Ottawa city council called on one of its own to resign on Wednesday and called on the province to provide additional powers to remove councillors who are found to have made serious transgressions.
Ottawa councillors had an emotional discussion Wednesday on a series of motions in response to the integrity commissioner’s report into the conduct of College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
Commissioner Rob Marleau’s report into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct within the councillor’s office provided a damning look into the experiences of women who worked for Chiarelli.
The integrity commissioner received five complaints in 2019 alleging that Chiarelli asked women who either worked for him or interviewed to work in his office to engage in inappropriate behaviour. This included pressuring women to “go braless,” to go to strip clubs on “espionage missions” and to flirt with men as well as sharing stories of sexually explicit activities in his office.
A report published earlier in the year outlined complaints from job applicants, while the most recent report covered allegations of misconduct involving two employees.
After interviews with the complainants, Marleau wrote in his report that he determined these allegations to be founded and determined Chiarelli contravened two sections of city council’s code of conduct.
Chiarelli did not cooperate with Marleau’s investigation and has denied all allegations against him, but the commissioner found his lack of response to be equally damning.
“In the face of the detailed, convincing testimony of the two complainants along with the documentary and evidence of several witnesses, I cannot accept his public and flat denial as a credible answer to the allegations,” Marleau wrote.
Speaking on the report in front of council on Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson echoed Marleau’s disappointment.
“To councillor Chiarelli, I would like to say, your silence speaks volumes,” Watson said.
“I would argue his silence is a further assault on the courageous women who have come forward.”
Watson joined numerous city councillors in apologizing to the victims who spoke to the integrity commissioner about their experiences and vowed to create a better working environment for city and councillor’s staff.
Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, who said Wednesday that the behaviour described in the report is “disturbing, demeaning and reprehensible,” said the incidents reinforce the need for council to create a women and gender equity strategy and community safety and well-being plan.
Punitive measures passed Wednesday in response to the commissioner’s report included a call for Chiarelli to resign his seat from council, docking his pay an additional 180 days, physically moving the councillor’s seat from the council table when in-person meetings resume and directing staff to explore ways of limiting his access to city staff and buildings.
Chiarelli was also removed from his positions on all city committees and had his power to hire within his own office taken away.
City council also put in a request to Steve Clark, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, asking for the power to remove a councillor from their position if they are found to have committed “serious misconduct.”
Chiarelli recused himself from discussions on the report on Wednesday and confirmed his plans to challenge the integrity commissioner’s jurisdiction in court in the new year.
Marleau noted that he found “reasonable grounds” that there were contraventions of other acts uncovered over the course of his investigation, and has referred those matters to the “appropriate authorities.” He said he could not comment further on the possibility of any other investigations.