Ottawa

Council's public denunciation 'crossed the line,' Chiarelli's lawyer tells judicial panel

Most members of Ottawa city council showed they were biased and had a "closed mind" toward Coun. Rick Chiarelli when they approved recommendations to sanction the College ward councillor last year, a judicial review panel heard Tuesday.

Calls for sanctions against embattled College ward councillor to be stayed

Coun. Rick Chiarelli did attend some council meetings in 2019 and 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Most members of Ottawa city council showed they were biased and had a "closed mind" toward Coun. Rick Chiarelli when they approved recommendations to sanction the College ward councillor last year, a judicial review panel heard Tuesday.

Chiarelli's lawyer Bruce Sevigny described to a three-member panel how Mayor Jim Watson and a number of other elected officials called on Chiarelli to resign, and how most council members stood in protest at a public meeting months before the integrity commissioner delivered the findings of his investigation.

"They have clearly crossed the line when you call publicly for resignations, when you stand in protest ... that demonstrates close-mindedness and it also gives rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias," Sevigny said.

A CBC investigation in the fall of 2019 spoke to many women who accused the councillor of inappropriate behaviour, and reported the experiences of eight of them. The women said they were asked questions, told stories and shown pictures they found inappropriate and sexual in nature.

Three female job applicants made official complaints to integrity commissioner Robert Marleau, who found in his July 2020 report that the councillor contravened the code of conduct and that his behaviour had been "offensive and disreputable," qualifying as harassment under the city's policies.

Marleau recommended Chiarelli be docked nine months' pay — the most severe penalty available under law — and council approved the recommendation.

Now, more than 10 months later, Ontario Superior Court Justices David Corbett, Geoffrey Morawetz and Robyn Ryan Bell are considering arguments from Chiarelli's lawyer that council members had already shown by their comments and actions that they had made up their minds long before Marleau's report was released. 

Sevigny pointed to comments made by the mayor on 1310 News on Dec. 12, 2019. When asked what he'd like to see happen with Chiarelli, who had not addressed specific allegations but had issued a blanket denial, Watson said: "Do the honourable thing and step down, and move on with your life.... This is a situation that's not going to go away until he goes away."

Councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper released a statement in September 2019 calling on Chiarelli to resign "if he knows these accounts are accurate." Sevigny also pointed out that councillors Glen Gower and Mathieu Fleury said they believed the women who came forward to tell their stories to CBC.

Most councillors stood in protest during a meeting attended by Chiarelli in late 2019. (Kate Porter/CBC)

And at a council meeting on Dec. 11, 2019, all but three members of council — Watson and councillors Theresa Kavanagh and Jan Harder — stood in protest for most of the time that Chiarelli was present in the council chamber.

Sevigny also pointed to the fact that in October 2019, council took the unprecedented step in denying Chiarelli's request for an indefinite leave of absence. On Dec. 13, 2019, Chiarelli announced he would be undergoing heart bypass surgery, and later suffered a post-operative infection. The councillor never renewed his request for a leave of absence.

All these actions are clear indications that councillors had made up their minds about Chiarelli's behaviour, argued Sevigny.

Judge questions Chiarelli's refusal to participate 

Justice Corbett questioned Sevigny about the fact that Chiarelli had refused to participate in the integrity commissioner's investigation. 

Sevigny has argued that Chiarelli was too sick to give an interview to the integrity commissioner, although the councillor did attend some council meetings in 2019 and 2020. The councillor also attended a holiday food drive in late 2019.

 

But Chiarelli had also stated early on in the investigation that the integrity commissioner had no authority to deal with the complaints, and that he would not participate in the process. Later, Chiarelli accused council of being biased toward him.

"Refusing to come because the process is fixed is different than saying, 'I'm too sick.' And he said, 'I'm too sick,' when it was quite apparent to everybody who was watching that he wasn't too sick to do other things and he was trying to avoid the process," said Corbett.

The judge told Sevigny that there was "no question" that Chiarelli had a serious medical issue starting in December 2019, but said Chiarelli "used that to obstruct this investigation … and never participate. His position seemed to be that he could draw a municipal salary, show up to council events, but he didn't have to participate in this process, and he wouldn't. What do you say about that?"

Sevigny responded that Chiarelli was "reasonably apprehensive and reasonably concerned about the integrity of this process after the public displays and comments of council through the fall months of 2019."

Lawyers for the city and the integrity commissioner are also scheduled to make presentations to the panel.

now