Ottawa

Chiarelli says he's going to court to stop integrity commissioner's report

The lawyer acting for embattled Coun. Rick Chiarelli says he's launching a judicial review against the City of Ottawa and its integrity commissioner in an effort to halt the release of a much-anticipated report on the councillor's alleged behaviour toward female staffers and job applicants.

Report on 10-month investigation into councillor's behaviour to be made public Friday

Coun. Rick Chiarelli has instructed his lawyer to start court action against the city and the integrity commissioner. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The lawyer acting for embattled Coun. Rick Chiarelli says he's launching a judicial review against the City of Ottawa and its integrity commissioner in an effort to halt the release of a much-anticipated report on the councillor's alleged behaviour toward female staffers and job applicants.

Councillors learned of the development in a memo from the city solicitor Tuesday. Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau's report is due to be made public later this week.

The application for the judicial review contends that both the integrity commissioner and city council showed a "reasonable apprehension of bias" toward Chiarelli, that the integrity commissioner doesn't have the authority to undertake an investigation into complaints against the councillor, and that Chiarelli was denied "procedural fairness" when council refused to grant him a medical leave of absence or have taxpayers cover his legal bills.

The application includes a request for a "prohibition order" that would stop the integrity commissioner (IC) "from taking any further action in relations to the IC complaints."

Report can still be released: city lawyer

Last fall, a CBC News investigation corroborated the stories of 13 women who accused the councillor of inappropriate behaviour, and reported the experiences of eight of them.

One job applicant alleged that Chiarelli asked her about going braless to work events, while another said the councillor asked if she had ever considered stripping. A former employee said Chiarelli would pressure her to wear revealing outfits and took her to a strip club to spy on another councillor. 

Last October, the College ward councillor threatened to go to court, but no action was taken.

According to city solicitor David White's memo, the application for the judicial review — of which White said he was informed late Monday in an emailed letter from Chiarelli's lawyer, Bruce Sevigny — hasn't been filed in court yet, either.

Despite being put on notice that Chiarelli could be taking imminent court action, White told council the release of the integrity commissioner's report can proceed as planned.

"Assuming that the application is commenced in the coming days, the mere commencement of the process does not impede either the Integrity Commissioner's presentation of his Report on the findings of his investigation, nor does it impair Council's receipt and consideration of that Report," White said in his memo.

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau is expected to present his final report on six official complaints against Coun. Rick Chiarelli at the July 15 council meeting. The report is expected to be released on Friday. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Marleau's report on whether Chiarelli contravened the councillors' code of conduct is expected to be released on Friday, and considered by council at its July 15 meeting.

While the integrity commissioner will make recommendations on whether and how to sanction Chiarelli, it's council that will make any final decision. The most severe measure council can impose is docking the councillor 90-days' pay.

Asked about Chiarelli's application for a judicial review, Marleau declined to comment Tuesday. However, in his interim reports Marleau has said Chiarelli has refused to participate in the investigation and dodged official summonses.

Chiarelli says council biased against him

The councillor, who has denied all allegations of improper comments and behaviour, has previously argued that the integrity commissioner does not have the authority to investigate the complaints against him, and that they should instead be dealt with by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The application for the judicial review also argues that council and the integrity commissioner have acted in a biased way against Chiarelli, and thus cannot be objective in their handling of the six official complaints filed against him.

In particular, the application argues that council "wilfully" refused to approve Chiarelli's request for a leave of absence. In October, council did make the unprecedented move of denying Chiarelli's request for paid leave, with some councillors feeling they lacked sufficient information on Chiarelli's medical condition to grant him an indefinite leave. 

In December, Chiarelli announced he was to have open heart surgery, however he never reapplied for leave.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli argues that councillors demonstrated their bias toward him by standing in protest at a council meeting last December. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The 30-year councillor also argued his council colleagues demonstrated a "closed mind" when most of them refused to sit at the same table as him at a meeting last December, and when Mayor Jim Watson told an Ottawa radio station that he'd prefer Chiarelli resign if the councillor was not going to address the allegations against him.

Chiarelli also argues council is trying to "out-resource" him, giving the integrity commissioner "an unprecedented and unreasonable budget" — the bill for this investigation is in the six digits — while at the same time refusing to reimburse Chiarelli's legal expenses.

The code of conduct says that a councillor "who is the subject of the investigation may consult with a lawyer and charge this to their office budget. If the complaint is determined to have merit, the Integrity Commissioner may require the Member to reimburse these expenses to the City."

Marleau also biased, says Chiarelli

The application argues that the integrity commissioner has also demonstrated bias against Chiarelli by failing to properly consider whether the complaints against the councillor were "vexatious and/or politically motivated," and by refusing "to accept objective medical evidence" related to Chiarelli's health.

As well, Chiarelli and his lawyer charge that Marleau has focused on evidence that is "potentially favorable" to the complainants, "while purposely ignoring, dismissing, or mischaracterizing evidence that is favorable to the applicant."

It is not clear what evidence they may be referring to.

The councillor also takes exception with the investigators hired by Marleau — the firm headed by former RCMP commissioner Robert Paulson — as "unqualified and unlicensed third-party investigators" who are "motivated and/or encouraged to make a finding of 'guilty,' irrespective of the objective evidence."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said that taxpayers do not cover legal costs related to integrity commissioner investigations. In some instances, councillors can charge legal fees to their office budgets.
    Jul 09, 2020 10:19 PM ET
  • A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Rick Chiarelli's lawyer as David Sevigny. His name is Bruce Sevigny.
    Jul 07, 2020 8:10 PM ET

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