A Peel Regional Police officer who was captured on video by Global News hugging demonstrators protesting COVID-19 restrictions and accused a journalist of agitating them has been reinstated.
The officer was suspended on April 16 after a protest was held outside of Huf gym in Mississauga, which reopened despite COVID-19 restrictions.
Insp. Raj Biring told Global News Sunday morning the officer’s paid suspension was “lifted a few days ago.” He said a review is still underway by professional standards.
A police spokesperson later added, “The sergeant was reinstated last Thursday and will remain on administrative duties until the conclusion of the investigation.”
Sean O’Shea, a consumer and investigative reporter with Global Toronto, was at the gym near Cawthra Road and Dundas Street East to report on continuing protests by the facility’s owners, employees, customers and supporters over the Ontario government’s current COVID-19 restrictions that have temporarily ordered gyms closed.
Outside the facility on the morning of April 16, O’Shea was by himself filming several protesters standing in front of the gym on his cellphone. In a video posted on Twitter, a woman wearing a sweater with the words “hugs over masks” could be seen aggressively walking toward O’Shea, loudly shouting and waving her finger.
As the woman turned around to walk away, O’Shea walked forward and began speaking with a Peel police officer, identified by multiple people as Sgt. Paul Brown, at the scene.
“Is this OK with you sergeant? Do you condone that sergeant?” he asked the officer.
“I don’t condone it that’s why I started to come over. Um, you’re standing here videotaping and obviously you’re agitating this group,” the officer replied.
O’Shea went on to capture the same officer, who wasn’t wearing a mask, hugging and standing with some of those in attendance who also weren’t wearing masks. The officer posed for photos.
Both Biring and Chief Nishan Duraiappah said following the incident that people must adhere to provincial regulations.
Global News also viewed video that was shared on a Facebook wall that appears to have been filmed by one of the gym’s supporters. It appears to have captured a conversation with the sergeant.
Among other comments made during the video, he said, “Everyone needs to open up… everyone needs to open up.”
Global News contacted Peel Regional Police for an updated statement Sunday but did not get a response by the time of publication.
— With files from Sean O’Shea