Group highlighting sexual assault allegations against Gurpreet Dhillon says it’s been met with harassment, intimidation and theft
The race to become the next regional councillor in Brampton’s Ward 9 and 10 has taken a dark turn.
A group trying to raise awareness about the sexual assault allegations against incumbent Gurpreet Dhillon says its members are being confronted on the street, followed by groups of men carrying Dhillon signs and having their own placards stolen—allegedly by a member of Dhillon’s City Hall staff—behaviour the group says amounts to intimidation and harassment.
Over the last month, the organization 74Nos has held a trio of protests at busy locations in Brampton trying to bring voter attention to the allegations against Dhillon, which stem from a 2019 trade mission to Turkey where he is alleged to have sexually assaulted a Brampton businesswoman in her Ankara hotel room.
The organization’s name is taken from an audio transcript of the alleged incident where the woman says no 74 times during her attempts to stop Dhillon’s alleged assault. Aside from a written transcript of the recording included in an integrity commissioner investigation report, the audio has never been made public.
“This is an important issue that shouldn’t be swept under the rug,” says Mandeep Kaur, a member of 74Nos.
Since the allegations were made public in late 2019, Dhillon has vehemently denied them. In a video statement released last week, Dhillon says the campaign against him is based on “rumours” and is a “smear campaign” initiated by his political opponents.
He did not respond to questions; he said in the video that it would be the last time he would address the issue.
Details of the alleged incident are disturbing, but to date no criminal charges have been laid against Dhillon.
According to the former integrity commissioner’s investigation report, after she listened to the recording provided by the alleged victim and gathered other evidence, she believed Dhillon sexually assaulted the Brampton businesswoman in a hotel room in Ankara around midnight between November 14 and 15, 2019. 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 integrity commissioner report includes the transcript of the recording the woman says she made part way through the alleged assault, and the commissioner reported that 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 listened to the recording, but Dhillon and his lawyer did not, despite being invited by the commissioner for an interview where the recording would have been played for them. A full transcript of the recording is included in the public report.
The alleged victim contacted both the Peel Regional Police and the RCMP upon her return from Turkey in late 2019, after a City of Brampton trade mission that Dhillon attended as a council representative.
At the time, Peel police told The Pointer it passed along all information to the RCMP in Istanbul and its officers affiliated with Interpol. Peel police said those authorities were seeking to pass along all the information to police in Turkey.
The alleged victim also contacted Patrick Brown and the mayor’s office. The City’s integrity commissioner at the time, Muneeza Sheikh, launched her own investigation.
Her completed investigation report in 2020 stated Brown and staff in his office met with the woman on November 20, 2019, after she called the mayor, and she played what is allegedly the almost three-minute audio recording of part of the alleged attack for them.
The integrity commissioner, whose role is only to investigate violations of the Council Code of Conduct, found Dhillon violated rule 14 (harassment) and rule 15 (discreditable conduct).
In August 2020, Dhillon was suspended without pay for 90 days, following a unanimous council vote to accept Sheikh’s recommendation, and issued a formal reprimand for misconduct.
Sheikh’s report is not a court decision, and it does not prove any criminality.
The presentation of the integrity commissioner’s report was also met with a motion by Ward 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman for Dhillon to resign, which was supported by Council. He refused to do so.
Dhillon labeled the motion “grandstanding” and refused to resign.
“I was duly elected by the citizens of Brampton in Wards 9 & 10 and I will not leave them without representation,” Dhillon said in a publicly released statement soon after Council made its decision.
He has maintained his innocence throughout.
Gurpreet Dhillon during a 2019 trade mission to Turkey, during which the alleged sexual assault is said to have taken place.
(Twitter/City of Brampton)
Dhillon attempted to have Sheikh’s report quashed through a judicial review process—arguing the integrity commissioner did not have jurisdiction for an investigation because a formal complaint had not been filed—one was filed after Sheikh’s investigation began.
Dhillon’s lawyer also questioned why Sheikh would not hand over the audio recording of the alleged incident produced by the alleged victim (which convinced the integrity commissioner of Dhillon’s guilt) so it could be properly scrutinized.
Dhillon’s request for a review was dismissed by a three-judge panel, which ruled that procedural issues around the requirement of a complaint prior to launching an investigation were not significant enough to quash the report and its findings.
The woman at the centre of these allegations also filed a $2 million civil lawsuit against Dhillon and the City of Brampton, suing for general damages of sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty, among other specific details of the alleged actions and their consequences.
The claim details the plaintiff’s allegations that Dhillon kissed her, allegedly pulled her skirt and underwear off, and touched her chest and buttocks. The alleged attack lasted almost an hour according to the claim and Dhillon allegedly didn’t stop despite the plaintiff pleading for him to “stop” more than 70 times. The claim also alleges the councillor attempted to arouse himself in front of the woman.
The lawsuit was eventually settled outside of court.
Now, after nearly two months of campaigning ahead of the October 24 municipal election, 74Nos say the serious allegations have received next to no attention through the Ward 9 and 10 campaign.
“It was surprising how many people didn’t understand that this even happened,” says Brenda, another member with 74Nos. She declined to provide her last name, out of fear of reprisal. “It just seemed really odd that heading into an election that nobody wanted to talk about this out in the open.”
The case has been met with confusion among many residents.
It has not been explained why Brown and his staff met with the alleged victim in private, and why he did not immediately tell the woman to go to the authorities instead of raising doubts due to his apparent interference. It was also revealed that Brown told the alleged victim he would have Peel’s Chief of Police, Nishan Duraiappah, call her personally.
Brown and Dhillon often clashed inside the council chamber.
Questions were raised about the objectivity of Sheikh, whose hiring in Brampton faced intense scrutiny when the decision to appoint her to the position was made in 2019. She had never worked in the municipal sector, had no experience with municipal law and had never been an integrity commissioner. Sheikh was criticized for taking the job after it was revealed she had an association with Brown and that her husband at the time did work for the Ontario PCs when Brown was the Party leader. She publicly defended him when allegations of sexual misconduct were brought forward against Brown at the beginning of 2018.
The City’s previous integrity commissioner resigned from his role following Brown’s election in 2018 due to the two having known each other for decades and working together in the past.
Despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, Sheikh took the job anyway.
After a complaint against the mayor, her report on Brown’s visit to a City-run hockey arena during the lockdown, and his use of the facility with friends during the pandemic when rules clearly prohibited this, was filled with inconsistencies and failed to include even basic investigative details, with key individuals who should have been interviewed not even mentioned.
She found Brown did not violate the Code of Conduct, despite overwhelming video evidence from a media outlet that he had indeed broken numerous rules.
Sheikh was fired from the role earlier this year after council learned she billed Brampton taxpayers $321,600 in 2020, her first full year on the job, then $340,000 in 2021, for the part-time role she maintained while simultaneously working as a partner in her law firm. She is now suing the City for $20 million.
The trio of protests across Brampton by 74Nos have seen members of the group wearing inflatable pig costumes; holding vibrant pink placards with slogans such as “SHAME ON YOU”, “SHE SAID NO 74 TIMES”, and “NO MEANS NO”, and igniting pink smoke grenades.
74Nos have held a trio of protests throughout Brampton over the last month.
Kaur says the group has been growing in numbers over the last month, with women and men of all ages joining their cause. Videos posted by the group show vehicles driving by honking their horns in a show of support, but the highly visible actions have not gone without pushback.
During a protest over Thanksgiving weekend, Kaur and Brenda explained that a group of men pulled up in a white pick-up truck, brought out large Gurpreet Dhillon election signs and began trying to block protestors from 74Nos. Brenda alleges she has seen the same white pick-up truck out front of Dhillon’s office during the campaign period.
“They were intimidating us, getting in our faces,” Kaur says. “They were invading our space and not respecting us…It was a really uncomfortable day.”
A screenshot taken from a video provided by 74Nos showing a group of men holding signs for Gurpreet Dhillon in an apparent counter protest.
In videos shared by 74Nos, a group of individuals carrying Dhillon signs can be seen standing between 74Nos protestors and the street, an apparent attempt to block their signs from view with larger election signs for Dhillon; in another video the group of alleged Dhillon supporters are seen dashing across the street following the group from 74Nos who attempted to diffuse the situation by putting space between the two groups. This came after the group placed pink tape on the sidewalk attempting to delineate separate spaces for the groups to protest peacefully.
“They obviously had a plan to try and intimidate us and bully us,” Brenda says.
But things escalated from holding signs and yelling slogans. Brenda says as the group from 74Nos again attempted to move to a different location, a car pulled up and someone began tossing 74Nos signs into the back of a black sedan.
“I said what are you doing you can’t touch our signs, you can’t touch our stuff,” Brenda recalls. “I took a picture right of her face up close.”
This information has been provided to the Peel Regional Police along with a theft complaint. Peel police did not respond to repeated requests seeking comment on any ongoing investigation into the matter.
Sources have confirmed for The Pointer that the woman in the picture is a staff member in Dhillon’s City Hall office. Despite repeated attempts to get comment, Dhillon did not respond to questions from The Pointer for this story.
An image taken by a member of 74Nos showing someone allegedly stealing signs from their protest. The group alleges the person responsible is a key member of Gurpreet Dhillon’s staff.
Kaur and Brenda also claim to have spoken to individuals at these counter protests who are allegedly being paid to attend.
“[One of the protestors] was like, oh are you guys getting paid, and we said no, and he said ‘I’m getting paid’,” Brenda recalls from the first protest held by 74Nos.
Kaur says a similar claim was made by one of the men who appeared at the Thanksgiving protest.
“One of those people had actually approached me and laughed and said, ‘how much are you getting paid for this?’ And I said, ‘what do you mean? Like how much are you getting paid for this?’ I laughed and said ‘I’m not getting paid anything, I’m here because I’m passionate about the cause.’ They just laughed and said ‘I’m not getting paid enough for this.’”
A white pick-up truck, which has allegedly been spotted outside of Gurpreet Dhillon’s campaign office, arrives at the 74Nos protest over the Thanksgiving weekend.
In the video statement released last week, while not addressing the 74Nos organization by name, Dhillon labelled the campaign an effort by his political opponents to discredit him.
“We’re directly aware of which campaign is responsible for this and I’m seeking advice to commence legal action against the people behind these false and negative attacks,” he said.
In the same video, Dhillon attempted to further discredit the City’s integrity commissioner’s report, claiming that he was never interviewed as part of her report.
The claim was disputed by Sheikh this week, when she released a statement claiming she tried multiple times to speak with Dhillon as part of her investigation, but he refused.
“I attempted for months to meet with Councillor Dhillon. Through his counsel, he refused to meet with me, and ultimately I had to render a decision,” Sheikh said in a statement. “Councillor Dhillon had ample opportunity to respond.”
The 74Nos group does have connections to established figures within Brampton’s political space, but Brenda and Kaur state that the claims they are affiliated with the campaign of Dhillon’s main opponent in the election are “100 percent incorrect” and the group is completely non-partisan.
“We feel that is just a tactic to try and discredit our group,” Brenda says.
“It really just started off as a few of us girls just getting together and wanting to spread awareness and from there it’s just really taken off as more people in the community got involved, more people realized the importance of spreading the awareness and everyone being informed,” Kaur told The Pointer.
Due to the nature of their protests, and the flyers produced during an election period, the group was required to register as a Third Party Advertiser. The new Ontario rules for political advertising came into effect for the first time this election period and require anyone who is not a candidate, political party or constituency association to register with the municipality if they plan to release any political advertising.
Brampton’s list of such registered advertisers is short, with only three corporations and one individual. The 74No’s organization has confirmed to The Pointer that the numbered company listed on Brampton’s page (1000282678 Ontario Inc) is in fact 74Nos.
The name attached to the registration, Bevneet Punia, is being used to fuel what 74Nos calls misinformation about the group’s cause.
Bevneet “Bob” Punia has family connections to the campaign of Gurpartap Singh Toor, who is challenging Dhillon for the Wards 9 and 10 seat.
Bob Punia is the brother of Hasneet Singh Punia, who worked with Toor and his campaign communications director Nav K. Dhaliwal in the office of former Brampton mayor Linda Jeffrey.
“Bevneet ‘Bob’ Punia, is absolutely not working with any candidate or campaign. Our group is 100% non-partisan. The people making these false allegations are using a photo of Bob with Toor to substantiate this ridiculous claim,” 74Nos wrote in a statement to The Pointer. “Bob and his family have been active in the community for decades. In fact, he even has photos with Gurpreet Dhillon and many other political figures from past events and initiatives. As for our protests, anyone is welcome to join and we've had people from various campaigns, including quite a few from Mohammad Shoaib's campaign (and Mohammad himself) join. We are very thankful to all those who are brave enough to step up to support our movement and stand in solidarity with women.”
Shoaib is also competing for the regional seat in Wards 9 and 10.
In a statement to The Pointer, Dhaliwal denies that Bob Punia is working with the Toor campaign.
“This individual and group is not associated with our campaign,” she said.
Councillor Dhillon did not respond to a list of questions, including whether his campaign has any involvement with the men appearing at the protests held by 74Nos, whether his campaign paid any of these individuals to confront the group members, or whether a member of his staff is the one responsible for stealing the signs over the Thanksgiving weekend.
In his video statement, Dhillon stated: “This will be the last time I address this topic in regards to the recent smears against me.”
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