Chiarelli's 'unwelcome' harassment violated code of conduct, report finds

Coun. Rick Chiarelli enters council chambers in 2019. Yet another report from the office of the city's integrity commissioner has found that Chiarelli breached council's code of conduct. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)
Coun. Rick Chiarelli enters council chambers in 2019. Yet another report from the office of the city's integrity commissioner has found that Chiarelli breached council's code of conduct. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: Some readers may find details of this story offensive or upsetting.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli bullied and harassed a young female staffer by offering to pay her money to pick up a man from a Montreal nightclub and perform a sexual act on him, according to a report from the City of Ottawa's integrity commissioner.

The report from Karen Shepherd, released publicly late Friday afternoon, is the third set of damning findings involving Chiarelli's conduct to come out of the integrity commissioner's office since 2020.

It comes in the wake of an official complaint made by a woman who was in her early 20s when she worked part-time for Chiarelli's office from 2013 to 2015.

The woman previously told CBC the College ward councillor launched a weeks-long campaign in 2014 to pressure her to perform oral sex on a stranger in exchange for cash.

CBC has agreed not to name the woman. Her identity is also redacted in Friday's report.

The integrity commissioner's investigation looked into five allegations the woman made when she filed her official complaint in January 2022 about Chiarelli's conduct.

Two of those complaints, Shepherd wrote, were ultimately deemed to involve breaches of council's code of conduct — including the woman's allegation that Chiarelli drove her to a Montreal club and watched in his van's rear-view mirror as she performed oral sex on a man she'd just met.

'Embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted'

Like several other women who've spoken to CBC, the woman said in an interview earlier this year that it was hard to explain why she didn't just walk away from the job in Chiarelli's office.

She did say Chiarelli would threaten to ruin her reputation if she quit, and she was afraid of the repercussions if she walked away on bad terms. She also said he had a "grooming process" and despite her fear, he persuaded her to stay.

The woman told both CBC and the integrity commissioner's office that Chiarelli began a "joke" with her over text messages that she wasn't good at oral sex — and that he was planning the trip so she could prove she was.

According to the complaint outlined in the report, the woman's job involved going with Chiarelli to clubs on Fridays or Saturdays to meet "mostly men" and to get their contact information "for future use by his office or campaign." Other witnesses corroborated that was part of the woman's job.

On one of those nights, the woman said she met a man at a bar who wanted to go home with her. The two ended up in the backseat of Chiarelli's van, and according to the report, the woman — who said at that point she was "slightly intoxicated" — began performing oral sex on him as Chiarelli drove around downtown Ottawa.

The woman said she remembered turning her head and seeing Chiarelli watching in the rear-view mirror. The man was too nervous to ejaculate, which led to the subsequent pressure campaign from Chiarelli, the woman alleged in her complaint.

[Chiarelli] knowingly and continuously exploited the power dynamic of the employer/employee relationship." - Karen Shepherd, City of Ottawa integrity commissioner

The woman gave evidence that Chiarelli eventually proposed going to Montreal one night, and if she could make another man ejaculate, he would give her roughly $250.

While she initially rejected the idea, one night in the fall of 2014, Chiarelli picked her up, the report said. The pair drove to Montreal, where the woman said Chiarelli dropped her off at a nightclub and waited outside.

Once inside, the woman met two men. Chiarelli told her via text message to bring one of the men outside — something the woman said took "a lot of convincing" as the man was "nervous and frightened," according to the report.

Once they were in the back seat of Chiarelli's van, the two began kissing, and eventually the woman again began performing oral sex, the report said. At one point, the woman recalled seeing Chiarelli's eyes watching them from the rear-view mirror.

Eventually, Chiarelli dropped the man back at the nightclub, and the two drove back to Ottawa. The entire incident left the woman feeling "uncomfortable, embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted," according to the report. The woman also told the investigators she only agreed to participate so that Chiarelli's earlier harassment would stop.

According to the woman's complaint, Chiarelli never harassed her about being bad at oral sex again.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Blanket denial

Chiarelli has consistently denied misconduct allegations levelled against him by several former staffers and job applicants, and the latest complaint is no different.

Investigators interviewed Chiarelli twice about the woman's allegations, first in May 2022 and then in June. According to Shepherd's report, he denied the woman's account of the Montreal trip "entirely," arguing he wouldn't have had time to make trips to Quebec nightclubs so close to the October 2014 municipal election.

He also denied that going to nightclubs was part of the woman's job and that he ever teased her.

Shepherd, however, found Chiarelli's responses not to be compelling. She wrote that — even if there was no evidence performing oral sex was part of the woman's job, or that Chiarelli ever paid her any money — the allegation of Chiarelli's harassment was substantiated "on a balance of probabilities."

"I have found that [Chiarelli's] actions ... constituted harassment and bullying of a young female staff member," Shepherd wrote.  "I have also found that [Chiarelli] knowingly and continuously exploited the power dynamic of the employer/employee relationship."

Ultimately, Chiarelli "should have known that his behaviour was inappropriate and unwelcome," Shepherd wrote.

Complaint about 'revealing' shirt substantiated

The other complaint Shepherd found credible involved the woman's allegation that in September 2013, Chiarelli gave her a "sheer and revealing shirt" with a neckline that plunged to her belly button, one she was expected to wear to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

She also alleged that Chiarelli expected her to change into the shirt in his car, while he was still there. Chiarelli also denied that incident ever happened.

Shepherd wrote that two other complaints, however, could not be substantiated:

  • That Chiarelli instructed the woman to go on a date with a volunteer they'd met at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

  • That Chiarelli discouraged the woman from reporting a sexual assault in the summer of 2014 to the proper authorities.

A fifth complaint was not investigated as it involved allegations that took place before the city's code of conduct was implemented in July 2013, Shepherd wrote.

Chiarelli had already been the subject of a lengthy investigation by the city's former integrity commissioner, Robert Marleau, that led to a pair of scathing reports being issued in 2020.

The first of those focused on three job applicants whose allegations included that Chiarelli had asked them about going braless to events and hitting on men in bars in order to sign them as volunteers.

Frédéric Pepin/CBC
Frédéric Pepin/CBC

The second addressed the complaints of two of Chiarelli's former staffers. Their allegations included that Chiarelli talked about their bodies, suggested they not wear bras to events, pressed them to share intimate details of their lives and routinely reminded them they could be fired at any moment.

In that report, Marleau described Chiarelli's actions as "incomprehensible incidents of harassment." He characterized the councillor's behaviour as a "shocking and astounding failure to treat the complainants with the respect they were due and required of him by the code of conduct."

After those reports came out, council voted to suspend Chiarelli's pay for 450 days. They unanimously called for him to resign, as provincial laws did not give them the power to force him from office.

Chiarelli did not step down, however. Although he showed interest in running for another term as College ward's respresentative, in the end he didn't file his re-election papers.

Shepherd's report calls for council to suspend Chiarelli's pay for another 90 days, although he will no longer be a sitting councillor as of Nov. 15.

It also recommends council require Chiarelli apologize for his actions, either verbally or in writing. The report is slated to go to council on Nov. 9.