United They Stand, Divided They Fall

With controversy swirling around the city hall he’s supposed to be running, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has taken a couple of days off.

Good timing.

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the faint of heart take a couple of days off. Perhaps just as well.

And while Watson takes his time off, one of his councillors is apparently fighting for his life at the Ottawa Heart Institute, having undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery. So, yes, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is also taking some time off.

Perhaps Watson is overtired from the stress of pretending he’s perfect and believing he’s a perfect being, he’s in the enviable position of being able to judge his enemies.

This is clearly one of the darkest moments in municipal politics.

Chiarelli has been accused by more than a dozen women of inappropriate behaviour, of late night visits to nightclubs with staffers, of commenting on his female employees’ clothing, accused of going so far as to ask them to take their bras off for a better look. At this point, all accusations.

As I’ve written in this spot previously, I believe these women. In my mind, there’s absolutely no way such a large group of women – many of whom don’t know one another – colluded on such a story. But believing in these allegations simply doesn’t end the story. And it certainly doesn’t make the allegations true. I’ve spoken to some of these women, people I know, people I like, people I believe. I didn’t write the story because it was clear I couldn’t tell their stories without using information that would ultimately identify them. And I would never fudge my commitment to them by doing that.

 I covered court for several years for the Ottawa Sun, and came across cases where it was clear the accused was a murderer, was a sexual predator, was a robber or a cheater, had beaten their young children until they were black and blue. But even with the smoking gun beside the crime, none of those accused have been treated as horribly and as unfairly as Chiarelli has. And that begins with the man at the top, Watson – who’s supposed to be the leader of this fabulous city. Sadly, it appears he’s leading a flock of whipped sheep, who do as he says.

And frankly, it matters absolutely nothing at all that I might think Chiarelli is guilty of what he’s been accused of. I’m neither the judge nor jury, and I don’t pretend to be. Sadly, Watson and his city councillors apparently don’t believe in due process; don’t believe in one of the most important foundations of our society. 

They’ve treated Chiarelli as a pariah, this same group of civic leaders who wear ribbons every year protesting bullying. Guess bullying is okay if they’re doing it. This is incredibly difficult for me. I like many of them a great deal on a personal level, but this entire council has failed not just Chiarelli – but all of us. 

And while as a feminist basically from the point I came out of the womb, it does make me worry this is the ugly side of the #MeToo movement. 

Should we be believing women? Yes, we sure as hell should be. Should we form into lynching mobs before someone has an opportunity to prove his innocence?  Never. And this council will have to reflect on what their actions have cost Chiarelli. And has cost our city.

This of course leads us to the refusal of many city councillors to sit at council alongside Chiarelli at last Wednesday’s meeting. Meaningless. And a good woman like Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh – who has done more for this city than most of us can ever hope to do – refused to join the lynching. And people jumped all over her. Seemed it just didn’t matter all the good work she has done, people were out to get her over a simple symbolic act. Again, shameful.

And why anyone thinks the incredible symbolic act of standing means anything at all, well, it boggles the mind. In that council, Osgoode Coun. George Darouze has been found guilty by the city’s Integrity Commissioner of bullying a female constituent, and if that wasn’t enough, Darouze actually contacted the Ottawa Police over the matter. The mind boggles.

Then of course, there’s Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, so obsessed with an acclamation, he phoned his only rival just before the close of nominations last election and waved goodies in front of him.  I could go on. 

I recently was tweeted by a former Ottawa Sun boss of mine Mike Therien, who wondered online about what he saw as my visceral hatred of Watson. Coming from someone who guided my career and encouraged me to speak my truth, I have to admit I was surprised. I don’t hate Jim Watson.

He’s just not a good leader.

United they stand, divided they fall.