There is a dramatic display hanging on the trees outside of an Ottawa councillor’s office to send a clear message for Sexual Assault Prevention Month, and raise awareness for more accountability for elected officials.
Dozens of bras hang from trees outside of Ben Franklin Place in Nepean. For Stephanie Dobbs, the purpose is a personal appeal, she’s a former employee of Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
“When I worked in the councillor’s office he had a tendency to ask staffers to go to events braless,” says Dobbs. “And it was only one of the many things that he did when we worked there but it stands out as the most noticeable one because it’s so outrageous, people thought of it like that can’t possibly be true.”
While Chiarelli has denied the allegations, an integrity commissioner’s investigation and Ontario Superior Court judge found the complaints to be credible. He was given the harshest penalty – the loss of three months salary per complaint, with five complaints total.
“He’s not going to step down even though there has been plenty of evidence,” says Dobbs. “He’s now getting his pay again which is disgusting because I don’t go back to normal once that period ends. I still have to deal with everything that I’ve gone through.”
Dobb’s says she sold her home so she could afford to quit working for Chiarelli and went back to school in order to find a new profession in a field outside of politics.
“It’s unfortunate that I have to go through all these hoops to try to make him be accountable and put my life on view just to do this,” says Dobbs.
Thursday’s rally outside Chiarelli’s office was intended to shed light on the need for more accountability for elected officials and to highlight the importance of women’s safety in political spaces.
“We need mechanisms in place to hold our elected officials accountable,” says Nancy O’Brien, who is also a former employee of Chiarelli. “In the Ontario Municipal Act, there are mechanisms in place to unseat a politician after absenteeism after three months or for exploiting their power for financial gain but there isn’t really anything in place for exploiting their position in order to bully or coerce or sexually harass the people they come in contact with and that needs to stop. We have a systemic issue on our hands.”
Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women agrees and wants to see bras hang outside municipal buildings across Ontario. With the provincial election underway, Leigh wants residents in all communities to ask candidates to push for stricter penalties.
“This isn’t just an Ottawa thing, we’ve seen people in Brampton, London, Mississauga, Durham – it’s not an isolated incident, it’s not a bad apple situation,” says Leigh. “This is a situation where we need to hold leaders accountable when it’s an egregious form of abuse or violence that is seriously problematic and abuse of lawmakers make abuse of law. It’s protecting our community our society.”
It’s the reason Dobbs has come forward, to champion for change by sending a very clear and visible message.
“Seeing my city come out and support and believed me was so impactful,” she says. “For all the other sexual assault, sexual harassment survivors out there I think seeing a display like this saying you’ll be believed is amazing … I want to be one of those people that maybe there is somebody else suffering in silence right now that they need that, so that’s why we’re here.”
If you or someone you know has experienced abuse or sexual assault, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women has resources available online. The Ottawa Distress Centre is available 24 hours a day 613-238-3311.
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