Peel police officer demoted after hugging protesters and refusing to enforce lockdown bylaws at a Mississauga gym


Published June 12, 2023 at 10:48 am

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A Peel police officer who openly refused to enforce lockdown measures and was caught on video hugging protesters at a Mississauga gym has been demoted.

Peel Police Officer Sergeant Paul Brown made headlines in April 2021 after he was caught on camera hugging protestors at Huf Gym in Mississauga and asking Global TV news reporter Sean O’Shea to move away from the rally.

Brown, 49, has now been demoted from sergeant to first-class constable for one year pending performance, a Peel Regional Police Discipline Hearing decided. The 26-page plenty decision on the hearing on May 1, 2023 has been public.

The incident came after the owners of HUF Gym defied provincial COVID-19 lockdown orders in April 2021 and remained open. The owners of the boxing gym on Dundas Street East believed they were within their legal rights to stay open despite a province-wide emergency brake shutdown.

On May 1, 2023, Brown pled guilty and was found guilty of one charge of discreditable conduct, contrary to the Police Services Act. Brown has no prior disciplinary record and has served with the Peel Regional Police since 1996.

Specifically, he was found guilty of acting in “a disorderly manner or in a manner prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of the police force of which the officer is a member.”

On April 16, 2021, Brown was sent to HUF Gym to keep the peace during an anti-mask and anti-lockdown protest, according to the hearing decision.

City of Mississauga by-law officers requested assistance to close the gym under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act but Brown declined to help.

While at the protest, Brown was caught on video “closely interacting, taking photos and hugging anti-mask protesters without wearing any personal protective equipment.”

At one point, a protester aggressively approached O’Shea, unmasked and screaming in his face, despite the reporter requesting her to stop. O’Shea asked Brown for assistance but he told O’Shea to move and his presence was agitating the protestors.

Brown was also captured on video saying he did not agree with the lockdown regulations and mask restriction and was in favour of the anti-lockdown protest.

And he also said on a video on HUF Gym’s Instagram that he was unwilling to assist Mississauga by-law officers.

Specifically, Brown said:  “…if bylaw comes this is what I’ve been telling them. Anytime they have asked us to assist with enforcement, that simply, that if you go in there, I can’t, I can’t ensure your safety…and I’m not coming in there to ensure your safety. I’ll just call an ambulance for you if something happens. And that usually gets them to think, well f**k maybe I shouldn’t go in there right now.”

Brown acknowledged to Peel Regional Police Professional Standards that his conduct might have eroded public confidence in Peel Regional Police’s willingness to enforce the law.

While still under investigation for the April 16 incident, Brown attended an anti-lockdown protest called the “World Wide Rally for Freedom” at Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 15, 2021. Brown was presented as a supporter of the anti-lockdown movement but he did not speak publicly at the rally.

“Brown confirmed to PRP (Peel Regional Police) Professional Standards that he personally believed the stay-at-home order was unconstitutional,” the penalty decision reads.

The Professional Standards decision also found Brown and two other members of Peel Regional Police attended the Freedom Convoy rally on Feb. 11, 2022.

In his findings, the hearing officer and retired superintendent Peter Lennox said Brown’s ability to perform his duties impartially and pursuant to the law were in doubt.

“The by-law office was seeking a cease-and-desist order against the protesters, who were in violation of a provincial act, and wanted Sgt. Brown’s assistance in doing that,” Lennox stated in his decision. “Instead, Sgt. Brown was seen hugging the protesters while not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), even though at that time he was obliged by PRP to use PPE.”

Brown decided not to enforce the law or protect people from harm.

Brown stated “not only would he not enforce the law but that he could not guarantee the safety of by-law officers providing enforcement,” Lennox said. “He said that the best he could do was to call an ambulance for anybody needing one.”

While officers may have personal views about politics it is “an obligation to put aside those beliefs when conducting his or her duties, including enforcing the law.”

Brown apologized to the Peel Regional Police Service for the discredit he caused to its reputation.

He also acknowledged that he should not have engaged in political or personal discussions when responding to a work assignment.

“He specified that if he could do it again, he would have handled the call at the HUF Gym differently.”

He also stated that he would not have attended the events in Ottawa or Queen’s Park.

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