Ottawa·IN HER OWN WORDS

'I cannot let any other woman go through a process like this'

Laura's story about an inappropriate interview she had with Coun. Rick Chiarelli spurred more women to come forward and led to a damning integrity commissioner's report. In this interview, she looks back on the past year.

1st woman to share accusations against Rick Chiarelli reflects on past year

Laura was the first person to publicly allege that Coun. Rick Chiarelli behaved inappropriately in a job interview last year. Many more women have come forward since her story was published. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Laura is 33, a former journalist from South America, and the first person to publicly tell her story about her inappropriate job interview with Coun. Rick Chiarelli.

"I still think it's unbelievable what I went through," she said, a little more than one year after first speaking to the CBC about how the veteran councillor — among other things — asked her about going braless to work events, wondered if she ever dealt drugs and showed her pictures on his phone of women in revealing outfits.

"In my resumé, it says that I was a journalist. And the fact that he completely dismissed that and didn't think that I will say anything about [what happened] is just insane to me."

When Laura first spoke out last September, CBC agreed not use her name because she was worried about finding employment in the future. She's still worried about that, although she has allowed CBC to publish her first name and a few more identifying details.

In the days and weeks after Laura told her story to CBC last fall, many more women came forward with their own stories of Chiarelli's inappropriate behaviour. 

CBC corroborated the accounts of 13 women, and reported eight of them last fall.

Laura's interview with Chiarelli, along with those of two other job applicants, became the focus of the damning report from the city's integrity commissioner which found the councillor's behaviour violated the city's code of conduct.

After a 10-month investigation, integrity commissioner Robert Marleau is recommending council impose the harshest sanctions available: a nine-month suspension of pay, the equivalent of more than $79,000.

The councillor has denied all allegations.

CBC's Joanne Chianello sat down with Laura this past weekend. Here's an edited version of what she had to say, in her own words.

Laura speaks to CBC's Joanne Chianello a year after first telling her about the interview with Chiarelli. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

On what happened during the interview

I was wearing a summer dress, nothing revealing. I just remember him taking a look at me, probably from toe to head. He was like, "Oh, you can show your legs, you can show your arms. What is it that you wouldn't show?" 

He asked me what was the worst thing that I had ever done ... I'm from South America. So he asked me if I had ever dealt with cocaine — not done drugs, but more like, sell drugs.- Laura, reflecting on her job interview with Chiarelli 

He was showing me photos of his former assistant who likes to go to ComicCon. A boss shouldn't have those photos — it wasn't her working, it was just her posing. It was just creepy.

And he kept talking about how going braless is so useful to recruit volunteers. He showed me another photo of a girl sitting in a car, and the photo was taken from the side, and you could see she wasn't wearing a bra because her T-shirt was cut low.

Laura met Chiarelli for a two-and-a-half hour interview at a Starbucks in Bells Corners on a Sunday in late June, 2019. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

I think at some point I stopped making my poker face because it was just too much. And he said to me, "Oh, the reason I have those photos is because we get audited and I have to prove that [the women] are working for me."

He asked me what was the worst thing that I had ever done. I said, "I don't know, I don't do bad things." You can notice from my accent, I'm from South America. So he asked me if I had ever dealt with cocaine — not done drugs, but more like, sell drugs. 

On what she was thinking 

I'd read his website before the interview because I didn't know anything about him. And in some places, it said that he was against sexual harassment and he was supporting women.

I really kept thinking that [the interview] was a bad joke. And I kept waiting for him to say, "OK, I'm kidding, this is not what we do."

I remember I kept thinking, it's 2019, what is this person thinking? My mom has gone through that, God knows my grandma had to go through that. And then so many generations before me. But I was like, this has changed, right?

On her decision to come forward

I was so afraid that he was targeting new immigrants. And as an immigrant myself to this country — I've been here for many years — I was like, maybe he's just using new Canadians that don't know that Canada is better than this, and he's taking advantage of that.

He told me that he was going to interview two other people before making a decision, and I was like, oh my God, I cannot let any other woman — or person, for that matter —  go through a process like this.

On still not using her full name

I come from South America where things are more complicated than in Canada … So even though I knew I was in a better place, I also didn't know if anything was going to happen to me.

It took 13 women to go against one person.- Laura, whose public story about her interview with Chiarelli spurred others to come forward

And when I talked to my family, they also told me, what if you want to get a job in the future? And then anybody can Google your name and they know that you're a troublemaker because that's, unfortunately, how women who speak out are portrayed. It's never that they wanted justice.

It took 13 women to go against one person. It's insane to me that we can't be treated as one-versus-one, it has to be 13-versus-one.

There were several protests at City Hall regarding the allegations against Chiarelli, including one where people silently stood during a council meeting in December. (Kate Porter/CBC)

On the reaction to her story 

I remember thinking, there are two ways that this [could] go.

One is that nobody talks and that's it. That's the end of the story, and he will continue doing the same [things]. Or the other is that if other people have experienced the same, they will come out. I didn't know if anybody was going to be able to talk about it.

So when they did, I was so grateful.

I was so happy that they could prove that what I was saying was true, but also I was so sad that they all had to go through something similar. And that they were so young that they didn't know how to fight. 

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

3 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.

After seeing the report from the [integrity] commissioner, I hope that people understand that it's OK to speak up and that even though not everybody is going to believe you — because that's impossible — there are many of us that will because we have experienced that ourselves.

I went to the city hall tree and took pictures and [sent] them to my family and they were all so proud. I wanted to hang my [bra] too, but in the end I didn't. 

On what the last year's been like

It's been overwhelming.

I did go to a psychologist for a bit because I started getting very stressed and I couldn't walk by myself, but it was all in my head. I never had anybody following me and nobody ever harassed me.

Whoever I was meeting with, like my friends and my co-workers, I had to tell the story to anybody I knew because I couldn't believe it myself. I needed to keep talking about it [and] I've received a lot of support from them.

I had to give up on social media a little bit because it was too much. But now I'm back to it. So, you know, things are coming back to normal.

Chiarelli, second from right, is shown here at a council meeting in February. He could be docked nine months' pay if councillor votes in favour of the integrity commissioner's recommended sanctions. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

On the recommended sanctions against Chiarelli

If he cares about money, then it's a good punishment. But if he doesn't, then who cares?  I want him to stop.

Look, if he was elected for 30 years, maybe he does some good things. I hope so. Otherwise, why are people still voting for him?  To put any person through that … he should know better. 

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