Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown alleged Tuesday that city funds were used as "hush payments" in a councillor's sexual harassment lawsuit — without approval from himself or council.
At a morning news conference, Brown said an unnamed whistleblower told him on July 18 that about $60,000 in "taxpayer money" went toward a settlement involving Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, councillor for wards nine and 10, in a case brought against him and the city by a Brampton woman.
Brown said the city clerk and chief administrative officer both confirmed the payments were made, and that neither he nor council knew of them until the whistleblower came forward.
"I was not aware of any payments and I was shocked that it was even possible," Brown said. "City funds should never be used in this manner."
Dhillon immediately issued a statement calling Brown's claims "politically motivated" and an attempt to distract from the mayor's own political "scandals, misappropriations and questionable activities."
Dhillon said Brown had crossed a line and that he intended to take "legal action," but provided no further details.
Brown's allegations come during a tumultuous period for Brampton city council, with rival factions locked in an ongoing power struggle ahead of October's municipal elections.
Brown told reporters at the news conference he intends to file a motion to council on Friday to have the details of Dhillon's legal settlement made public. He said he also wants the city freed from the terms of a non-disclosure agreement that was signed in relation to the settlement.
According to Brown, about $40,000 went toward the city's legal fees, $18,000 went to the woman who brought the suit against Dhillon and $3,000 was used for arbitration costs.
In August 2020, a report from Brampton's then- integrity commissioner Muneeza Sheikh determined that Dhillon had sexually harassed a woman in her hotel room during a trade mission to Turkey the previous year.
Dhillon denied the incident — the audio of which was allegedly partly recorded on the woman's smartphone — but he was ultimately suspended for three months without pay, the maximum penalty available to council.
He appealed the penalty but it was upheld by an Ontario Superior Court in 2021.
Because the alleged incident happened overseas, Peel police never investigated the allegations and they have never been tested in court.
Brown's claims on Tuesday are just the latest chapter in a council term marked by intense infighting that has pitted two main groups against each other over a wide range of municipal issues.
Earlier this month, after Brown was disqualified from the race to lead the federal Conservative party over allegations of wrongdoing, five councillors — including Dhillon — released a public letter saying that "democracy in Brampton is under siege because of Patrick Brown."
The group alleged financial and contractual irregularities in Brown's office and a majority of councillors voted for a series of forensic investigations, including into how contracts were given to firms involved in a push to bring a full university to Brampton.
Meanwhile, multiple council meetings over the summer had to be adjourned early after the various factions refused to attend.