A female Mountie who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a superior was actually having a consensual affair, the RCMP says in a statement of defence, pointing to an internal review that disciplined the British Columbia officer for making the allegations.
Constable Susan Gastaldo filed a lawsuit in August 2011, saying Staff Sergeant Travis Pearson sexually assaulted her and forced her to maintain a sexual relationship for several months in 2009.
The case was investigated by Vancouver police, which concluded the allegations were unfounded, and prompted an RCMP code-of-conduct review.
An RCMP review board eventually disciplined both Const. Gastaldo and Sgt. Pearson for what was characterized as a consensual relationship, but the board was especially critical of Const. Gastaldo, accusing her of fabricating the assault allegations in an attempt to hide the truth from her husband.
The RCMP’s statement of defence, filed earlier this week, details the results of the police investigation and the review board’s findings, and says whatever happened between Const. Gastaldo and Sgt. Pearson occurred outside of their work and has nothing to do with the force.
“If any of the Crown defendant’s employees, servants or agents engaged in the conduct alleged ... then all such conduct was outside the course and scope of the employee, servant or agent’s duties,” says the statement of defence, filed in B.C. Supreme Court.
Even if Const. Gastaldo was harmed in any way by Sgt. Pearson, the statement of defence says, it wouldn’t be the force’s fault.
“Any of the damage allegedly suffered by the plaintiff was caused solely by the unauthorized conduct of Pearson, and the Crown defendants are not responsible for that conduct,” the statement says.
Const. Gastaldo’s lawsuit was among the first of several involving female RCMP officers who have claimed they were assaulted, harassed and abused on the job.
Const. Gastaldo’s statement of claim said she began working with Sgt. Pearson in 1998 shortly after she finished RCMP training. Her first posting was in Coquitlam, east of Vancouver, where Sgt. Pearson was working as a senior constable.
Eventually, both officers found themselves on the force’s “Special O” surveillance team.
Const. Gastaldo went on medical leave in 2008, during which she said she was treated for memory loss, confusion and anxiety, and returned in the spring of 2009.
Soon after, Const. Gastaldo alleged Sgt. Pearson invited her to his house to discuss her work and forced her to have anal sex. She alleged he then used his knowledge of her anxiety disorder to manipulate her into maintaining a sexual relationship for several months.
It ended in August 2009, when Const. Gastaldo’s husband discovered messages between Const. Gastaldo and Sgt. Pearson on her work BlackBerry.
She filed a complaint, which eventually led to the Vancouver police investigation and the code-of-conduct review.
The RCMP review board concluded the pair were involved in a consensual affair. They were each disciplined for exchanging explicit text messages and having sex in a police cruiser.
The board cited Const. Gastaldo for disgraceful conduct for clinging to the “false theory” that she was assaulted.
Const. Gastaldo was reprimanded and docked seven days’ pay. The board also recommended she be medically discharged, though she was allowed to remain on the force.
Sgt. Pearson was also handed a reprimand and lost 10 days’ pay.
Sgt. Pearson has not yet filed a statement of defence, but his lawyer, Mark Rowan, said that will likely happen later this month. Mr. Rowan said he was waiting to see the federal government’s response first.
Mr. Rowan said his client will be relying on the results of the Vancouver police investigation and the RCMP review board hearing
“It was a consensual relationship,” Mr. Rowan said in an interview. “We expect to say (in Pearson’s statement of defence) that she pursued him.”
The statements of claim and defence contain allegations that have not yet been tested in court.
Const. Gastaldo’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The RCMP has so far issued denials in several sexual abuse and harassment lawsuits against the force and its officers.
The highest-profile case involves Corporal Catherine Galliford, a former spokeswoman for the Air India and Robert Pickton cases. She filed a lawsuit last year alleging years of abuse by numerous officers.
Const. Karen Katz has a lawsuit alleging a colleague harassed and sexually assaulted her, as well as a second lawsuit that alleges more widespread abuse spanning her entire career.
And Janet Merlo, a 19-year veteran of the force, filed a class-action lawsuit in March alleging sexist comments, sexual pranks and derogatory remarks while on the job. Her lawyer has suggested dozens of other officers are prepared to join the case.