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Embattled Ottawa city councillor hospitalized, will undergo open-heart surgery

Coun. Rick Chiarelli is pictured at the city council table on Nov. 6, 2019.
Coun. Rick Chiarelli is pictured at the city council table on Nov. 6, 2019. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

An Ottawa city councillor facing misconduct allegations says he has been admitted to hospital and will undergo open-heart surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

A press release issued by his office on Friday morning said Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s cardiologists and surgeons ordered the operation “after months of extensive evaluations by his medical team.”

“Open heart surgery is necessary to save his life,” the statement said. “A quadruple heart bypass is planned.”

READ MORE: Protesters call for Ottawa Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s resignation over misconduct allegations

In October, city councillors unanimously denied Chiarelli, who represents College ward, a formal sick leave after he requested one, saying his absence was due to a medical issue that arose in mid-August. Since then, Chiarelli has only shown up for council business intermittently.

In early September, CBC News reported on allegations by several women who claimed the longtime councillor had made remarks or requests of a sexual nature, either during job interviews or when they worked in his office. In a statement on Oct. 3, Chiarelli categorically denied that he had treated any member of his staff or any job candidate in a sexually harassing, discriminatory or inappropriate fashion.

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He showed up to council on Nov. 6 for the tabling of the draft 2020 budget and then, most recently, for council’s meeting on Wednesday, but he didn’t stay for the full meeting and missed the budget vote.

On his way out of city hall, Chiarelli told reporters he was leaving the meeting because he wasn’t feeling well.

READ MORE: Ottawa councillor facing misconduct allegations returns for budget meeting

Mayor Jim Watson addressed Chiarelli’s medical update on social media later on Friday morning.

“I’d like to wish Councillor Chiarelli a successful operation and a speedy recovery, as he undergoes surgery at the Heart Institute,” the mayor wrote.

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The press release from Chiarelli’s office said the councillor hasn’t been feeling well since the spring and subsequent doctors’ visits “helped identify several serious medical conditions.”

“It became evident following his emergency room visit to the hospital in August that Coun. Chiarelli was also facing serious cardiac issues,” the statement said. “Specialist referrals were made, and doctors ordered a regime of strict stress reduction and activity limitations pending further testing.

“While many of his other overall health issues are now becoming better controlled, Coun. Chiarelli collapsed into unconsciousness and was rushed by ambulance to hospital on Oct. 12. This reconfirmed the situation and precipitated more tests and stricter regime.”

Further tests and evaluations by Chiarelli’s cardiologist “confirmed that heart surgery was urgent and vital,” and the councillor was placed on “active standby” for surgery, the press release said. Chiarelli learned he would be admitted to hospital on Dec. 11, shortly after leaving city council’s meeting, according to the statement.

The memo said surgery would be “almost immediate.”

READ MORE: Mayor, councillors release statements on Chiarelli allegations

While Chiarelli has attended two council meetings over the last two months, he hasn’t attended the meetings of the committees on which he sits.

When the councillor arrived at Wednesday’s meeting at city hall, many city councillors stood up at the council table in protest of his presence.

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Councillors also later voted in favour of a motion from Coun. Scott Moffatt — who has been handling Chiarelli’s ward duties with Coun. Allan Hubley since late October — asking for that work to be returned to the embattled councillor.

Moffatt said on Wednesday that it appeared Chiarelli has effectively returned to his job by going to public events, appearing at council and approving budget expenses for his staff.

Scheer to remain Conservative leader until party finds replacement
Scheer to remain Conservative leader until party finds replacement

According to the Ontario Municipal Act, councillors can only miss three months of council meetings before their seat is considered vacated — unless a formal leave is approved by council.

Chiarelli’s press release on Friday said he is “very honoured” to have served College ward for the last 30 years and that “he will have to do his best” in the absence of an approved sick leave.

“…As he recovers and becomes progressively stronger, he hopes to do more and more of the work needed in his ward,” the statement said.

The councillor’s staff will continue to handle constituent concerns and community issues in the interim, according to the release.

“Coun. Chiarelli knows that, after recovering fully from open heart surgery, he will be able to return to work full time and continue fighting for his constituents, providing oversight on major projects and continually working to keep improving on all the wonderful things we have in our nation’s capital,” the statement said.

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READ MORE: Infrastructure, housing and transit get boost in approved Ottawa 2020 budget

An online petition calling for Chiarelli’s resignation that began five days ago had reached more than 1,800 signatures on Friday morning.

According to CBC News, several formal complaints about Chiarelli’s alleged conduct have been submitted to the city’s integrity commissioner.

On Wednesday, Chiarelli declined to comment specifically on the allegations levelled against him but said he intends to pursue a court challenge arguing the integrity commissioner doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate the claims.

— With files from Global News’ Christopher Whan