Police apologize for delays in sexual assault case against former world junior hockey players

Police have apologized to the victim of an alleged sexual assault in 2018 for delays in the case against five former world junior hockey players.

“I want to extend, on behalf of the London Police Service, my sincerest apologies to the victim, to her family, for the time it has taken to get to this point,” London Police Chief Thai Truong said during a Press conference. Monday afternoon. “It’s not something that, as a police chief, makes me happy, that it took six years.”

Lawyers appeared in court for the first time via video conference Monday morning in the high-profile sexual assault case involving five former members of Canada’s national junior hockey team, four of whom now play for the NHL.

Carter Hart, Michael McLeod, Dillon Dube, Cal Foote and Alex Formenton face sexual assault charges stemming from an alleged assault on a woman in 2018 in a London, Ont. hotel room. McLeod also faces an additional charge of sexual assault for “being a party to the crime.”

“The only charge against him is in relation to his own actions, and the crime part of the charge is in relation to assisting another person in committing the crime,” the detective said. Sergeant. Katherine Dann, of the London Police Service’s sexual assault and child abuse section, explained at Monday’s press conference.

While no pleas were entered Monday morning, attorneys for the players have said their clients will defend themselves against the allegations and all five are expected to plead not guilty.

London Police Chief Thai Truong speaks during a news conference in London, Ont., Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Nearly six years after a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by five then-members of the global police youth hockey Canada, the police chief of a southwestern Ontario city apologized for the time it had taken to file charges in the case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

An investigation into the charges was initially closed months after the incident, but police reopened the case in 2022. Both Hockey Canada and the NHL launched their own investigations parallel to the police investigation.

“The initial investigation, conducted between June 2018 and February 2019, concluded without charges, as investigators determined at that time that there were insufficient grounds to file charges: this decision led to the closure of the case,” Truong said Monday. “A comprehensive review was launched more than three years later, on July 20, 2022. This review involved re-examining the initial steps of the investigation, gathering additional evidence, and obtaining new information. As a result, we have found sufficient grounds to charge five men adult sexual assault.

Neither the police chief nor the lead detective were in their current positions at the time of the incident or the initial investigation.

The five players were part of Canada’s world junior hockey team that won gold in 2018. The allegation at the center of the case is that a sexual assault occurred after a Hockey Canada ceremony celebrating the players’ victory in the tournament that year, according to court documents.

Four of the players, except Formenton, currently play hockey in the NHL. Hart plays for the Philadelphia Flyers, Dube plays for the Calgary Flames, and McLeod and Foote play for the New Jersey Devils. Formenton previously played for the Ottawa Senators between 2017 and 2022, but is now with the HC Ambri-Piotta team in Switzerland.

Late last month, the players took indefinite leave from their respective clubs and turned themselves in to the police.

At Monday’s court appearance, the Crown laid out the case and said a “significant” amount of information would be sent to defense lawyers later in the day. Disclosure refers to evidence against defendants, which may include statements, video footage, forensic evidence, and police records, among other documents.

The defense will be able to choose whether the case is tried in an Ontario court of law or in a superior court. The next hearing date has been set for April 30 at 9:30 a.m. ET.

A police search warrant application filed in 2022 claimed there was reason to believe a woman had been sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 youth team. The woman, identified only as EM, described meeting several of the players on the night of the June 18, 2018 and having spent the night together in a bar.

The document, which was heavily redacted, claimed that after EM returned to one of the players’ hotel room and engaged in consensual sexual acts, more players came to the room. The following sexual interactions, which were largely scripted for the search warrant application, were not consensual, EM told investigators.

While only five players were charged on Monday, EM initially alleged that eight players were involved.

“We have filed charges on all charges for which we have reasonable grounds and have had varying levels of involvement in the investigation,” Dann said Monday. “But I won’t give details about who cooperated and who didn’t.”

Police did not say whether more charges could be filed. They also repeatedly declined to discuss details about the case, including details about the evidence and why it had been closed and reopened.

“It is important to understand that as police chief, while I am committed to transparency and accountability, I must also ensure that I do not compromise the ongoing legal process,” Truong said. “There is a place and there is a time to give those answers, and that time is not now. Therefore, I cannot discuss details that are now part of the case before the courts.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the situation Friday at a news conference before the league’s all-star festivities in Toronto, stating that the NHL was in the process of determining how to act on its own findings. investigation when they learned of the impending crime. charges.

“All of the NHL players who appear to be the subject of indictments are no longer with their teams. So, at this time, the most responsible and prudent thing we can do is wait for the conclusion of the judicial process, at which time we will respond accordingly. “, said.

In a statement released Monday, Hockey Canada said all players on the 2018 national junior team remain suspended from the organization’s programs, pending an internal appeal process.

“Hockey Canada has fully cooperated with the London Police Service throughout its investigation and we are committed to continuing to support the legal process,” the statement said.

The organization was previously criticized in 2022 for its handling of sexual assault allegations, including a case involving players from the 2017-18 men’s world junior team. Following media reports that the organization had funneled player registration fees into a fund used to pay settlements in the event of sexual assault lawsuits, a July 2022 hearing revealed that Hockey Canada had paid $7.6 million to settle sexual lawsuits since 1989. .

An audit last year found Hockey Canada did not use government funds to resolve sexual assault cases.

“Hockey Canada recognizes that in the past we have been too slow to act and that to achieve the meaningful change that Canadians expect from us, we must work diligently and urgently to ensure that we are putting in place the necessary measures to regain their trust and provide all participants a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment on and off the ice,” Hockey Canada president and CEO Katherine Henderson said in a statement Monday.

On Monday, police read a statement from the alleged victim’s attorney.

“It takes an incredible amount of courage for any survivor of sexual assault to report to the police and become involved in the criminal justice system,” Karen Bellehumeur’s statement read. “We simply ask that the media and others respect his privacy and dignity as this matter moves through the judicial process.”

Dann, of the London Police Service, also urged other potential witnesses to come forward.

“If you have any information relating to this investigation, I urge you to contact our police service,” he said.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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