Bras hung outside city hall in response to Chiarelli allegations

Bras are hanging in trees outside Ottawa City Hall on Friday, put there in protest by women hoping to send a message that workplace harassment won't be tolerated.

Women allege city councillor asked them about going braless

Marnie Wellar was protesting outside city hall on Friday. She said it took courage for the women to come forward. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Bras are hanging in trees outside Ottawa City Hall on Friday, put there in protest by women hoping to send a message that workplace harassment won't be tolerated.

The protest, organized by an Ottawa women's rights organization, come in the wake of allegations against College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli.

On Thursday, CBC Ottawa reported a woman who was seeking employment in Chiarelli's office had complained to the city's integrity commissioner over questions Chiarelli posed during a job interview.

The woman told CBC that Chiarelli asked her if she'd be open to wearing costumes to events such as Ottawa Comiccon, and alleged Chiarelli then showed her a photo on his cellphone of a former employee dressed up in a revealing costume.

The councillor asked the applicant if she would "go braless," the woman alleged.

One of the bras hung from a tree in front of Ottawa City Hall on Sept. 13, 2019, as part of a protest against workplace harassment. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

CBC has agreed not to name the complainant because of her concern that she would have trouble finding employment in the future if she's identified publicly. She was also concerned she'd face a backlash, especially on social media.

Five other employees and former employees in Chiarelli's office have told CBC they also heard the councillor make inappropriate comments in the workplace, with two saying Chiraelli mentioned not wearing a bra to them.

'We felt that we needed to stand up and say something'

4 years ago
Duration 0:29
Protest organizer Veronique Prevost invited people to hang bras in the trees outside Ottawa City Hall Friday to send a message workplace harassment won't be tolerated.

Chiarelli didn't respond directly to the allegations, despite several days of attempts to contact him for comment.

But in a letter to the CBC received Sept. 6, his lawyer, Bruce Sevigny, called the accusations "spurious" and said the councillor has "consistently conducted himself in accordance with the highest moral and ethical standards," and was in "full compliance" with both the City of Ottawa's policy on harassment and workplace violence, and the province's human rights code.

Veronique Prevost hangs a bra in a tree outside Ottawa City Hall on Sept. 13, 2019. (CBC)

The allegations about the bras led Veronique Prevost of Defend Choice to plan a "silent, creative gesture" to send a message of support for the women who have spoken out and against workplace harassment, and hang bras on trees in Marion Dewar Plaza on Laurier Avenue W.

"This is not a gendered issue, this is an issue for all workers. We want to send a strong message to city hall, the mayor and city councillors that this is unacceptable," Prevost said.

Marnie Wellar was among the first to show up to protest Thursday evening. She said security guards initially told her to leave and that she would be charged with trespassing. They also took the bras out of the trees. The City of Ottawa said in an email security guards had removed the bras overnight, then put them back when they realized it was an "act of protest."

Mayor Jim Watson said he spoke with city staff and said he views it as a peaceful protest, which is why the bras were returned. 

Wellar said she intends to file a formal complaint. On Friday she returned to city hall, wearing only a bra and skirt to draw attention to the protest. She said it was an act of courage for the woman to come forward. 

"It's ludicrous. It's ridiculous that this is still happening. It take a lot of courage to stand here in your bra, but not as much as it took for that woman to report councillor Chiarelli."

A bra hung in a tree outside Ottawa City Hall bears the message: 'I believe survivors.' (Christian Milette/CBC)

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, the city's wome​n's liaison, said she had planned gender sensitivity training for her colleagues before the allegations surfaced. Kavanagh said the allegations show why proper policies and training are needed.

With files from Joanne Chianello