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


Police have apologized to the victim of an alleged 2018 sexual assault 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 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. "It's not something, as the chief of police, that I am happy about, 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 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 offence charge is in relation to aiding someone else in committing the offence," Det. Sgt. Katherine Dann of London Police Service's sexual assault and child abuse section explained at the press conference on Monday.

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.

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

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 on Monday. "Comprehensive review was initiated over three years later on July 20, 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."

Neither the police chief or 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 gold-winning 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 the HC Ambri-Piotta 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 counsels 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. ET.

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 woman, 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.

While only five players were charged Monday, E.M. initially alleged that eight players were involved.

"We have laid charges for all the charges that we have reasonable grounds for, and we've had varying levels of participation in the investigation," Dann said on Monday. "But I won't provide specifics about who co-operated and who didn't."

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

"It is important to understand that as the chief of police, 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 for me to provide 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 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.

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

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

The organization previously came under fire in 2022 for its handling of sexual assault allegations, including a case involving players from the 2017-18 men's world junior team. In the wake of media reports that the organization had funnelled 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.

"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," Hockey Canada president and CEO Katherine Henderson said in a statement on Monday.

On Monday, police read a statement from the alleged victim's lawyer.

"It takes an incredible amount of courage for any survivor of sexual assault to report to the police and participate in the criminal justice system," the statement from Karen Bellehumeur said. "We simply ask that the media and others respect her privacy and her dignity as this matter proceeds through the court process."

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

"If you have information related to this investigation, I urge you to contact our police service," she said.

With files from the Canadian Press Top Stories

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