WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
London, Ont., police Chief Thai Truong apologized Monday that it took six years to lay sexual assault charges against five former members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team, saying he recognizes the “courage” and “strength” it took for the woman to come forward.
“I want to extend on behalf of the London Police Service my sincerest apology to the victim and her family for the amount of time that it has taken to reach this point,” Truong told a news conference. “As a police officer working in this space for many years, I can tell you that this is a difficult, difficult situation for all victims and survivors of sexual violence.”
The initial police investigation began shortly after the June 2018 complaint and ended without charges in 2019. It was reopened in 2022 by Truong’s predecessor, then Chief Steve Williams, in response to public outrage following a lawsuit that Hockey Canada settled for $3.5 million.
The identity of the woman, known in court documents as E.M., and the identities of two witnesses are protected by a court-ordered publication ban.
“This investigation has been a lengthy and complex process,” Truong said. “I want to recognize the victim for her courage and incredible strength throughout.”
Truong also confirmed the charges against Michael McLeod and Cal Foote, both of the New Jersey Devils, Dillon Dubé of the Calgary Flames, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers and former NHL player Alex Formenton, who’s now playing hockey in Switzerland. McLeod faces an additional charge of being party to an offence.
Four of the players, excluding Formenton, are under contract with NHL teams until the end of this season. They are technically on paid leave.
The news conference was held hours after lawyers for the accused attended a brief procedural court hearing via video link in London, where the next court date, April 30, was set.
No details given for reopening investigation
It is alleged the incident occurred at the London Armouries Hotel, following a Hockey Canada gala in June 2018, when the players were honoured for their victory at the world junior hockey championship.
Truong would not offer specifics about what prompted police to reopen the case three years after the initial investigation ended.
“This review involved re-examining initial investigative steps, gathering additional evidence and obtaining new information,” he said. “As a result, we have found sufficient steps to charge five adult males with sexual assault.”
Truong was repeatedly asked for more details about new evidence that caused them to revisit the original investigation, but would not give details, saying he did not want to compromise a “complex” case now before the courts.
“There’s a place and a time for providing those answers and that time is not right now. I cannot discuss details that are before the courts.”
Truong said the move to reopen the investigation was a continuation of the first probe, but with new information.
Woman in case has fully co-operated: police
Det. Sgt. Katherine Dann of the LPS’s force’s sexual assault and child abuse unit also addressed the news conference, where reporters also were given time to ask questions.
She was not involved in the initial investigation, and spoke about circumstances surrounding police reopening the case.
“It was determined there were additional steps that could advance the investigation.”
Dann said a new team of investigators was assigned after the case was reopened.
“Additional witnesses were spoken to and we collected more evidence,” she said. “Some of this information was not available when the investigation concluded in 2018. This was one investigation, not two.”
Dann said the woman at the centre of the investigation has fully co-operated throughout.
Dann asked anyone with more information to come forward, including anyone who was at Jack’s Pub or the Delta London Armories hotel that June evening in 2018.
Hockey Canada issues statement
Shortly after the police news conference, Hockey Canada issued a statement saying they’ve fully co-operated with the police investigation.
The statement said a third-party adjudicative panel has completed its final report, but it can’t be released because it remains the subject of an appeal filed in November.
“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, Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last week the league would wait until the criminal case has concluded before commenting.
For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.