Former Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard leveraged his wealth, assets and status over several years to lure young women and girls to a top-floor bedroom suite at his company’s Toronto headquarters where he forced himself on them, Crown lawyers alleged Tuesday as arguments at his sexual assault trial got under way.
Nygard invited all five complainants in the case – whose identities are protected by a publication ban – to visit his custom-built office building under pretenses ranging from tours to job interviews, with all the encounters ending in the bedroom suite, the Crown said. There, he sexually assaulted them at different times, sometimes trapping or intoxicating them, the Crown alleged in opening arguments.
“Five women, it took them years to come forward. 1 Niagara St., a custom-design office building with huge letters on the front: Nygard. The Toronto headquarters of a fashion empire,” assistant Crown attorney Ana Serban said.
“But within these walls, behind all the trappings of success and power, there is a bedroom suite with a giant bed, a stone jacuzzi, a bar and doors – doors with no handle, doors with automatic, keypad-operated locks controlled by Peter Nygard.”
Nygard has pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in alleged incidents dating back to the ‘80s, ‘90s and mid-2000s.
The 82-year-old appeared in court sporting a suit with no tie, tinted glasses and with his long white hair tied back. He sat quietly, often looking at the jury, as the Crown delivered its opening statement.
The first complainant, the Crown said, will testify she met Nygard in her 20s while on a flight to the Bahamas, where he allegedly flattered her, offered her a job and a stay at his property in the Caribbean country, which she declined. After recognizing him on TV later, the woman called him and was invited to 1 Niagara St. for a job interview, court heard.
“It ends in his top-floor bedroom suite. She grows uncomfortable, she tries to leave. He tackles her onto the bed, puts his full body into it, pins her down on her back and tries to undress her, rips her clothing,” Serban, the assistant Crown lawyer, alleged. “She’s terrified.”
Nygard then allegedly assaulted the complainant with his fingers and ripped her blouse with his teeth, only stopping when his next appointment was announced on the intercom, Serban said.
“He gives her a blouse and skirt to replace the clothes he tore during the attack. She runs out of the bedroom suite and out of the building. This was supposed to be a job interview,” Serban said.
The second woman, an aspiring fashion designer at the time, will testify she met Nygard at a club in Quebec and gave him her number, knowing his influence in the fashion industry. He allegedly flew her to Toronto to meet for dinner and gave her a tour of his offices that ended in his bedroom suite.
“He lunges at her, pins her down on the bed and forces her clothing off from the waist down … he berates her for not co-operating,” Serban alleged.
The woman will testify that Nygard then pinned her on her back, and sexually assaulted her. Afterwards, she tried to leave and had to plead for him to open the doors, alleged Serban.
A third woman, an actress at the time, will testify that she met Nygard in her 20s, at the airport. Nygard allegedly approached her and insisted on giving her a ride home from the airport, stopping at 1 Niagara St. for a tour.
Serban alleged Nygard subsequently took her on dinner dates and brought her to a Rolling Stones concert. He allegedly took her back to 1 Niagara St. later and led her to the bedroom, where the doors locked, the Crown said.
“He berates her for being a tease, for not going along with his advances, screams at her for wasting his time. She tells him she wants to leave. He tells her she’s not going anywhere,” she alleged.
Nygard allegedly forced her onto the bed and took off her clothes. “She’s trapped and she knows it,” said Serban.
Serban alleged Nygard forcibly had sex with the complainant and later threw a $100 bill her way as she was leaving, which she didn’t take.
A fourth woman, a model who was in her 20s, will testify she met Nygard while on a flight. Serban alleged that she eventually accepted Nygard’s offers for various hostess jobs, including one at a party at 1 Niagara St.
A group of party attendees later went to the bedroom suite and began group sex, the Crown said. Uncomfortable, the complainant allegedly made herself a drink and woke up later in the bed, where Nygard was trying to penetrate her and “others are gathered around watching,” the Crown said.
She screamed and struggled, and Nygard “berates her for ruining the party” before she ran out the door as it opened to let in two guests, the Crown alleged.
The fifth woman will testify that when she was 16, the man she was seeing invited her to 1 Niagara St. for a party. When she arrived, just Nygard and another woman were allegedly there, the Crown said, and the complainant was given a tour that ended at the bedroom suite.
Nygard allegedly showed her photos of his private jet, made them drinks and propositioned her with modelling opportunities. After a drink, she allegedly started to feel “heavy” and “disoriented,” the Crown said. It was then, Serban alleged, that Nygard took off her skirt and underwear and forced himself on top of her.
The other woman later gave her pills on her way out, which she later recognized as emergency contraceptive Plan B, the Crown said.
Nygard founded the now-defunct Nygard International brand in Winnipeg in 1967.