Integrity commissioner recommends maximum penalty for Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon who denies alleged sexual assault
The City of Brampton’s integrity commissioner has released a report into Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, detailing allegations of sexual misconduct while on a 2019 trade mission to Turkey.
Dhillon is denying the findings of the report and has pointed to a series of concerns over how the commissioner conducted her investigation, which reveals alarming allegations against the councillor that amount to criminal behaviour. The report recommends a 90-day suspension without pay for the councillor, the harshest punishment the commissioner is allowed to endorse. Her report will be discussed by councillors on Wednesday, August 5.
“I completely deny the allegations and conclusions made in this report,” Dhillon wrote in a letter shared on his Facebook page. “I am fighting back and taking legal action in response to this flawed report… I hold myself accountable to the people of Brampton. The allegations against me are wholly inconsistent with who I am and my 6-year track record as a public servant. I refuse to let those allegations distract me from the important work that lies ahead as I serve my constituents.”
Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon while on a trade mission to Turkey in November 2019 when the alleged sexual assault occurred.
The alleged victim filed a complaint with Peel police, but the force told The Pointer Saturday that because of jurisdictional issues, it did not conduct a full investigation as the alleged assault occurred in Turkey.
The regional councillor is accused of sexually assaulting a Brampton business woman in a hotel room in Ankara around midnight between November 14 and 15. The report details the alleged victim’s allegations that Dhillon kissed the woman without consent, allegedly pulled her skirt and underwear off, touched her chest and buttocks and, according to the report, after the woman was released the councillor allegedly attempted to arouse himself in her presence.
The report includes the transcript of a recording the woman says she made part way through the alleged assault and the commissioner says she heard the alleged victim say “no” to the councillor 74 times during the 2-minute, 57-second recording that the commissioner heard. According to the report, the commissioner and the alleged victim and her lawyer have heard the recording, but Dhillon and his lawyer have not. A full transcript of its content is included in the public report.
Muneeza Sheikh, Brampton’s integrity commissioner, recommends Dhillon be suspended for 90 days without pay, the maximum penalty that can be advised by a commissioner (only Council can decide through a vote to act on the recommendation) but said in her report that he should be removed from office. According to Sheikh, Dhillon violated Rules 14 and 15 of Brampton's Code of Conduct, which prohibit “harassment” and “discreditable" conduct.
Dhillon denies all of the allegations, none of which have been proven in court, and questions how Sheikh carried out her investigation. He has filed a notice for a judicial review to have the entire report dismissed.
The report includes interviews with the alleged victim, a transcript of the recording allegedly chronicling some of the incident and context surrounding the investigation process.
In her conclusion, Sheikh states she is “displeased” there is no process allowing for the councillor’s “immediate removal” from office, something she does not have the power to do. She also suggests council officially reprimand Dhillon, that he release an official apology and other punitive measures.
Governed by the Municipal Act, the integrity commissioner is only able to make recommendations, it will be up to the other ten council members, including Mayor Patrick Brown, to decide how to proceed through a vote. They cannot remove Dhillon from office.
In an application for judicial review filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) by Dhillon’s lawyer and obtained by The Pointer, questions are raised about Sheikh’s investigation process. The application for judicial review calls for an order to throw out the report and its findings, demanding all evidence gathered by the integrity commissioner during her investigation also be shared with Dhillon.
According to her report, Sheikh said that when trying to set up an interview with Dhillon she offered to have him listen to the alleged audio recording of the incident during that proposed meeting. But the councillor insisted he listen with his lawyer in advance, instead of hearing it for the first time while the commissioner intended to interview him.
“Your proposed alternative — that Mr. Dhillon listen to the recording immediately before or during his interview — is not disclosure. It is interview by ambush,” Dhillon’s lawyer, Nader Hasan, wrote to Sheikh on March 23. The letter is included in Sheikh’s integrity commissioner report.
Dhillon highlighted other concerns about the lack of disclosure throughout Sheikh’s investigation and through his lawyer raised questions about her jurisdiction to even investigate the complaint by the alleged victim.
“The Integrity Commissioner made no meaningful attempt to reconcile the contradictory statements made by the Complainant to some of the people that the Integrity Commissioner interviewed regarding the events of the night of November 14, 2019,” Dhillon’s application for judicial review reads.
Central to the councillor’s issue with the report is the fact he was not afforded the opportunity to see all alleged evidence against him prior to any interview by the commissioner. A series of letters between Hasan and Sheikh document the disagreement over exactly what evidence should have been disclosed so the councillor could have prepared his response and any possible arguments to defend himself.
Key to the contention is the alleged audio recording of the alleged incident in the Turkish hotel room. Dhillon and his lawyer asked to listen to it before he was interviewed; the integrity commissioner said she could not send a copy as she had committed to the alleged victim that it would not be shared and could only be played in the presence of the commissioner.
A written transcript of the audio was sent to Dhillon, according to the report.
The two parties view the dispute differently. The integrity commissioner eventually determined Dhillon refused to take part in an interview, instead sending a short letter denying all of the allegations. The councillor and his lawyer argue he agreed to participate, but only if he was afforded access to the relevant alleged evidence against him.
Dhillon’s lawyer also raised questions about the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioner to conduct an investigation when no formal complaint was initiated.
The alleged victim sought help from various individuals and authorities, but did not file an official Complaint Form with the integrity commissioner against the councillor until around March 19, however, Sheikh had already been investigating the situation for months, following a call from Mayor Brown.
Sheikh states in her report, responding to the question of why she began investigating without the official complaint that triggers a probe, that she is allowed to initiate such work using her discretion if she is given information about a potential violation of the City’s Code of Conduct. Her powers to investigate are limited to Code of Conduct violations, while alleged criminal acts have to be investigated by police. No charges have been brought forward by any police agency. Because the alleged incident occurred overseas, there appear to be issues around who has jurisdiction in such a case.
Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon denies all allegations in the integrity commissioner's report.
“To be specific, Mayor Brown informed me over a phone call on November 27, 2019 that the Complainant had reached out to him regarding an allegation of sexual assault and harassment,” Sheikh details in her report. “The allegation was that Councillor Dhillon had sexually assaulted/harassed the Complainant while they were in her hotel room in Turkey earlier that month. Mayor Brown did not state his intention to file a complaint against Councillor Dhillon, but only to provide me with a summary of what had taken place during his conversation with the Complainant.”
Brown and two of his staff in the mayor’s office met with the woman at her place of business in downtown Brampton on November 20, when she played the audio recording for them, according to the report.
According to the report, the alleged victim approached others about the alleged assault, including the Peel Regional Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Canadian consulate and Brampton business officials linked to the Turkey trip.
Very soon after the alleged assault, the “Complainant called a representative from the Ontario Provincial Police by the name of Sukhwinder Shami Toor (‘Mr. Toor’). The Complainant was crying on the phone to Mr. Toor and informed him of the incident. She told him she was panicking. Mr. Toor told the Complainant to calm down and to lock the door. He told her not to open the door and that he would contact his chief and find out how to go about the situation. At that point, Mr. Toor advised the Complainant to write down the incident while it was fresh in her mind,” Sheikh’s report states. It does not include any verification by the OPP of this exchange. The OPP has not yet responded to a request for comment.
“Mayor Brown did not state his intention to file a complaint against Councillor Dhillon, but only to provide me with a summary of what had taken place during his conversation with the Complainant,” the integrity commissioner wrote.
The Pointer asked Brown about his involvement in the case.
“My Office received the report and recommendations that were issued late Friday afternoon by the City’s Integrity Commissioner regarding Councillor Dhillon,” Brown said as part of a short statement. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment further until Council has had an opportunity to fully review the report and discuss it next Wednesday.”
In his response to the integrity commissioner, Dhillon expressed concern about the way the case has been handled, saying the complaints process should be “apolitical.”
Letters attached to the report’s appendix show the integrity commissioner and Dhillon’s lawyer disagreed about whether the initiation of an investigation in November was proper. Only after his lawyer stated in writing to the integrity commissioner in March that her investigation should not have taken place without a formal complaint, was one filed the next day. Sheikh details this sequence of events in her report.
Outside the internal process at City Hall, the report suggests the woman did officially complain about the alleged incident through several other channels, including with the police.
What is unclear from the integrity commissioner’s report and Dhillon’s own defence is the role of the police. The fact the alleged incident took place in Turkey between two Brampton residents appears to have complicated the response of police services.
“To this day law enforcement has not questioned him [Dhillon] or told him that he was under investigation. He has never been charged with a criminal offence,” the councillor’s application for a judicial review states. In her report, the integrity commissioner corroborates the statement. “On or about December 19, 2019, I spoke with Supt. Don Cousineau from the Peel Police office and learned that neither the Peel Police nor the RCMP were investigating the matter.”
A statement from Peel Regional Police to The Pointer Saturday provides some explanation.
A spokesperson confirmed a complaint of sexual assault had been made against Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon and investigators had spoken to the alleged victim, but could not continue as the location of the alleged crime was not within their jurisdiction.
“The [alleged] victim advised our investigators that she reported the incident to the Ontario Provincial Police, members of the Canadian Consulate, members of the trade delegation, and later to the RCMP before returning to Canada. She was directed by the RCMP to report the incident to her local authorities when she returned home,” Peel police said in its response to The Pointer. “After she attended 21 division to report the (alleged) sexual assault, investigators began to correspond with the RCMP in Istanbul and the RCMP affiliated with Interpol. RCMP and Interpol were seeking to contact the Turkish authorities and pass the investigation because it occurred there.”
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, Canadian law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate, charge and try a Canadian for a crime, even if it is committed abroad.
“Subject to this or any other Act of Parliament, where an act or omission is committed outside Canada and the act or omission is an offence when committed outside Canada under this or any other Act of Parliament, proceedings in respect of the offence may, whether or not the accused is in Canada, be commenced, and an accused may be charged, tried and punished within any territorial division in Canada in the same manner as if the offence had been committed in that territorial division,” the code states.
But Peel Police appear to have a different interpretation. “Peel Regional Police do not have jurisdiction to launch an investigation against Gurpreet Dhillon,” the spokesperson added.
In an email to The Pointer, Dhillon’s lawyer said “the police agencies that were made aware of this complaint declined to pursue the matter further.”
The Pointer asked the integrity commissioner if she sought clarification on the police jurisdiction issue before deciding to release her report. No response has been received, yet.
The Pointer has reached out to the RCMP and OPP for clarification and will update the story if a response is received.
(WARNING: The following section of this article includes details of an alleged sexual assault some may find disturbing. The evidence including the alleged audio record of the incident has not been proven in court.)
According to the integrity commissioner’s report, the alleged incident took place on November 14, 2019, around midnight. The report states the alleged victim complained of a sore back and Councillor Dhillon, a known basketball player, offered to show her some stretches to soothe the pain.
“At approximately 12:10am [on November 15], Councillor Dhillon told the Complainant that he would show her the exercises that he was talking about,” the report reads. “The Complainant thought that Councillor Dhillon would stand up and show her the exercises and she would follow, however, Councillor Dhillon told the Complainant that she needed to lie down on her back for the exercise.”
According to the report, the complainant began to feel uncomfortable when Dhillon allegedly began to stretch her legs while she was wearing a skirt. In her interview with the integrity commissioner and notes she took on her phone (included in the report) the woman says she said “that’s enough” before Dhillon allegedly began to touch her buttocks and asked to remove her skirt.
He then allegedly asked her to kiss him and, according to the report, engaged in non consensual physical actions. Part-way through the alleged assault, the woman began to record audio from the encounter on her phone. A transcript of the audio is included in the integrity commissioner’s report.
According to the report, the recording lasts 2 minutes and 57 seconds, during the recording the commissioner states the complainant says “no” 74 times.
The report includes a detailed description and transcript of the alleged incident, alongside notes taken by the complainant while in Turkey.
"We have concerns about the accuracy and completeness of that transcript,” Dhillon’s lawyer, Nader Hasan, wrote in an email to the integrity commissioner, which is included in the report.
The Pointer has not heard the original audio, but relied on the transcript in the report.
Dhillon denies the allegations that stem from the transcript and has stated that he questions the accuracy of the recording.
“Based on my overall assessment of all the documentation before me, most crucially, the audio recording that was produced to me by the Complainant, I find that Councillor Dhillon tried to force himself onto the Complainant in her hotel room at Movenpick Hotel in Ankara, Turkey, between the late hours of November 14, 2019 and the early hours of November 15, 2019,” the integrity commissioner wrote in her report to council.
Dhillon’s council colleagues, including Mayor Brown, will consider the contents of the report and the recommendation for a 90-day suspension on Wednesday, August 5, and decide how to proceed.
It’s unclear if the application for judicial review filed by Dhillon, asking for the entire integrity commissioner report to be thrown out, will have to be dealt with before Council can proceed with the matter.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 647 561-4879
Submit a correction about this story