Ottawa

Coun. Rick Chiarelli 'expects' to run for re-election, says office

An Ottawa city councillor whose pay was suspended for 450 days over behaviour the city's then-integrity commissioner deemed to be harassment and is facing new allegations "expects" to seek re-election.

Women who worked with councillor say they're not surprised, but it's retraumatizing

College Coun. Rick Chiarelli in an undated photo from the last term of council. (CBC)

Ottawa city councillor Rick Chiarelli, whose pay was suspended for 450 days over behaviour the city's then-integrity commissioner deemed to be harassment — and who is facing new, similar allegations — "expects" to seek re-election in October, his office says.

"Councillor Chiarelli has not yet made any official announcements regarding his intent to run but he expects to," wrote his director of strategic affairs and communications Chantal Lebel in an email Tuesday. She did not respond to followup questions.

Chiarelli was the subject of two damning integrity commissioner reports in 2020 that followed a year-long investigation into allegations of inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour in the workplace.

CBC first detailed in 2019 the allegations of inappropriate behaviour, including pressuring employees and job applicants to go braless to certain work events.

Then-integrity commissioner Robert Marleau found the College ward representative's behaviour qualified as harassment under the city's policies and recommended a 90-day salary suspension for each of five complainants — the most severe penalty available under provincial law. Council approved that suspension.

Chiarelli is currently the subject of another commissioner's investigation after a sixth complainant came forward to CBC with new allegations.

Chiarelli has denied all the allegations and rebuffed calls for him to resign. He is not on the city's list of nominatees for the ward as of Wednesday morning.

News retraumatizing, former staffers say

Three women who spoke out about their time as staffers in the councillor's office told CBC Tuesday they are not surprised to hear he may run again.

"He has no ability to read the room," said Stephanie Dobbs, one of the formal complainants. "The man has more audacity than anyone I've ever met."

"Nothing surprises me anymore with the audacity of that man," said Victoria Laaber, a former staffer who had described a toxic work environment in Chiarelli's office.

Both Laaber and Dobbs said it was retraumatizing to hear Chiarelli may seek re-election.

Ottawa city council, provincial cabinet ministers and these protesters at a 2020 women's march have all called on Coun. Rick Chiarelli to resign. He has not. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Nancy O'Brien, who also worked for the councillor, said she sees him as the "perfect example" of why the Ontario Municipal Act needs to change.

"I would be so incredibly disappointed if he won again," she said.

'No business' trying to get re-elected, says MPP

Currently, having a financial conflict of interest or committing election fraud are the only reasons a person can be barred from running for election for several years in Ontario.

A private members bill from Orléans MPP Stephen Blais sought to create a process to remove councillors or mayors for failing to comply with workplace violence or harassment policies, but it had only passed its second reading when the provincial legislature was dissolved ahead of the election.

Blais, who served on Ottawa city council from 2010 to 2020, said Chiarelli should have "done the honourable thing and resigned."

Seeking re-election is "insulting" to the community and the women who worked for him, Blais added.

"Mr. Chiarelli has no business remaining on city council and he certainly has no business trying to get himself elected to council."

Stephane Émard-Chabot, a municipal lawyer who teaches at the University of Ottawa, said Chiarelli running again would make sense based on his "logic" so far.

"His behaviour has been consistent," Émard-Chabot, said. "He denies the allegations, denies any wrongdoing and feels very strongly that he is still apt at fulfilling this public role."

There's also a chance that if the vote in College ward is split on Oct. 24 he could get in, said the lawyer, adding it's "not rare" for candidates with anywhere from 25 to 29 per cent of the vote to win if it's spread thin enough. Two candidates have filed papers so far.

"The odds of him winning are certainly not nil."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Taekema

Reporter

Dan Taekema is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He has worked with CBC News in Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto and for newspapers around southern Ontario. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.

With files from Michelle Allan and Joanne Chianello

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