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.