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London police apologize for delay in sex assault charges against former world junior players

London’s police chief has apologized for the length of time it took to lay charges against five former world junior players over an alleged 2018 sexual assault.

“I want to extend, on behalf of the London Police Service, my sincerest apology to the victim, to her family, for the amount of time that it has taken to reach this point,” London police chief Thai Truong said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “As a police officer working in this space for many, many years, I can tell you that this is a difficult, difficult situation for all victims and survivors of sexual violence.”

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 world junior hockey team, four of whom now play for the NHL.

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

“The one charge he is laid with is in relation to his own actions and the party to the offense charge is in relation to aiding someone else in committing the offense,” Detective Sergeant Katherine Dann of London Police Service’s sexual assault and child abuse section explained at the press conference on Monday.

London Police Chief Thai Truong speaks during a press conference in London, Ontario on Monday, February 5, 2024. Nearly six years after a woman alleged she had been sexually assaulted by five then-members of Canada’s world junior hockey team, the police chief of a southwestern Ontario city offered an apology for how long it had taken for charges to be laid in the case.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

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

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

“The initial investigation conducted from June 2018 to February 2019, concluded without charges as it was determined by investigators at that time that there were insufficient grounds to lay a charge: this decision led to the case being closed,” Truong said. “Comprehensive review was initiated over three years later on July 20th, 2022. This review involved re-examining initial investigative steps, gathering additional evidence, and obtaining new information. As a result, we have found sufficient grounds to charge five adult males with sexual assault.”

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

Four of the players, with the exception of 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 a team in Switzerland.

Late last month, the players took an indefinite leave of absence from their respective clubs and turned themselves into police.

In Monday’s court appearance, the Crown presented the case and said a “significant” amount of disclosure would be sent to the defence councils later in the day. Disclosure refers to the evidence against the defendants, which can include statements, video footage, forensic evidence and police records, among other documents.

The defence will get to choose whether the case is tried in an Ontario Court of Justice or a superior court. The next court date has been set for April 30 at 9:30 a.m. 

A police application for a search warrant filed in 2022 stated that there were grounds to believe a woman had been sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 junior team. The women, identified only as E.M., described meeting several of the players on the night of June 18, 2018, and spending the evening at a bar together.

The document, which was heavily redacted, stated that after E.M. went back to the hotel room of one of the players’ and engaged in consensual sexual acts, more players arrived at the room. The following sexual interactions, which were largely redacted for the search warrant application, were not consensual, E.M. told investigators.

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

“All of the NHL players who appear to be subject of indictment are no longer with their teams. So, at this stage, the most responsible and prudent thing for us to do is await the conclusion of the judicial proceedings, at which point we will respond as appropriate,” he said.

Hockey Canada has not issued an official statement in connection to the charges.

The organization previously came under fire in 2022 for its handling of sexual assault allegations, including a case involving players from the 2017-2018 men’s world junior team. In the wake of media reports that the organization had funneled player registration fees into a fund that was used to pay settlements in the event of sexual assault claims, a July 2022 hearing revealed that Hockey Canada had paid out $7.6 million to settle sexual claims since 1989.

An audit last year found that no government funds were used by Hockey Canada to settle sexual assault cases.

Katreena Scott, the academic director of Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children, said on Sunday that sports organizations are only just beginning to face consequences for their handling of sexual assault allegations.

“We have been having a conversation that hasn’t gone far enough yet around how major sports organizations respond to …sexual assault, how they respond to individual incidents and accountability for that,” she told the Canadian Press.

“And so it’s not only how does sport, how do major sport organizations respond to (or) fail to respond to incidents of sexual assault, but also what are they doing in a preventative way, in an education way, and in a culture change way to address the problem?”

With files from the Canadian Press 

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