British Columbia

RCMP officer faces 2 sexual coercion allegations

Two female RCMP employees allege they were coerced into sexual relationships with a Vancouver-area staff sergeant.

An RCMP tribunal in Vancouver is hearing new and disturbing allegations of sexual harassment.

A female officer with the force says she was intimidated and coerced into having sexual relations with a male superior, and now another woman has come forward with similar allegations about the same B.C. Mountie.

At the hearing Thursday, the lawyer for accused officer Staff Sgt. Travis Pearson questioned a psychologist who's been treating Const. Susan Gastaldo.

Gastaldo alleges Pearson coerced her into an ongoing sexual relationship, which included one intimate session inside his police vehicle.

But Pearson's lawyer, James Rowland, pointed out there were a number of intimate text messages between the two.

Rowland suggested the texts show it was a consensual relationship and that Gastaldo changed her story to protect her marriage.

Civil lawsuit

Gastaldo has filed a civil lawsuit against Pearson and the RCMP. She also has been ordered to undergo an internal disciplinary hearing for the alleged sexual act in a police vehicle.

Her lawyer in the civil case, Walter Kostecki, said rank is important, because Pearson was a staff sergeant, the highest level of non-commissioned officer.

"People are not dealing from a position of equal strength, where you can actually consent," Kostecki told CBC News. "That's one of the very difficult issues. How can someone freely consent when they're pressured into sex by someone who has immediate control over their means of livelihood."

Earlier this week another witness, a civilian who works for the RCMP, and whose name has not been made public, testified that Pearson also coerced her into sex, made veiled threats and surreptitiously followed her.

Kostecki said the facts in the two women's accounts are very similar.

"She felt there was no place she could go where she would be believed and it would be her word against his," the lawyer said.

Hierarchical issues

Kostecki said the cases illustrate many of the problems facing the RCMP as it deals with the issue of sexual harassment inside the force.

He said the structure of the organization gives a lot of power to certain individuals, and that can lead to harassment if the power falls into the wrong hands.

A number of female members and one male officer have come forward as part of a CBC News investigation, alleging years of sexual harassment by fellow and superior officers.

New RCMP Commissioner Rob Paulson has vowed to address the issue and the federal minister with responsibility for the force said this week the mandate of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission will be expanded to investigate the allegations and come up with any required solutions.

With files from the CBC's Greg Rasmussen