Activists in Ottawa hung bras from city hall trees this week after a city councillor was accused of inappropriate behaviour towards women in the workplace.
Coun. Rick Chiarelli is alleged to have asked a woman seeking a job in his office if she would be comfortable going braless at work, according to a CBC News story published Thursday. Other employees also told the broadcaster Chiarelli had also made similar requests and comments to them.
Bruce Sevigny, Chiarelli’s lawyer, said the councillor had “consistently conducted himself in accordance with the highest moral and ethical standards. Sevigny told the outlet his client was in “full compliance” with the municipal government’s harassment and workplace violence policy. He also noted he told the councillor not to respond to the allegations.
Veronique Prevost, an activist and member of Defend Choice Ottawa, came up with the idea for the bra protest. She told HuffPost Canada that she wanted the protest to be unique — something silent but powerful, and something people could continuously add to — to show that workplace harassment is unacceptable.
Many protesters wrote messages on the bras, including ones that said “Resign Rick” and “I Believe Survivors.”
A dozen bras were removed from the trees overnight, but were returned after employees were informed that they were part of a protest.
“Thursday evening and overnight, the City’s contracted security service, removed bras from trees on City Hall property. On Friday morning, recognizing that this was an act of protest, the bras were placed back in the trees,” Dan Chenier, Ottawa’s general manager of recreation, cultural & facility services, said in a statement.
Prevost gave Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson credit for making sure the peaceful protest was able to continue after the bras were taken down.
She said the silent protest was meaningful because it was important to “show the women who came forward that they were not alone” and to make it clear that harassment shouldn’t still be happening in 2019.
“I think it inspired so much passion because women are fed up. We have seen the same narrative with Times Up, and I think it’s an issue that hits close to home for women all over Canada,” she added.
“I would say a huge majority of women and workers in general have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Prevost said in total, she believes around 30 bras were hung from various city hall trees, adding that people were still stopping by to hang new bras on trees. Defend Choice Ottawa had originally planned to take the bras and donate them once the one-day protest was over, but have decided to wait until people stop adding to the display to do so.
The action isn’t just contained to Ottawa either — Prevost says someone from France shared that they’d been inspired to hang a bra from a tree too.
Prevost says the movement doesn’t stop here. Defend Choice Ottawa is encouraging people to write to their city councillors to ask them to call on Chiarelli to step down.
“We know that we have to give due process to the investigation that’s going to take place, for sure, but we really want him to resign.”
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