By SAM COOPER, The Province November 18, 2011
In an RCMP sex-conduct hearing Thursday, a North Vancouver RCMP staffer alleged 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 family members’ 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 allegedly taken a questionable photo of her backside.
The woman — who is still employed as a civilian at the North Vancouver 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.
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 allegedly took a photo of her backside. Reluctantly, she named him as former Supt. 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 was asked to comment on the allegation against Tomlinson and all allegations in this story, but said the force cannot offer any comments.
It’s believed Tomlinson is now located in Ontario, and a number of calls by The Province to residential directory listings did not succeed in locating him 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.
It’s believed that Kassam will be called to answer the allegation about his efforts to question the woman and “help” Pearson.
The idea that Pearson is getting preferential treatment from the RCMP over Gastaldo was also voiced on Wednesday by Gastaldo’s lawyer, Larry McGonigal, who at one point lost his temper and made the candid comment, “Travis Pearson is well represented at this trial.”
The hearing continues Friday. It is expected counsel for Pearson will call witnesses for testimony on the new allegations.