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Ottawa Coun. Rick Chiarelli claims Twitter account hacked after sexual messages surface

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

WARNING: This story contains content some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

Multiple women are going public about direct messages they received from College Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s Twitter account, embroiling the already embattled Ottawa city councillor in yet another controversy.

Meanwhile, his office said in a statement Thursday that the messages were not sent by the councillor, but rather were the result of a “breach” to his Twitter account.

The messages first came to light when Chicago-based comedian Cassidy Kulhanek shared screenshots of direct messages between her and the councillor over Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

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In the conversation, Chiarelli’s public account appears to ask her about taking a trip with him to Spain.

He asks if she would be comfortable with “topless sunbathing” there after saying his “current staffers” are not.

He adds that she would be covered for the “flight, accommodation, food and a reasonable amount of drink”  on the possible trip and she’d receive a “fee for doing what’s expected,” which he said included being “charming.”

He says he would likely pay for her out of his pocket but that he would then be reimbursed for his expenses.

“But I want fun! Not just work,” his messages say.

While those messages were sent from Chiarelli’s account, his office said the councillor wasn’t the one behind the screen.

“Please note that it appears that we have experienced a breach in our Twitter access and our passwords are being updated as we speak,” said Chantal Lebel, Chiarelli’s director of strategic affairs and communications, in a statement sent to Global News Thursday.

“We have reached out to the Twitter platform to determine the source of the unauthorized access to our account,” she said.

But after Kulhanek’s thread was shared widely on Twitter on Thursday, other women said they received similar messages from Chiarelli.

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Lebel acknowledged the pattern of messages in her statement Thursday.

“Our office has conducted an analysis of the recent usage of our social media channels mainly accessed through a third party app as well as a review of the alleged messages which seem to have been copy pasted to multiple users,” she said.

“We have determined the writing pattern and poor grammar to be inconsistent with that of the councillor’s. As such we have proceeded to a review of our security protocols.”

Kulhanek messaged with Global News over Twitter on Thursday afternoon and said she isn’t sure how Chiarelli found her, but he messaged her on Monday asking if the comedian would ever be performing in town or if she was looking for political work.

Global News has reviewed a copy of Kulhanek’s messages with Chiarelli over Twitter.

She said she asked a Canadian friend about who Chiarelli is before responding to him, so she knew ahead of time that he was previously embroiled in sexual misconduct investigations.

Ottawa’s former integrity commissioner Robert Marleau filed two damning reports in the past 14 months on Chiarelli’s conduct with staffers and applicants to his office.

Marleau found that complaints made against the councillor were founded and that Chiarelli acted inappropriately on numerous occasions, including making comments about staffers’ bodies and asking women working in his office to go “braless.”

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Read more: Woman who accuses Rick Chiarelli of sexual harassment sues City of Ottawa for $325K

Suspecting Chiarelli would act similarly towards her, Kulhanek said she wanted to help expose his behaviour.

“As a victim of harassment, I feel a responsibility to my fellow women in exposing things like this, and it felt like he was presenting me with an opportunity to use my platform to help others,” she said in a message to Global News Thursday.

“I understand he is currently being investigated for allegations against him of a similar nature, and it’s my hope that showing how he messaged me — a complete stranger in another country — will help establish a pattern of behavior in support of his other victims’ allegations.”

Chiarelli has previously denied accusations of sexual harassment, denounced Marleau’s findings and is currently fighting those claims in court.

City council docked Chiarelli’s pay and has removed him from his role on committees in response to Marleau’s reports, but he remains a sitting member of city council. His actions have prompted some to push the Ontario government to amend the Municipal Act to include the power to remove a councillor found to have contravened the city’s code of conduct.

Chiarelli was stripped of his ability to hire his own office staff and to incur any travel expenses through his office as part of council’s punitive measures against him, which his communication’s director said is further proof that he’s not the one behind the messages.

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“Additionally, Councillor Chiarelli has not travelled since undergoing a quadruple bypass open-heart surgery in December of 2019 nor does he have any plans to travel in the near future,” Lebel said.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said on Twitter that they filed a report with the integrity commissioner’s office after the messages surfaced.

Global News reached out to Marleau’s replacement, Karen Shepherd, for comment on the materials. Citing the confidential nature of her work, the integrity commissioner said she couldn’t comment on whether she had received anything.

The full statement from Coun. Chiarelli’s office is below:

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