Ottawa·CBC INVESTIGATES

Former Chiarelli staffer comes forward with familiar tale

A 13th woman has spoken to CBC News about alleged inappropriate behaviour by Coun. Rick Chiarelli. Brittany Lees said the Ottawa city councillor asked her to wear revealing clothing to engage in a bizarre volunteer recruitment scheme, and recently asked about her 'boobs.'

13th woman tells of revealing outfits, bizarre night club 'recruitment' scheme

Brittany Lees worked for Coun. Rick Chiarelli for 18 months. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Brittany Lees was so happy — and surprised — to land a job in Coun. Rick Chiarelli's office.

The offer had come out of the blue. While Lees had spoken with Chiarelli several times when he dropped by the Value Village where she worked, she had no idea he was an Ottawa city councillor.

"He eventually told me that he was coming to basically headhunt me," Lees said.

She found it odd, but at the same time saw it as a good opportunity to get out of what she called "retail hell."

Lees started working for Chiarelli part time in December 2015. At first it was "exciting," she said. "You know, I'm going into this whole new world."

Brittany Lees says Coun. Rick Chiarelli showed her and another colleague a picture on his phone of a staffer wearing a sheer top with no bra to a public event. Chiarelli has denied this allegation.  0:45
 

A 'weird' turn

But after two months, Lees said things got "weird" when Chiarelli took her to Montreal on city business.

That evening, after their meeting had ended, instead of driving back to Ottawa Lees said the College ward councillor drove her to a bar district in Montreal. When they pulled up outside a night club, she said Chiarelli pulled a little red dress — short and low-cut with diamond-shaped panels cut out the sides — from his van and told her to put it on and go into a club to recruit volunteers.

It really gave me the heebie-jeebies.- Brittany Lees

Lees obeyed and changed into the dress in the back of the van, then Chiarelli gave her money to buy a drink.

"And reluctantly, but complacently, I just walked in," said Lees, who's struggled with mental health issues since she was 12 — something she said she told Chiarelli when he hired her. 

Lees didn't sign up any volunteers, but spent the time having a drink and texting her boyfriend about what was happening. 

"The whole time inside, I remember I just wanted to go home," she said. "My anxiety was through the roof."

Lees and Chiarelli appear at a September 2016 event in this photo posted on Facebook. (Photo GioVanni)

Chiarelli denies fresh allegations

Lees is the 13th woman to speak with CBC about Chiarelli's alleged inappropriate behaviour and comments. 

In an email, Chiarelli's lawyer, Bruce Sevigny, denied Lees's allegations, adding the "purported summary of relevant facts is missing key information." When asked what information was missing, Sevigny did not respond.  

Sevigny also wrote: "Councillor Chiarelli will not be responding substantively to these allegations, or any previous allegations, in the news media. He has previously made clear his views on the appropriate forum for defending his good name and political record." 

Two weeks ago, Chiarelli issued a personal statement saying "without reservation, that I have never treated a member of my staff (including job candidates) in a sexually harassing, discriminatory or inappropriate 'gender-based' fashion."

Lees said Chiarelli asked her to go to nightclubs in revealing clothing to recruit 'volunteers.' (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Bizarre recruitment scheme

Over the following 16 months that she worked for Chiarelli, Lees said he asked her a few more times to engage in the bizarre volunteer recruitment scheme.

Once, Lees said, he drove her all the way to Stages night club in Kingston, Ont., asking her to wear one of the cut-off T-shirts that she already owned.

"He asked me to wear one without a bra," Lees said.

But after she had a panic attack outside of the club, she said Chiarelli drove her back to Ottawa.

"I just remember the whole night being so scared … that I would lose my job," Lees said.

Revealing photos

Lees said Chiarelli also showed her photos on his cell phone of women in revealing clothing, including a former staffer whose top revealed "pretty much just her side boob. And he was like, 'You need to wear shirts like this.'"

Chiarelli also showed Lees and another colleague a picture on his phone of a third staffer wearing a sheer top with no bra to a public event.

He said, 'That's good, but did you lose your boobs?'- Brittany Lees

That woman was Victoria Laaber, who came forward publicly with her story late last month. She alleged it was Chiarelli who asked her to wear that flimsy top — which he had provided — and suggested she not wear a bra.

According to Lees, Chiarelli made fun of Laaber in the photo, making it seem as if it was Laaber's decision to wear the top.

"To know [he had] any of those pictures made me uncomfortable," Lees said. "It really gave me the heebie-jeebies."

Mental, physical toll

Lees said working for Chiarelli was causing her mental and physical health to deteriorate. She was having trouble getting out of bed, and she had gained 100 pounds. 

Then one day in June 2017, Lees didn't get up to go to work, and she never went back.

No longer living in Ottawa, Lees said she's in a better place, both mentally and physically. But last July, she said she was shaken when Chiarelli called to ask if she wanted to come back to work in his office.

During their conversation, Lees mentioned to Chiarelli that she had lost all the weight she had gained while working for him.

"He said, 'That's good, but did you lose your boobs?'"

Lees said she told Chiarelli she looked good. She hung up and hasn't talked to him since.