Police apologize to woman at center of 2018 sexual assault case that has rocked Canadian hockey
LONDON, Ontario (AP) — The police chief of London, Ontario, issued a public apology on Monday to a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by five hockey players on Canada’s 2018 world junior team — including four now currently in the NHL — for the length of time it took to complete an investigation of a case that has rocked the sport for years.
It will, however, take much longer for Chief Thai Truong to provide any specifics as to why it took nearly six years for charges to be filed, and what led to the initial investigation to be closed in 2019 before being reopened in 2022.
“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,” Truong said at a news conference with dozens of reporters on hand.
“This should not take this long. It shouldn’t take years and years for us to arrive to the outcome of today,” he added. “But I can assure you, I am confident, confident that this will not happen again.”
As for what caused the delay and how it reflects on his department, Truong repeatedly said he was unable to get into the details because they have the potential of compromising prosecution of the case; that could include having those involved in the initial and second investigation being called as witnesses.
The 45-minute news conference marked the first time police in Ontario’s fifth-largest city, about halfway between Toronto and Detroit, have commented on the case since filing charges against the players accused of assaulting the woman in a downtown hotel room.
The players charged with one count each of sexual assault are Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames and former NHL player Alex Formenton. McLeod also faces a charge of “being a party to the offense,” which police said was for aiding someone else in committing the offense.
Attorneys for all five players have said their clients are not guilty and will defend themselves against the allegations. The players — who are all on leave from their teams — surrendered to London police over the past week and were released on unspecified conditions.
During a brief video hearing Monday with only attorneys present, prosecutors obtained an order protecting the identity of the woman, which is standard in sexual assault cases, as well as that of two witnesses. Prosecutor Heather Donkers also said defense attorneys would receive “substantial” evidence in the next few days. The next hearing was scheduled for April 30.
Detective Sgt. Katherine Dann of the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Section said the reopened investigation found reasonable and probable grounds to bring the charges, which could bring jail time if there are convictions.
Dann oversaw the investigation once it was reopened under now-retired police chief Steve Williams, and was not part of the initial investigation. She said some of the evidence uncovered “was not available when the investigation concluded in 2019.”
Like Truong, Dann was unable to answer many specifics, including whether others might be charged. T here were 22 players on the 2018 team
The case has shadowed Canadian hockey for years.
A woman sued Hockey Canada in 2022, alleging she was sexually assaulted in a hotel room by eight members of the gold medal-winning world junior team after a fundraising gala in London in June 2018. Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit, and then an investigation revealed the organization had two secret slush funds to pay out settlements on claims of sexual assault and abuse.
London police dropped their investigation in 2019 but began an internal investigation in July 2022. Around the same time, the NHL launched its own investigation, though the results of that likely will not be released until the legal case is resolved.
“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 at the time,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday at All-Star Weekend in Toronto. Players on leave will continue to be paid through the rest of the season, though their respective clubs will get salary cap relief for them.
Bettman said the league found out about the allegations on May 26, 2022. He said the NHL interviewed every player from that team, adding the woman involved declined to take part in the investigation.
Hockey Canada said it has cooperated fully with London Police throughout its investigation.
“Hockey Canada recognizes that in the past we have been too slow to act and that in order to deliver the meaningful change that Canadians expect of 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 with a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment on and off the ice,” said Katherine Henderson, who was named Hockey Canada president and CEO in July.
Whyno reported from Ashburn, Virginia. The Canadian Press contributed.
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