In a wide-ranging interview, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli spoke exclusively with On the City, From the Burbs about family, his heart surgery and how he feels being shunned by his council colleagues.
Still recovering from an infection which developed after his sudden, life-saving heart surgery, Chiarelli has a hospital bed set up in his home, where he is on an antibiotic drip, while another tube continues to “suck away a lot of the infection.”
“They’re saying I’m making progress on the infection, and have a nurse visit everyday. It’s looking good so far,” he said on Monday night, just moments after his lawyers released a letter calling out what they believe to be a “patent and palatable bias” against Chiarelli. The lawyers are also calling on the city to end their own investigations and let a judicial process handle the situation.
Chiarelli still struggles with his council colleagues rejecting a doctor’s note calling for approved sick leave, the first time that has ever happened at Ottawa council.
“I thought it was not wise politically, and it was not wise administratively. Nobody wants to see council vote down medical leave. I was shocked by it. I just know that when you’re voting on these things, you always vote in favour of someone’s medical leave. It indicates a real bias in the whole process. A councillor’s responsibility as a member of council is to remain impartial,” he said of the investigation into several allegations of sexual impropriety.
Is there anyone out there who can dispute that Watson and his council have exhibited extreme bias against Chiarelli with regard to the allegations by former staffers about the College councillor?
Please believe me. This for me has nothing to do with the many allegations against Chiarelli – including some made by women I know, trust and respect – it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the many allegations.
But just because you don’t like the nature of the allegations, and I don’t, and just because you believe them to be true, and I do, it just doesn’t mean Chiarelli doesn’t deserve due process.
As I’ve suggested, people found with a smoking gun beside a dead body get due process in the form of a trial. Our country is not supposed to convict someone without a fair trial.
Yet Watson and others thought it was absolutely fine to call for his resignation? Why?
“The doctor was of the opinion I had to do whatever I could to avoid stress. He believed I had a major problem. And he was right, everyone else was wrong,” he said.
As any follower of city hall knows, there’s no love lost between Chiarelli and Watson. In fact, the relationship is downright acrimonious. Chiarelli never misses a beat to poke fun at Watson; the mayor does everything he can to exclude Chiarelli from the process.
During a budget presentation when the numbers appeared a bit sketchy, Chiarelli called the budget a “Christmas Miracle” and the media ate it up, with everyone tweeting about the description and used it in their stories. Watson looked like his head might explode.
“Look, I’ve just never seen anything like this, never seen someone on council be treated this way and council just followed him. But you know, there will be somebody else after me,” Chiarelli said.
That’s a certainty. When Watson stops beating up on Chiarelli, he’ll find someone else, little doubt there.
And the fact that Osgoode Coun. Georges Darouze was found guilty of bullying a female resident by the Integrity Commissioner – and no one said a bad word publicly – isn’t lost on Chiarelli.
He said the letter was sent on his lawyers’ advice “to give council the chance to correct itself, proceed through the court system.”
While he has not heard from anyone on council, he said his community has been supportive, calling to offer their help or dropping off food. That somehow helps as he knows he’s been followed by an investigator hired by the city.
Since his ordeal began, he’s lost more than 100 pounds. He has nothing but praise for the Ottawa Heart Institute, singing their praises consistently throughout the interview. “I’m feeling very tired all the time, my chest is sore all the time. The surgeons said that’s because they sawed me in half. But it’s a slow progress,” he said.
Everyday, he has to walk for 16 minutes, no small task at this point. “I can and must walk for 16 minutes a day at this point, 16 minutes in a row. Believe it or not, it’s tiring. I remember right after the surgery, nurses took me for a walk, one at each shoulder, after about five minutes I fell asleep, but they just continued to carry me. There was this 85 -year-old guy who lapped me, he made fun of me! Another guy walked passed me and slapped me on the butt!
At today’s city council meeting, council accepted an interim report from Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau.
And for some reason, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard felt it necessary to point out a number of places Chiarelli has been seen publicly. And what exactly is his point? A double standard for sure, and somehow surprising since Menard himself spends much of his own time on council on the outside looking in. And should we now expect to hear a similar listing of public places Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, on sick leave for cancer treatment, has been seen publicly?
Of course, none of this has been easy, with his long-time colleagues turning their backs on him, siding with Watson, refusing to sit at council alongside him, instead standing during when he was at council; knowing he was being followed when he was fighting off death.
Through it all, Chiarelli’s family has stood by him. His wife Lida often stayed with him at the hospital, sleeping in a little cot by his his bed.
And his three daughters – Natalia, 28, Carla, 25, and Veronica, 23, have also been there for him, and Chiarelli says they’re doing well, despite the allegations against their father.
“It’s been pretty hard for them, oh yeah. They’ve grown up in politics. But nobody, none of them could believe any of this, and everything they’ve been put through. But there’s a certain amount of self preservation going on,” he said. His chatter is dotted with fatherly pride, pointing out his daughters accomplishments and successes. He is even able to manage a bit of a chuckle recounting that Carla’s longtime boyfriend Matt Mariani had to go to the hospital to get the approval to marry his middle child.
But he believes, through all of this, he’s being persecuted because Watson doesn’t like him.
“I remember when (former city councillor Jody) Mitic’s sick leave was getting approval. Some didn’t want to give it, but I think they all knew they could be next. At the time, (their reticence was because of his drug dependency which as an illegal act,) they thought they were somehow supporting that, but still council approved it.”
Former Osgoode councillor Doug Thompson has pitched in with his office work, dropping by now and then to do what he can. And Chiarelli himself has been signing what needs to be taken care of.
Chiarelli has been working with his doctors trying to figure out a modified work from home schedule.
“One of the main things I’ve learned from this is that stress has way more impact than you might realize. well, doctors say two to six months, so, what I’ve been trying to get them agree, a modified work form home schedule, main thing I’ve learned on this, stress has way more impact on you, so they want me to stay away from that.
He still has every intention of fighting the accusations made against him. “I can’t really comment on individual allegations, at this point, all of this,” he said.
But despite everything, he has every plan to come back to council and hopes it will be a matter of a few short months. And yes, he says he will run again.
“I was told I had a two to five percent chance of dying. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, what would happen if I didn’t make it. It’s not what you want for your children to hear about as they’re growing up. For sure. But again, they’ve grown up with this life and they know it can get nasty.”