending his pay another 180 days and removing him from standing committees for the rest of the term.

“To Coun. Chiarelli, your silence speaks volumes,” said Mayor Jim Watson, noting the councillor did not respond to the integrity commissioner’s inquiries for the investigation.

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.

“I know there aren’t enough apologies to make the pain of these events go away but I would like to publicly apologize as a sincere gesture of recognition that this shouldn’t have happened and that we have listened and heard you,” said Watson.

“We are also learning from these events. We’re committed to not only an open dialogue, but we’re working tirelessly to ensure protections are in place to protect all workers at the City of Ottawa. We remain committed to making the City of Ottawa a safe place to work.”

Chiarelli has denied the allegations. He was taking part in the Zoom Council meeting, but left the meeting as the councillors began discussing the integrity commissioner’s report Wednesday morning. Chiarelli 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 after the Council meeting, Chiarelli’s office said, “Coun. Chiarelli is not resigning.He was democratically elected to serve a four year term and he intends to do so.”

“This report is based on an investigation that only heard from one side of the story. Neither Coun. Chiarelli nor his lawyer were provided with information as to how witnesses were selected, their identities nor what testimony they gave which would only be natural justice in a fair forum. This is important because Coun. Chiarelli was not medically able to participate following his open-heart surgery, and subsequent severe bacterial chest infection and stroke.”

The City of Ottawa’s integrity commissioner released a 90-page report outlining allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour towards two former staff members in Chiarelli’s office.

“I conclude that (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,” said Robert Marleau’s report, stating he believed the veteran councillor violated council’s code of conduct.

“(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.

“As someone who has been in Councillor Chiarelli’s office many, many times working on different issues over the years, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to the women involved that I am sorry and I am sorry that I didn’t see the signs,” said an emotional Coun. Diane Deans during the council meeting.

“We are considering this report because of the brave women that come forward. They have courageously shared their extremely personal stories as outlined in the integrity commissioner’s report,” said Mayor Watson during the council meeting.

“To the two women who came forward to detail the working conditions in Councillor’s Chiarelli’s office, on behalf of Ottawa City Council I thank you and commend you for your courage, strength and perseverance.”

The mayor added the integrity commissioner’s report detail “significant offensive and unacceptable behaviours.”

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.”

In June, Council ruled Chiarelli broke the code of conduct and suspended his pay for 270-days following Marleau’s investigation into alleged inappropriate behaviour by Chiarelli towards three women applying for jobs in his office. The pay suspension is the most severe punishment available to Council.

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