Postmedia News Nov 18, 2011
VANCOUVER — In an RCMP sex-conduct hearing Thursday, a B.C. RCMP staffer claimed a well-connected B.C. Mountie tried to rip off her shorts and pin her down for sex against her will, and was “criminally harassing” her to the point that she feared for her family’s lives.
But, she told RCMP lawyers, she didn’t report the allegations because she didn’t trust the RCMP’s internal investigation process, partly because the detachment’s commanding officer had taken a questionable photo of her backside.
The woman — who is still employed as a civilian at the North Vancouver, B.C., detachment — was cross-examined Thursday in a hearing involving Const. Susan Gastaldo and Staff-Sgt. Travis Pearson, who are accused of having sex in a police car during work hours and exchanging intimate messages via an RCMP BlackBerry in 2009.
The woman was subpoenaed by Gastaldo’s lawyer, who is seeking to corroborate Gastaldo’s defence with the woman’s “eerily similar” allegations. Gastaldo has filed a civil suit claiming she was raped by Pearson in his home, but the RCMP did not properly investigate her complaints.
Gastaldo has claimed she was pressured into a sexual relationship because Pearson held power over her and claimed to have powers over his superiors, partly due to a “snoop” network of Lower Mainland Mounties who would cover for him because he had helped them in their careers.
On Wednesday, the North Vancouver RCMP staffer, whom RCMP adjudicators have asked not be named, described similar circumstances to those experienced by Gastaldo in a relationship the woman had with Pearson starting in 2006, when he was professional standards supervisor in North Vancouver. The affair ran into 2009, when she quit his “Special O” unit, which conducts surveillance in and around Burnaby, B.C.
She shocked RCMP lawyers with new allegations that she had not told to an RCMP professional standards investigator who asked her to make a statement while he investigated Gastaldo’s complaints against Pearson in October 2009.
Among the allegations, she claimed that Pearson pinned her down in his home gym and tried to rip off her shorts and have sex while she successfully struggled away and told him “no”; that Pearson “injected” himself into her family life and told her he could sneak into her house without her knowing, partly because he had “gained the trust” of her children; that he parked outside her home on dark mornings, watching her family, and then trailed her in the dark; that he trailed her to an amusement area against her will and took a picture of her with her child; and that he loaned her $1,300 of his own money to start a business and gave her a brown RCMP envelope containing money of his to pay for lunch dates, when she tried to make an excuse she couldn’t afford to go out with him to eat.
The woman said she was afraid to cross Pearson because he said he would make a “shovel call” — what she believed to be a threat of violence from one of his RCMP “wingmen” — if anyone hindered their relationship.
On Thursday, Pearson’s lawyer, Const. James Rowland, asked her why she didn’t report these “huge” allegations when a Staff-Sgt. Vaz Kassam sought a statement from her. She said she only consented to an interview at a North Vancouver Starbucks, but wouldn’t give a full statement. “He said if I answered questions it would really help out Mr. Pearson,” the woman said, adding “I didn’t want to help [Pearson].”
Rowland pressed the woman on whether she truly believed that an RCMP member would “put a bullet in the back of someone’s head … or dig a hole in the ground in the mafia sense.” He asked why she couldn’t tell Kassam or her detachment commander about her concerns.
“If I said everything … like about the shovel call and so forth … I didn’t know if there would be retaliation on me or my family,” she said. “I feared for the life of members of my family … his wingmen would do something.”
The woman was pressed to reveal the detachment head who she said took a photo of her backside. Reluctantly, she named him as former superintendent Gord Tomlinson who, according to reports, retired in 2008. Asked if she had ever seen the picture, she said: “I don’t recall if I saw [the picture] or not … he took the picture and he knew I was bending over … I don’t know if it was intentional.” A B.C. RCMP headquarters spokesman refused to comment on the accusations. Tomlinson could not be reached for comment.
On Thursday, Rowland presented a number of pictures of the woman with Pearson and their children, along with an “affectionate” note, and suggested it was a consensual affair. She replied that she felt trapped and had tried to push Pearson away many times, even babysitting for him in efforts to get him to go out for a romantic date with his wife. The answer yielded a dramatic confrontation with her former boss. “Don’t shake your head at me! You know I did that,” she said, blinking back tears. Pearson dropped his gaze as she stared at him defiantly. The hearing continues Friday.
Sam Cooper (Vancouver Province) – After RCMP adjudicators ruled Friday a female officer is guilty of having sex with her boss on the job and could be fired for slandering him – while he faces just demotion – a civil lawyer representing the woman slammed Canada’s national police force as “not a safe place for women to work.”
Const. Susan Gastaldo and Staff Sgt. Travis Pearson are accused of having sex in a police car during work hours and exchanging intimate messages via an RCMP BlackBerry in 2009, while Gastaldo worked for Pearson in the “Special O” surveillance unit in the Lower Mainland.
On Friday, after weeks of testimony, a board of RCMP adjudicators rejected Gastaldo’s claims that she was raped and coerced into an ongoing affair with Pearson, allegedly due to her fragile psychological state and his implied threats and persistence.
Gastaldo was found guilty of disgraceful conduct which discredited the force.
After the two officers’ cases were severed earlier in the week, Pearson pleaded guilty to the charges and apologized for disgracing his family and the force.
“The essential issue is whether [Gastaldo] was to be believed that she was compelled,” board chair Supt. John Reid said Friday. “She was in a consensual affair.”
The board upheld the arguments of RCMP conduct prosecutor Cpl. Gregory Rose and Pearson’s counsel, Const. James Rowland, who presented a theory built upon previous findings by RCMP and Vancouver police investigations.
After Gastaldo’s husband, Chris Williams, a former RCMP member, found her RCMP BlackBerry with its “sext” messages on Aug. 1, 2009, she told him her version of events and he suggested Pearson was criminally responsible. According to Rose and Rowland, in a desperate bid to save her marriage, Gastaldo tailored her subsequent reports to police investigators and testimony in the hearing to her husband’s interpretation of events, and falsely accused Pearson of rape.
Explaining the board’s ruling, Reid said the affair was judged consensual because of evidence that included 120 phone calls and 160 emails between the two officers between May and August 2009. He said Gastaldo failed to report Pearson’s alleged coercion until she was caught.
“The romantic intensity never waned right up to the finding of the BlackBerry,” Reid said.
But RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was once the face of the Air India and Missing Women Task Force, and who came forward in recent months about enduring years of sexual harassment in the workforce, said that Gastaldo would have suffered repercussions if she had complained about a boss who was “bent on having sex” with her.
“If she had gone to the [Staff Relations Representative Program], which is the old boys’ club, if she had filed a grievance, she would have been the one to be transferred and she would be the problem child,” said Galliford. “Every woman who’s worked for any length of time with the RCMP knows that men within the RCMP are given free reign to do whatever they want.”
The board ruled Gastaldo’s testimony under cross-examination was inconsistent. Pearson never faced examination in the hearing, and read a 30-minute tear-filled statement of apologies and arguments for his continuing role in the RCMP, after admitting to the charges.
He argued that the parents of a local soccer team of nine-year-old girls trust him to continue coaching, and thus the public should trust him as well.
Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj who is representing Gastaldo against Pearson and the RCMP in a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court, called the board’s ruling “nonsense.”
Kosteckyj said he believes the board discounted expert evidence of Gastaldo’s diagnosed medical condition, and ignored crucial evidence, including testimony by a second RCMP employee who put forward “eerily similar evidence” against Pearson.
“This is a signal to all women in the RCMP that they are not welcome in the organization,” he said. “It’s not a safe place for women to work.”
Galliford agreed, “If you have a woman in your life that you care deeply about, and that you love, and they’re talking about joining the RCMP, you tell them to run like their hair is on fire. It’s not worth it.”
On Friday, Gastaldo, her husband, and her counsel, Larry McGonigal, appeared stunned when the board rejected a proposed sanction of 10 days’ forfeiture of pay for Pearson and seven days for Gastaldo.
The board said it’s possible Gastaldo slandered and falsely accused Pearson and therefore the punishment of dismissal from the RCMP might be warranted.
For Pearson, they said, demotion might be an applicable punishment for having sex with a subordinate who was returning to work from sick leave under his supervision.
Kosteckyj said he can’t believe Pearson faces just demotion for his relationship with a subordinate.
“In my view this entire [RCMP conduct] prosecution was because they were trying to protect themselves in the civil suit,” he charged.
“I believe there will be a different result in the civil suit, and this hearing [result] is a stain on the reputation of the force.”
The board asked counsel for Gastaldo and Pearson to return with submissions on sanctions in January.