Embattled Ottawa councillor Rick Chiarelli reluctant to request leave again, tweet suggests

College Ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli pictured at Ottawa city council in Feb. 2020. The councillor is facing new complications from his heart surgery in December 2019, according to his director of strategic affairs and communications. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

A message posted to Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s Twitter account after he briefly appeared at Ottawa city council’s meeting Wednesday says the embattled councillor has “no confidence whatsoever” that any new request for a medical leave would be “considered objectively” by his colleagues.

Chiarelli, currently under investigation by the city’s integrity commissioner for “several” misconduct complaints, hadn’t attend council since undergoing open-heart surgery mid-December.

Ottawa’s mayor, however, told reporters “there would be willingness” around the council table to approve a leave of absence, should the College Ward councillor request one again.

Chiarelli first requested a leave from council in late September, citing medical issues that arose in August. The leave request came amidst reports published by CBC News that alleged Chiarelli had made remarks or requests of a sexual nature to women, during job interviews and in the workplace.

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Chiarelli, who has categorically denied the allegations, provided a doctor’s note with his request for a medical leave but his colleagues unanimously denied the request in October. The councillor has showed up intermittently to city business since; he risks losing his seat if he misses three months of council meetings.

Then, on Dec. 13, Chiarelli’s office announced that he had been admitted to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for open-heart surgery, stating the procedure was “necessary to save his life.”

Chiarelli arrived at city hall Wednesday morning in a wheelchair – his first time attending council since his surgery. After casting his vote on nominations to fill committee vacancies, Chiarelli was wheeled out of the council chambers not even half an hour into the meeting.

A message referencing his attendance — attributed to his wife, Lida — was posted to his Twitter account about 10 minutes later.

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“He feels he owes it to his constituents to do what he must, in the short term, to ensure he maintains his seat,” the message said.

“He has no confidence whatsoever that any additional application he would make for medical leave would be considered objectively given council’s, the mayor’s and the city clerk’s actions in the past months and especially since they did not accept the 3 previous doctor’s notes he has already submitted.

“As a result, he had no option but to come in today.”

Council would likely grant leave, mayor says

Speaking with media after council adjourned and Chiarelli departed, Mayor Jim Watson said the councillor hasn’t approached his office or the city clerk’s office with a second leave request and suggested council would likely approve time off for Chiarelli “given his time at the Heart Institute.”

“My sense is, from talking to colleagues around the table, that there would be the willingness for most people around here to give him that medical leave of absence so he doesn’t have to show up every three months,” Watson told reporters.

Asked whether the provincial law dictating the three-month rule is problematic, Watson replied that “there’s no question” the current situation has put Chiarelli’s constituents “in a very untenable situation.”

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“My understanding is he is doing some approvals and so on from his office and working with his office staff but that’s not the same as having a voice and a vote around the council table,” the mayor said.

“I don’t know what the perfect answer is. I’ve never seen a situation like this before in any other municipality.”

Council heard earlier this month that the integrity commissioner’s investigations into the complaints filed against Chiarelli have been “at a standstill” since mid-Decmeber as the councillor recovers from his surgery.

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau presented councillors with an interim report on his probe on Feb. 12.

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Chiarelli has challenged Marleau’s jurisdiction in dealing with complaints like those filed against him and suggested he might take the jurisdiction disagreement to court.

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The councillor, however, has indicated he will consider a request to participate in an interview for the commissioner’s investigation “once his recovery has progressed,” Marleau said.

Marleau told council he would give Chiarelli “a reasonable amount of time” to recover and comment before resuming and concluding his investigations — something the mayor addressed again on Wednesday.

“I think the concern a number of people have is that if Mr. Chiarelli is not able to participate and answer questions, it becomes a report without his point of view,” Watson said.

“If I was advising Mr. Chiarelli, I would strongly suggest that he meet with the integrity commissioner to put forward his side of the story regarding these serious allegations.”

Chiarelli didn’t speak to reporters as he made his exit from the council chambers on Wednesday. People who accompanied him surrounded his chair and used their bodies and hands to try and block reporters’ cameras and phones from recording him.

According to messages previously posted to his Twitter account, also attributed to his wife, Chiarelli was re-admitted to the Heart Institute after his surgery due to a “serious” bacterial infection and was receiving treatment in hospital and at home after his release throughout January and into February.

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Wednesday’s Twitter message didn’t offer an update on the status of his infection.

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