Mayor 'disturbed and disgusted' at Chiarelli allegations, promises action

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he admires the bravery of the women who have spoken out against Coun. Rick Chiarelli, and is exploring ways to make it easier for complainants to come forward in the future.

Jim Watson says he admires 'bravery' of women who've come forward

Mayor Jim Watson says the city will be looking at what has to be done to make sure employees understand how to get help if they're experiencing harassment at work. 1:29

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he admires the bravery of the women who have spoken out against Coun. Rick Chiarelli, and is exploring ways to make it easier for complainants to come forward in the future.

Watson spoke Thursday about his disgust at the stories that several women — all of whom either worked for the College ward councillor or interviewed for a position in his office — have shared in recent weeks with CBC News.

"I'm very much disturbed and disgusted with the allegations against Coun. Chiarelli. It's very frustrating for us because ... the matter's before the integrity commissioner, and as days go on, more people are coming forward," Watson said. 

"And I respect and admire the bravery of these women who are coming forward — both those who are anonymous and certainly those who have given their names."

Strip clubs, nude photos

Earlier this month, a woman told CBC that Chiarelli asked her inappropriate questions of a sexual nature during a summer 2019 job interview, including whether she was comfortable not wearing a bra to work events.

She subsequently filed a complaint with the city's integrity commissioner. 

Since that story was published, six more women have shared their experiences with CBC. One of Chiarelli's former assistants, Victoria Laaber, said he would pressure her to wear revealing outfits and send her "on assignment" to local strip clubs, under the guise of spying on another council member.

College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli requested a formal leave of absence from city council after the allegations broke, but council has yet to decide whether to grant it. (CBC)

Angelica Dixon, who worked for Chiarelli for four months, said he asked her during her interview if she was comfortable wearing short skirts and showing cleavage. She also said Chiarelli would speak openly about having seen nude photos of a former employee — an allegation CBC verified with two other former employees.

In a letter to CBC, Chiarelli's lawyer, Bruce Sevigny, said the councillor "adamantly denies the allegations" and that Chiarelli will "respond more substantively when his health permits."

After the first allegations were made public, Chiarelli requested a leave of absence from the city for an unspecified medical issue. City council declined to vote on that request Wednesday, with city clerk Rick O'Connor calling it "premature."

A bra hangs from a tree in front of Ottawa City Hall, a silent protest after the first woman shared her experiences about being interviewed by Coun. Rick Chiarelli. Since then, six other women have come forward. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

'Probably' could do better

Watson said Thursday he'd met earlier that morning with O'Connor to "better understand" how to ensure those who work in municipal politicians' offices are aware of their rights.

"We probably haven't done a very good job notifying them that there is help available," Watson said.

Coun. Riley Brockington said the latest allegations left him 'shocked.' Coun. Jeff Leiper said he was thinking about how to make sure political staffers have a safe work environment. 0:48

Watson said the city would soon release a series of recommendations so that politicians' staffers know they have "recourse if any inappropriate behaviour has taken place on the part of a politician."

"They're not under a collective agreement, like every other employee. But they have to be treated as any other employee [with] the right to go and lodge a complaint against a subordinate or a peer," Watson said.

"This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable."

Coun. Shawn Menard is calling on Coun. Rick Chiarelli to resign "if he knows the accounts to be true." Six more women have come forward with allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by Chiarelli. 0:33

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, council's first-ever liaison on women's issues, has also asked the mayor and her council colleagues to sign up for training on gender issues in the wake of the allegations.