Dhillon refuses to resign after Council demands he step down amid allegations of sexual assault
All ten of Gurpreet Dhillon’s Brampton City Council colleagues backed a Wednesday motion calling for the Ward 9 and 10 councillor to resign. The move was one of several actions stemming from an integrity commissioner report into an alleged sexual assault by Dhillon during a trade mission to Turkey in November 2019.
Dhillon denies the allegations detailed in the report which have not been proven in court, while he and his lawyers take issue with a variety of procedural matters around how the report was conducted. He has filed an application for judicial review with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) to have the entire report thrown out. If Dhillon is successful, it’s possible that Council’s move Wednesday would have to be reversed.
Dhillon was not present at the August 5 virtual council meeting, but issued a statement to The Pointer through his lawyer after the meeting. He again denied the allegations against him and reiterated his issues with a report he believes did not afford him due process. “Amidst their grandstanding, Council rushed to judgement today and called for my resignation. I will not do that,” he wrote.
The motion calling for Dhillon to resign was initiated by Ward 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman. It laid out the view that, in light of the integrity commissioner’s report and the global MeToo movement, Dhillon’s position was untenable and that he should step down.
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 alleges Dhillon kissed the Brampton 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.
A transcript is included in the report of an audio recording the woman says she made part way through the alleged assault. The commissioner says she heard the alleged victim say “no” to the councillor 74 times during the 2-minute, 57-second recording. Shortly after the alleged assault, the woman contacted the Ontario Provincial Police, which advised her to lock the door of her hotel room and immediately take notes of what had transpired, according to the integrity commissioner’s report.
The alleged victim filed a complaint with Peel police upon her return, but the force did not pursue an investigation, believing it had no jurisdiction to look into an alleged crime in Turkey. According to the integrity commissioner’s report, the woman also went to the Ontario Provincial Police, communicated with the RCMP, the Canadian Consulate and Brampton business officials linked to the Turkey trip before speaking to Mayor Patrick Brown roughly a week after the alleged assault. He and two staff from the mayor’s office met with the alleged victim, who played the recording for them, before Brown informed the commissioner about the alleged incident. The woman did not file an official complaint with Brampton’s integrity commissioner at the time.
Dhillon, who did not attend Wednesday's meeting, has refused to step down.
In a lengthy debate, Brampton councillors discussed the allegations laid out in the report and voted on the actions to be taken. They unanimously agreed with the commissioner’s recommendations to suspend Dhillon for 90 days without pay, remove him from the committees he chairs, issue a formal reprimand to the councillor and limit his access to official city trips outside the province. Other motions and moves also stemmed from the report.
The suspension will not impact Dhillon’s position as a Peel Regional councillor, where he will continue to sit and receive his salary.
At the beginning of the meeting, integrity commissioner Muneeza Sheikh reiterated the fact her report was not a criminal finding of guilt and that the standard of proof for the Code of Conduct was not the same as for criminal sexual assault. The violation under the City’s Code, which is the only set of rules the commissioner can use in her work, was for “harassment” and “discreditable” conduct. In a civil proceeding, the probability of guilt is sufficient; in a criminal setting, a case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, she said.
In an unusual move, councillors decided to hold the entire discussion about possible punishments for Dhillon in public. A request by Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Martin Medeiros to go in-camera to receive legal advice resulted in a 5-5 tie (which defaults as a loss) forcing the entire discussion to be held in full view of the public.
The City of Brampton’s deputy chief solicitor, Diana Soos, warned councillors on three separate occasions that advice should be received behind closed doors, expressing her discomfort. On each occasion, it was decided the will of Council was to hear the feedback publicly.
As a result, anyone viewing the virtual meeting was privy to all questions and considerations by councillors on the sensitive matter.
Councillor Jeff Bowman moved the successful motion demanding Gurpreet Dhillon resign his councillor role.
In a series of letters included in the appendix of the integrity commissioner’s report, Dhillon’s lawyer refuted the allegations levelled against the councillor and questioned the process. In particular, lawyer Nader Hasan took issue with the integrity commissioner’s decision to begin her investigation about three months before a formal complaint was received, after he questioned her decision to proceed without following the proper process. Dhillon and his lawyer were not permitted to listen to the audio recording of the alleged incident unless they were in the presence of the commissioner. Dhillon has filed for an application for judicial review to throw out the report and its findings.
The questions raised by Dhillon and his legal counsel were addressed briefly by the integrity commissioner in her preamble, repeating the responses she included in her report. She has stated that it was within her jurisdiction under the Municipal Act to initiate her investigation without a formal complaint and she has also referred to a legal precedent involving a previous case in Vaughan to back up her position. This will now have to be determined by the Divisional Court. She added, in particular, Dhillon was told he could hear the recording in her presence as many times as he needed before providing his side of the story. Dhillon refused the offer, demanding disclosure of the recording and other evidence before meeting for an investigative interview. Sheikh eventually decided he was not cooperating and released her report which included a brief written response from Dhillon stating he denied all the allegations against him.
During the council discussion, these questions were largely set aside.
In a symbolic move to show their solidarity, all councillors seconded the various motions stemming from the report. Several spoke of their desire to fight against sexual assault and harrassment. Wards 2 and 6 Councillor Michael Palleschi used the example of his two daughters as motivation to act swiftly and decisively in regard to allegations of sexual misconduct. The topic of improving the City’s human resources to better tackle harassment was also raised.
After councillors unanimously approved the recommendations made by the integrity commissioner, Bowman tabled a motion calling on Dhillon to resign his seat as an elected official. “Therefore be it resolved that Councillor Dhillon recognize that his conduct as a leader in our community has been contrary to the Code of Conduct and this council requests that he resigns his position,” the motion read.
It was unanimously endorsed.
“Mr Mayor and members of council, I have one word to say to Mr Dhillon: resign,” Wards 7 and 8 Councillor Charmaine Williams said. “I do not want to refer to Mr Dhillon as a councillor because I am disgusted and disheartened by the (alleged) actions outlined in the integrity commissioner report. I want Mr Dhillon to resign because I believe he no longer has the confidence of the residents of Brampton. Resign.”
She continued for several minutes.
“If you had been keeping count, you would know the next time I say the word ‘resign’, I will have said it 74 times,” Williams added, referencing the alleged 74 times the alleged victim said “no” in the transcript included in the integrity commissioner’s report.
Councillor Charmaine Williams
The report and its findings have created a complex dilemma. The alleged incident amounts to a sexual assault, a criminal act, but the integrity commissioner is not allowed to make decisions on criminality. Instead, she ruled using the City’s Code of Conduct that Dhillon violated rules against harassment and discreditable conduct. It is up to the police to investigate an alleged sexual assault and lay charges if they feel evidence can lead to a conviction.
But the situation around any police investigation and possible criminal charges against Dhillon remains unclear.
The fact the alleged incident took place in Turkey between two Brampton residents appears to have complicated the police response.
“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.”
On August 1, the Peel Regional Police told The Pointer the alleged victim did make a sexual assault complaint against Dhillon in November. A spokesperson explained the force passed the complaint to the RCMP (which along with Interpol sought to contact Turkish authorities, according to Peel police) as they did not have the jurisdiction to investigate.
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.
A subsequent statement from Peel police to The Pointer on August 5 said the decision not to initiate an investigation was made in consultation with the Crown and that the above quoted section of the Criminal Code does not apply. The spokesperson did not address why this is the case. “The Peel Regional Police forwarded the material we were in possession of to the appropriate authorities to investigate; in this case, the Turkish police,” the spokesperson said.
It is unclear if any investigation was ever started or considered by police in Turkey.
The Pointer also went to the Ontario Provincial Police, Interpol, RCMP and the Attorney General’s office to clarify the status of any prior, current or future police investigation. An answer has not yet been received.
The Pointer reached out to Brampton councillors and Mayor Brown to ask if they intended to send the report to Peel police. No responses were received by deadline.
As a result of Wednesday’s various council decisions, Gurpreet Dhillon will be suspended without pay for 90 days as a City councillor. He will continue to operate in his capacity as regional councillor, but the report has been sent to the Region of Peel’s integrity commissioner who could recommend similar actions by his regional colleagues.
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