City calls out 'inaccuracies' in Chiarelli letter

City calls out 'inaccuracies' in Chiarelli letter

The city's top solicitor has formally replied to a letter from Coun. Rick Chiarelli's lawyer, citing "a number of inaccuracies" in the claims.

David White was responding to a letter sent by Chiarelli's lawyer Bruce Sevigny on Tuesday, the eve of the integrity commissioner's interim report on his investigation into Chiarelli's alleged inappropriate behaviour toward former staffers and job applicants.

Sevigny claimed council has demonstrated a "patent and palpable bias" toward Chiarelli by, among other things, denying the councillor's request for a leave of absence last December and calls from some council members for Chiarelli to resign.

Sevigny also took issue with a concurrent workplace harassment investigation, claiming "significant overlap" with the integrity commissioner's probe.

It was not widely known until Sevigny's letter that Chiarelli was also facing a workplace harassment investigation by the city.

According to Sevigny, the concurrent investigation "is entirely vexation and inappropriate and that is indicative of a concerted attempt by council, or certain members of council, to overwhelm and/or 'out-resource' Chiarelli — at a time when he is fighting for his life."

Chiarelli underwent heart bypass surgery in December, and later suffered a post-operative infection, according to a social media post from his wife.

Kate Porter/CBC

Council not involved in investigation

According to White's reply, which was copied to all members of council and forwarded to the media, Chiarelli's lawyer is incorrect in his premise that council is the "statutory decision maker" when it comes to investigations by the integrity commissioner. 

"It is the integrity commission, acting independently, who is responsible for determining, based on the evidence obtained through his own investigation, whether there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct," White wrote.

Council is not involved in the investigation; it receives the integrity commissioner's final report and recommendations for any punitive measures, although it is up to council to vote on those recommended penalties.

White also said the city is legally required to conduct an investigation into a workplace harassment complaint, a process that is separate from that of the integrity commissioner.

"The mandates, processes, and potential remedial actions for each are legally distinct," White writes.

As for any potential bias shown against Chiarelli by council taking the unprecedented step of denying his leave on Oct. 23, the city solicitor invited the councillor to ask council again for a leave.

Back in the fall, council appeared unconvinced Chiarelli should be granted indefinite leave based on the details of a medical note.

That note stated Chiarelli went to the emergency room after fainting on Oct. 12, that he was undergoing a cardiac assessment and that his stress level remained high.

Joanne Chianello/CBC

On Dec. 13 — two days after Chiarelli appeared at council for a couple of hours — the councillor announced he was going into the Ottawa Heart Institute for a quadruple bypass.

Chiarelli has to attend council before the end of March to keep his seat, but can ask again for a leave of absence.

City says some legal fees not eligible

Chiarelli's lawyer also suggested that the city was biased toward the client by refusing to reimburse him for legal fees.

Under the Code of Conduct rules, a councillor can expense legal fees to defend themselves in an investigation launched by the integrity commissioner.

If they are later found to have contravened the code, they have to reimburse the money.

Giacomo Panico/CBC

Sevingy submitted a bill of $11,593.80 on Oct. 22, 2019, which the city hasn't paid.

But according to White, much of Sevingy's legal bill does not involve the integrity commissioner's process.

The city solicitor said some expenses appear to have been incurred before the councillor was informed of an investigation.

As well, he said some of the expenses seem related to dealing with media inquiries or the judicial review that Chiarelli has threatened to launch to challenge the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioner.

In his letter, White invites Sevingy to resubmit his invoice listing expenses "solely in respect of the consultation with your office in relation to the limited mandate" set out in the Code of Conduct.

Only court order can stop investigation

A CBC News investigation last fall heard from 13 women who accused the councillor of inappropriate behaviour. CBC reported the experiences of eight of them.

One job applicant alleged Chiarelli had asked her about going braless to work events, while another said the councillor had asked if she had ever considered stripping.

Chiarelli has denied the allegations both through his lawyer and in a personal statement, where he blamed the accusations against him on "mob mentality."

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau confirmed Wednesday in his interim report to council he's investigating several formal complaints against Chiarelli made from early September to early October.

He said that the process is at a standstill because the councillor refused to participate earlier this fall and has been recovering from that heart surgery since mid-December.

Kate Porter/CBC

He said he will wait a "reasonable amount of time" for Chiarelli to recuperate, but is willing to complete his final report without the councillor's participation.

Marleau said only an order from the court would lead him to halt his investigation.