For years, there were rumours about Peter Nygard. Not rumours that he was doing anything illegal, just that he was a jerk. One rumour was that he propositioned women journalists interviewing him as part of their job. That sort of thing.
Right now, the 79-year-old Canadian fashion mogul is in custody in Winnipeg. The U.S. asked Canadian authorities to issue a warrant seeking his extradition. He faces a multicount indictment in the U.S. on charges of racketeering, sex trafficking and related crimes.
The Fifth Estate’s Peter Nygard: The Secret Videos (Thursday, CBC, 9 p.m.) goes further than any recent Canadian reporting on Nygard and the allegations against him. That’s mainly because it has access to Nygard’s former personal videographer and footage taken by him. It also has access to some key players in the saga, including staffers who remained loyal to Nygard for years. And it has interviews with some of Nygard’s victims.
The scope of the fashion mogul’s alleged activities with young women is mind-boggling. There are allegations about his actions in Winnipeg, at his estate in the Bahamas, in Las Vegas, New York and in China. There are now allegations made against him by more than 80 women, covering events over several decades.
“How did it stay a secret for so long?” host Bob McKeown asks at the beginning. Thereby hangs a tale of alleged payoffs to politicians and others in the Bahamas, money given to accusers and, sometimes, threats of physical harm.
There is footage of Nygard singing My Way on his private plane, an act that captures so much about his personality. There’s the vanity of it, and the fact that his personal videographer says, ”He told me to film everything.” Later, the same former employee says he would only be told to stop filming when Nygard went upstairs to his bedroom with “three or four women.”
This would routinely happen at the home in the Bahamas. Former staff talk about young women being plied with drink at weekly “pamper parties” and often those drinks were spiked. Victims tell stories of feeling nauseous and passing out after a few drinks. Some of these victims were 14 or 15 years old. Nygard, it is suggested, would promise modelling jobs. To the locals there he would claim he was offering support and entertainment to the underprivileged.
How did he get away with it? “He knew how to buy people,” one witness says. There follow tales of bags of cash going to politicians in the Bahamas. He was so powerful there, thanks to payoffs, that a blind eye was turned to everything from his sex parties to the expansion of his estate.
Some of the information comes from Richette Ross, a woman employed as Nygard’s massage therapist and general assistant for several years. “As time went on, I realized it wasn’t really a job. It was just a giant whorehouse,” Ross says. She claims to have made cash payments to politicians too. As the program notes, Ross is now considered a questionable figure in the case against Nygard since she admits to being his enabler for a time. As the program asserts, “hundreds of people” enabled and protected him.
It’s a complex story with many tangents and byways, but this episode of The Fifth Estate sticks to the core story. That core is in what one of the U.S. attorneys prosecuting Nygard says: “The government of the Bahamas gave him a safe place to operate a criminal sex-trafficking ring.” It’s a disturbing program, stopping well short of being lascivious, and stands as an entry in the list of important programs and reporting on allegations about powerful and well-off men relentlessly exploiting young women.
Since the Nygard revelations are disturbing, here’s a streaming pick that’s pure but smart escapism: Red Oaks (three seasons on Amazon Prime Video). It arrived in late 2015 before Prime Video was widely available. It’s a dry, nostalgia-soaked comedy set in the 1980s. That’s when David Meyers (Craig Roberts), a university student, is spending the summer working at a country club in suburban New Jersey. His views on things are turned around in the opening episode when his dad (Richard Kind, eating the scenery a bit) seems to suffer a heart attack and blurts out long-held secrets to his son. He doesn’t die, which makes home life complicated. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of satiric sport with the country club patrons and staff. This is an upscale, smart sitcom, bittersweet in tone and very engaging.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.