Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden is again calling on the Ford government to allow municipalities to remove councillors found guilty of serious misconduct, spurred by new allegations against Ottawa councillor Rick Chiarelli.
Last week, Chicago comedian Cassidy Kuhlanek tweeted screenshots from direct messages she shared with Chiarelli's Twitter account, in which the person using the account offers her a free trip to Europe — paid for out of pocket by Chiarelli, who would then be reimbursed if Kuhlanek submitted a "carefully worded" invoice for "work done," including "for doing what's expected."
Chiarelli's office maintains his account was hacked.
It was the latest in a saga of allegations of impropriety against Chiarelli, which he also denies. Harden said he just wants it to end.
"It's been such a flashpoint in our city, and I'm frankly wanting to move past the gaudy show that is Rick Chiarelli and get some policy reform so people are safe when working in political office," he said.
Enough! Every creepy act from @RickChiarelli and every woman harmed shames us more. He must be removed from office, and we need @fordnation to amend the Municipal Act so that can happen. #onpoli https://t.co/zVa1jSYSm6
— Joel Harden (@JoelHardenONDP) September 2, 2021
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark's office declined to comment, but the government is working on a review of the Municipal Act, spurred by the Chiarelli saga. Clark has also called on Chiarelli to resign.
Harden said he hopes changes will be made before the next round of municipal elections in October 2022.
“I'd like to believe there are lots of moments in parliament when we do something other than tear each others’ faces off, where we can actually work together on stuff," he said. “And this is an important one."
After the government announced its review in March, Harden and Orléans Liberal MPP Stephen Blais hosted a roundtable with experts and survivors of Chiarelli's past actions.
Blais also introduced a private member's bill to give municipalities the power to boot councillors found guilty of egregious misconduct. That bill is now "up in smoke" because of the Ford government's prorogation of the house until Oct. 4, Harden noted.
Currently, councils can remove councillors found guilty of criminal offenses or fiscal misconduct, such as misappropriating campaign funds, but not for sexual misconduct proven through an independent investigator, Harden said.
Clark and Jill Dunlop, the colleges and universities minister who was minister for women's issues when the review was announced in March, "signalled an interest to consult on further accountability measures," the report from the roundtable reads.
Harden noted that one member of the roundtable noted that most abusers are more careful than Chiarelli.
"One of the remarks I'll never forget, that someone made, is that Rick Chiarelli, of all the boorish, creepy people she had ever seen in political office, kinda stands apart for his bumbling way in which he didn’t even attempt to cover up aspects of his unbelievable behaviour," Harden said. "What this person said in our roundtable was, the vast majority of people she's talked to — survivors of these sorts of incidents in political office — are dealing with far more clever people who cover their tracks and fly under the radar for years."
Harden noted two other sitting city councillors have been accused of "similar acts," and Kitchener-Centre Liberal candidate Raj Saini dropped out of the race after allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female staff.
Other women have since come forward to say Chiarelli's account also messaged them on Twitter about European vacations.
Tracy Lager shared screenshots in which Chiarelli's account invited her to Ibiza.
I stopped responding after the 1st message, but here’s what he sent me… pic.twitter.com/O4c8CZeWJX
— Tracy Lager (@tracylager) September 2, 2021
Ottawa councillor Catherine McKenney tweeted that the messages with Kuhlanek have been reported to the city's integrity commissioner.
Chiarelli's office says the councillor's account was hacked, as evidenced by "poor grammar" in the messages — though one former staffer has said Chiarelli used to text her and others "grammatical nightmares."
His office also said messages appear to have been "copy pasted," but the wording is different in the messages between the women.
Also, the messages to Lager began on Aug. 19 — two weeks before Chiarelli's office's statement on the "breach."
Chiarelli's spokesperson, Chantal Lebel, said he does not have hiring authority and is restricted from incurring travel-related expenses.
"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 with the recent passing of his father-in-law, his daughter’s upcoming wedding in a few weeks and the birth of his first grandchild later this fall," Lebel said in a statement.
This is far from the first time Chiarelli has faced allegations of inappropriate behaviour toward women. A year-long investigation found he had committed "incomprehensible incidents of harassment" against his staff, including suggesting women go braless to work and hit on men in bars to recruit them as volunteers; making sexual comments on their bodies; and giving a staffer a revealing top which he asked her to wear to a Canada Day event. The report said he reminded staffers that they could be fired at any time.
Chiarelli's office denied all the allegations, noting that the investigation is under judicial review.
After the report, Ottawa council gave Chiarelli the most severe sanctions available: a 450-day pay suspension, and a call for him to resign. He refused.