'Almost like being in an abusive relationship': Shocking new allegations about Rick Chiarelli
Councillor denies allegations, while former female staffer says she’s 'fed up' with process
WARNING: Some readers may find certain details offensive or upsetting.
The City of Ottawa's integrity commissioner is formally investigating complaints filed by a sixth woman over the behaviour of Coun. Rick Chiarelli, CBC News has learned.
And while some of the allegations may sound familiar — visits to nightclubs to recruit volunteers, pressure to go braless and wear revealing tops — they also include shocking new details.
The woman, who was in her early 20s when she worked part-time for Chiarelli from 2013 to 2015, said the College ward councillor launched a weeks-long campaign in 2014 to pressure her to perform oral sex on a stranger in exchange for cash.
She said he manipulated her during an especially traumatic period of her life, after she told him she'd been sexually assaulted that summer at an event not connected to her job.
When she turned to Chiarelli for advice, he told her not to report her assault to police, not to tell her boyfriend and not to seek counselling, the woman said.
CBC has agreed not to name her as she hasn't told her family many of the details of her time working for Chiarelli.
During this same period, the woman said she gave in to Chiarelli's constant pressure to go braless to nightclubs for work.
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"In the beginning, it was, like, a sheer top with a bra underneath and a skirt and heels," the woman told CBC. "But by the end of working for him, I would go out wearing a skirt and heels and a sheer top with nothing underneath.
"Which is exactly what he wanted."
She said she would drink a couple of glasses of wine or down a few shots before Chiarelli picked her up for these nightclub outings, "just to cope, just to get through it."
"It was almost like being in an abusive relationship, where I was afraid of him, but at the same time, I trusted him and wanted to impress him and make him happy," she said.
'Preposterous and unbelievable': Chiarelli statement
In a statement emailed to CBC by the councillor's lawyer, Bruce Sevigny, Chiarelli denies the allegations, calling "many" of them "absolutely preposterous and unbelievable."
The lawyer also wrote that Chiarelli "has good reason" to believe that the allegations and the timing of the story "have been improperly influenced by political considerations."
When asked to elaborate, neither Sevigny nor Chiarelli provided any response.
Sevigny also took issue with the anonymity of an "unnamed accuser."
"In addition to purposely withholding the accuser's name, you have failed to provide the type of basic and/or meaningful particulars that any reasonable person would expect to receive from a journalist who is committed to objective/responsible reporting," Sevigny wrote.
On April 13, CBC sent Chiarelli a detailed list of the allegations that included when the woman worked for him and approximate time frames of alleged events.
As well, earlier this week, CBC obtained permission from the complainant to identify her verbally to Sevigny and Chiarelli. Neither has taken up the offer.
Chiarelli's lawyer also asserted that the integrity commissioner's process precludes the councillor from responding to the allegations in a "substantive way."
The councillor has not participated in the previous two integrity commissioner investigations regarding his conduct.
After CBC began breaking stories in September 2019 about Chiarelli's inappropriate behaviour toward job applicants and former staffers, the woman came forward as a witness in a subsequent investigation by the City of Ottawa's integrity commissioner.
CBC has viewed the official synopsis of the woman's three-hour sworn testimony made to one of former integrity commissioner Robert Marleau's investigators in November 2019. That testimony aligns both with the woman's current complaint to the new integrity commissioner, Karen Shepherd, and the version of events she recently told CBC.
As well, CBC has viewed recent emails sent by Shepherd to the woman, confirming she's launched a formal investigation into the complaints.
Chiarelli has 'grooming process,' says former staffer
Like other women who've spoken out, the latest complainant said it's hard to explain why she didn't just walk away.
She said Chiarelli would threaten to ruin her reputation if she left her job, adding that he gave examples of other former employees' careers he had damaged. Other former staffers have told CBC and the integrity commissioner the same thing — that they were too afraid of repercussions to quit on bad terms.
But the woman said she stayed almost as much by persuasion as by fear. She said Chiarelli's tactics were both relentless and incremental.
"He has a grooming process," she said. "You have to remember, this happened over a couple of years.… So he starts slow. Everyone has a line where they're not willing to cross with, you know, their morals, their values, what they're comfortable with, not comfortable with.
"And he, for some reason, is able to get you to cross that line just a little bit. So then your threshold of what you're comfortable with moved up a little. And then he pushes you a little bit further."
She said it was exhausting to constantly be arguing and trying to dodge questions, to compromise on outfits.
"It becomes easier to give in and do what he wants me to do … and keep your job and not get fired."
The woman said she was a naive student who knew nothing about politics when she started working in the ward office and at community events.
Chiarelli was controlling, she said, insisting on driving her to and from the bar. He would drive her around for hours before he dropped her off at home at 4 a.m., she said.
In the fall of 2013, Chiarelli made her go on a "romantic date" with someone she met at the Ottawa International Animation Festival who said he worked for Pixar, the woman said. She recalled Chiarelli was very excited by this potential contact, and pressured her to meet him at the former Black Tomato restaurant in the ByWard Market.
As usual, Chiarelli insisted on driving her to and from the date, she said. But when Chiarelli found out he wasn't a Pixar employee but a volunteer, the woman said Chiarelli "was very unhappy with me."
Mental health 'in the trash'
But it was another traumatic experience in the summer of 2014, she said, that pushed her mental and physical health, self-esteem and relationships to the brink.
The woman said she was sexually assaulted at an event not related to her work at city hall, and that a well-known person in the entertainment industry was a witness. About a week later, she turned to Chiarelli for help.
She said she saw him as a father figure, especially as he had daughters around her own age.
"He was the only one I told because we had a very, I don't know, odd work relationship where he made me believe that he was the only person I could trust," she said.
She said he told her not to report the assault to police, and not to tell her boyfriend because he'd probably leave her. So she didn't.
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Chiarelli also allegedly told her not to seek counselling because he was afraid the story would get out, or that a therapist would encourage her to report the assault. Instead, he suggested that if she really needed to seek help, he'd personally find someone for her, the woman said.
The woman said her physical and mental health deteriorated in the subsequent weeks. At one point, she drove herself to the Montfort Hospital emergency room because she was having suicidal thoughts, had lost weight and had developed an eating disorder.
"I was so thin, I was so unhealthy, my mental health was in the trash," she said.
I felt worthless as a person. I had no integrity and I had no self-respect anymore.- The complainant
Her boyfriend at the time has told CBC he found out about the assault in October 2014. He had been away for the summer and said he returned to Ottawa to find his girlfriend acting erratically, not reciprocating affection, losing weight and guarding her cellphone.
He said he went through her phone one day and saw exchanges between her and the entertainment personality. He thought that "something was amiss" because names were in code and messages included odd references.
When he confronted her, "she opened up to me about a sexual assault," he said. At that time, he said she also told him about her trips to recruit people for Chiarelli at bars.
He told CBC he wanted her to quit working for the councillor "immediately" and "considered ending the relationship for quite some time afterwards."
But what he said he didn't know until about a year ago was that in late 2014, the woman succumbed to Chiarelli's pressure for her not to wear a bra when she went to nightclubs to recruit volunteers.
"I started wearing more revealing clothing when I would go out to clubs with Rick," she said about the months following the assault. "I didn't care. Like, I felt worthless as a person. I had no integrity and I had no self-respect anymore.
"I really didn't care what happened to me."
It was also around this time, she said, that Chiarelli began a "joke" with her over text that she wasn't good at performing oral sex — and that he was planning a trip to Montreal for her to prove she was.
She said he offered to pay her several hundred dollars in cash if she performed oral sex on a stranger she picked up at a Montreal nightclub.
At first, she tried to laugh it off. "How do you respond to your boss saying that?" she recalled thinking.
But she said she soon realized he was serious.
"He was planning this specific trip for this specific thing to happen," she said. "It was just, like, harassment. That's all he talked about for two months."
She kept putting him off, but one day later that fall, the woman and Chiarelli did drive to Montreal, she said. (The woman says they had previously driven to Montreal on so-called volunteer recruitment trips.) The woman declined to tell CBC how she responded to the alleged pressure from Chiarelli to perform a sexual act on a stranger, but said Chiarelli never paid her any money.
The woman quit in the winter of 2015, telling Chiarelli that she was under too much stress from her studies. She said he made her delete all her texts and emails before she left, and she later changed her phone number so that Chiarelli couldn't contact her.
The woman and her boyfriend are still together.
OPP dropped investigation into woman's allegation
The woman said she waited patiently for authorities to do their jobs, including the Ontario Provincial Police.
As CBC reported in December 2020, the OPP was investigating Chiarelli based on information that was referred by the integrity commissioner. On Monday of this week, the OPP confirmed that it has completed its investigation into the conduct of a member of Ottawa city council — they did not name Chiarelli — but said it would be passing the findings on to the Ottawa Police Service.
The exact nature of the OPP's investigation of Chiarelli has never been clear, but it's now apparent that at least part of it focused on Chiarelli's offer to pay the woman money to perform oral sex on a stranger.
According to an email from an OPP investigator to the woman — an email the CBC has seen — the OPP was looking into whether Chiarelli could be charged with procuring under Bill C-36, which makes it a crime to persuade a person to offer or provide sexual services "for consideration."
However, according to the OPP's email to the woman, Bill C-36 came into force in December 2014, after the alleged behaviour by the councillor, and was not enforceable.
I want to remind the public that this guy is still working. He is still a councillor. He still has his seat within council.- The complainant
Once the OPP told the woman it wouldn't be pursuing a procuring charge against Chiarelli, the woman decided to move forward with her own integrity commissioner complaint, filing a signed affidavit in late January 2022 with the current commissioner, Karen Shepherd.
The process, however, has been a bit sluggish.
The woman only received confirmation from Shepherd in early March that the investigation was moving ahead. And earlier this month, Shepherd emailed the woman to say that Chiarelli asked for an extension to April 22 to provide a response "due to some personal matters."
For the complainant, the extension appears to be the last straw. She's followed the rules, complied with requests by her family and various investigators not to speak with the media, and now says she's "fed up."
"I'm not waiting anymore," she said. "The public needs to know about all of this."
The woman said she's coming forward now because the process has failed all the women who've spoken out. While Chiarelli was docked 450 days pay in response to the previous complaints — the harshest penalty allowed under Ontario law — his salary was reinstated late last year.
Chiarelli has also rebuffed calls that he resign, including from Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steven Clark.
Bill to change law stalled
And efforts at Queen's Park to change the Municipal Act, so that a councillor found to have committed serious misconduct can be removed from office, have also come to a standstill.
"I want to remind the public that this guy is still working," said the woman. "He is still a councillor. He still has his seat within council."
Just last week, Progressive Conservative government house leader Paul Calandra dismissed efforts by Liberal Orléans MPP Stephen Blais to fast-track his private member's bill, which would allow a judge to remove a councillor in the most serious instances of harassment.
As it stands, that bill — which had all-party support on second reading — has little chance of being passed before this spring's provincial election.
The complainant told CBC that to her, the status quo isn't acceptable.
"We've never gotten an apology. We've never gotten any acknowledgement that he did this to us. Maybe if he would have apologized or even acknowledged that he hurt us, you know, maybe I wouldn't have filed a complaint," she said.