A high-profile former police officer who acted as the RCMP's chief spokesman in British Columbia has been charged with sexual assault in a case the province's top Mountie describes as "disturbing."
Former inspector Tim Shields faces a single count of sexual assault stemming from a police investigation into allegations of misconduct during his time as an RCMP officer.
The sexual misconduct is alleged to have occurred at RCMP headquarters in Vancouver between 2009 and 2010 and involved a civilian employee who worked at the time with the communications unit headed by Mr. Shields, said a statement from the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch.
The allegation has not been tested in court.
Mr. Shields's lawyer, David Butcher, offered a comment on behalf of his client, saying he is devastated by the charge and "absolutely denies" the allegations.
"Mr. Shields has successfully passed a polygraph test taken by a reputable examiner who retired after a long career with the RCMP and who continues to conduct polygraph examinations for the force," Mr. Butcher said in an interview.
"As the matter is now before the court we will not be making any further comment."
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, head of the RCMP in B.C., said the Mounties became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Shields in 2013, but there wasn't enough evidence at the time to proceed actively with the investigation.
Deputy Commissioner Callens said new information became available in 2014 and an investigation team was formed. Information from that investigation was reported to the Crown and resulted in the charge sworn Tuesday, he said in a statement.
"Charges of this nature against a police officer are disturbing and are even more so that it is alleged to have occurred in our headquarters," Deputy Commissioner Callens said.
"I would emphasize that the RCMP pursued this investigation as it would any serious criminal matter, regardless that the suspect was a senior police officer."
Mr. Shields is also the subject of two separate civil lawsuits filed in B.C. Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014.
Both legal actions accuse him of sexual harassment, including making inappropriate remarks and unwanted sexual advances, as well as exposing himself to both plaintiffs.
Mr. Shields filed court documents denying the allegations and said any sexual banter that occurred was consensual.
He also said that at no point did he act with any negligence, malice or dishonesty.
Mr. Shields was suspended with pay in May last year and he submitted his discharge documents in December, said Deputy Commissioner Callens.
The Mounties said at the time that his suspension was due to a code-of-conduct investigation.
Mr. Shields appeared in Vancouver provincial court on Tuesday and is scheduled to return June 27 for an arraignment hearing, at which point his lawyer hopes to set a trial date.
The sexual-assault charge against Mr. Shields comes after a series of unrelated allegations against the RCMP about a culture of bullying and sexual abuse.
About 450 female officers and civilian employees are taking part in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the force alleging systemic sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the RCMP.