Three female Peel Regional Police officers have filed formal complaints about a workplace they say has become "poisoned," alleging the force has failed to adequately address sexual harassment or act on allegations about inappropriate conduct against a high-ranking former officer.
The allegations — detailed in three new complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario — follow an external investigation by York Regional Police that substantiated "several allegations of misconduct" against former homicide detective Insp. Daniel Johnstone, Peel police confirmed to the Star.
That includes an allegation that he approached Sgt. Leslee Whidden at an after-hours gathering at a Mississauga bar, placed his hand on her back and grabbed her bra strap, according to the human rights claims and an internal police document.
Through his lawyer, Louis Strezos, Johnstone denied any professional misconduct allegations and those made in the human rights complaints.
York police were tapped to conduct an independent investigation after Johnstone was charged by Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, with sexually assaulting Whidden in connection to the 2017 bar incident. That charge was withdrawn after the Crown said there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Peel police confirmed to the Star that as York investigated the 2017 off-duty incident, "further allegations came to light" against Johnstone and "several" allegations of misconduct against him were substantiated. The conclusion meant there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Johnstone with professional misconduct under the Police Services Act; Peel began that process, a spokesperson said.
Shortly after York's investigation concluded, Johnstone, in his early 50s, retired, meaning Peel no longer had jurisdiction to prosecute him. "There was therefore no hearing into the allegations of misconduct," Peel said. The retirement meant there was no final determination on the allegations.
The officers who filed the human rights claims allege Peel police failed to address a sexualized environment and allege Peel should have taken action against Johnstone earlier.
The female officers' human rights claims name Johnstone as a respondent. The allegations have not been tested at the human rights tribunal and neither Peel police nor Johnstone have yet been served notice of the applications. Delays at the tribunal mean parties may not be served for months after a complaint is filed.
Neither Johnstone nor Peel Regional Police directly responded to questions sent by the Star, which referred to a detailed summary of the allegations against the police service and Johnstone.
"Inspector Johnstone denies the allegations and will address them in the appropriate forum, if necessary. Indeed, he was unaware of any human rights complaint until your inquiry," Strezos, Johnstone's lawyer, said in a statement.
"He is particularly concerned about the nature of the allegations levelled against him and how they have evolved," the statement said.