Sports

World junior hockey sex assault case puts spotlight on London

TORONTO –

The southwestern Ontario city of London will be under a spotlight Monday as a high-profile, multi-year probe into allegations of sexual assault involving players from Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team makes its way to court.

Five players — Dillon Dube, Cal Foote, Alex Formenton, Carter Hart and Michael McLeod — were charged late last month with sexual assault in an incident that allegedly took place in the city in June 2018. A court document shows McLeod is facing an additional charge of sexual assault for “being a party to the offence.”

Lawyers for the players have said their clients will defend themselves against the allegations, and all five are expected to plead not guilty. None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The case is set to make its first appearance in a London court Monday morning, just hours before local police are scheduled to give an update on their investigation, which was initially closed without charges months after the incident but reopened years later in 2022.

The attention given to court cases such as this one can stir important conversations on consent and how it is or isn’t addressed within sports culture, said Katreena Scott, the academic director of Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children.

This case in particular comes as sports organizations have faced scrutiny over their handling of sexual assault allegations, she said.

“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 said.

“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?”

Michael Kehler, a research professor of masculinities studies at the University of Calgary, said cases such as this one are part of a “long narrative” around sport culture and masculinity. Traditionally, he said, men and boys in those spaces have faced little scrutiny over their conduct.

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“That’s kind of the context and I think that what we’re witnessing here is something that I think, both in our research around masculinities and sport culture, we’ve known for quite some time,” he said.

Four of the accused play in the NHL: Dube for the Calgary Flames, Hart for the Philadelphia Flyers, McLeod and Foote for the New Jersey Devils. Formenton previously played for the Ottawa Senators before joining a team in Switzerland. All have been allowed to go on indefinite leave from their professional clubs.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the criminal charges Friday at a news conference ahead of the league’s all-star festivities in Toronto.

The NHL launched its own investigation after hearing of the allegations in May 2022 and was in the process of determining how to analyze and act on its findings when news of the impending charges broke last month, he said.

“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 also conducted an investigation parallel to the police and NHL probes. The organization has not issued an official statement on the charges.

A police application for a search warrant filed in 2022 said there were grounds to believe a woman was sexually assaulted by five players on the junior team.

The charges are connected to an alleged group sexual assault of a woman identified only as E.M. in a London hotel room, the document shows. The incident allegedly occurred following a Hockey Canada ceremony celebrating the players’ victory at that year’s world junior tournament.

In the application, a lead investigator lays out E.M’s and multiple players’ accounts of that night. The document is heavily redacted, meaning many details cannot be seen, particularly regarding players’ statements to police. The players’ names are also redacted.

E.M. told investigators she went out to a bar to meet some friends on the night of June 18, 2018. She ended up meeting several players on the dance floor and spent most of the evening with them, she told police. They kept buying drinks, and she had eight shots and a vodka soda on top of two coolers she’d had at home, the document said.

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In the early hours of the morning, she left the bar with one of the players in a taxi. E.M. told police she went with him willingly but didn’t think she would have done so if she hadn’t been so drunk.

They went together to a hotel room and engaged in consensual sexual acts, the document said. E.M. told police that everything that happened afterward was not consensual.

She said the player was on his phone and appeared to be texting. Several of his friends then came into the room — she recalled about seven or eight at some point, the document said. She recognized some from the bar. The player she had come to the hotel with was absent for a period when he went to get food, the document said.

Most of the alleged sexual acts are redacted from the search warrant application. She tried to leave on a few occasions, and while no one physically stopped her from doing so, they told her to stay and walked her back, E.M. told police.

E.M. told investigators she couldn’t remember exactly how the night ended but she was left alone with the player she had gone to the hotel with and his roommate. More redacted acts occurred, the document said. The player suggested she should leave because he had golf in the morning, the document said.

Two brief videos of E.M. were taken, and she believed they were shot at the end of the night, the document said. In one, it reads, a male voice asks her if she’s “OK with this,” and she agrees. In the second, the same male voice tells her to “say it,” and she replies, “OK, it was all consensual.”

She told police that even though she said she was fine, she felt she had no choice because she was stuck in the room with the others.

E.M. took an Uber home and the driver consoled her on the way, the document said. That driver had not been identified at the time the document was filed.

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E.M.’s mother told police she found her daughter crying in the shower. E.M. told her mother she had gone to a hotel with a guy and thought it would just be him, but then others arrived in the room and asked her to do “horrific things,” the document said.

E.M.’s parents reported the incident to police and Hockey Canada. Sometime later, the player E.M. accompanied to the hotel contacted her through social media and urged her to retract the police report, the document said.

The player was interviewed by police and told them he met E.M. at the bar and they drank together, but he didn’t know how much she was drinking. They took a cab together to the hotel. After the sexual activity, he ordered food, the document said.

The player confirmed he texted his teammates to come to his room, but he couldn’t remember exactly who came, and he told police E.M. seemed fine with their presence, the document said.

He told police he left for five minutes to get his food and when he returned, sexual activity was taking place. The details of this and much of what happened after are redacted.

The player took the first video because he “was worried something like this (in reference to a police investigation) would happen,” the document said. He made the second video to obtain her consent at the end of the night, it said.

The player told police he found E.M. on Instagram after hearing from Hockey Canada that a report had been made to police, the document said.

The player’s roommate told investigators he heard there was a woman in their hotel room who wanted to do redacted sexual acts. He said he went to the room with others, at least one of whom left within a few minutes. Most of his account is redacted.

Other players described going to the room and seeing a woman there along with several teammates, but the details of their accounts are largely redacted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2024.

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