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London Chief of Police Thai Truong and Detective Sargent Katherine Dann attend a press conference as five Canadian professional hockey players face charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault, in London, Ont. on Feb. 5.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

The police chief in London, Ont., apologized to the woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team, acknowledging that the force had taken years to lay charges, in his first public comments about the case.

Chief Thai Truong addressed the media on Monday afternoon, hours after the first court date for five of the team’s members, who were charged last week with sexual assault.

“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,” he said. “As a police officer working in this space for many, many years, I can tell you that this is a difficult, difficult situation for all victims and survivors of sexual violence.”

He praised the woman’s “courage” and “incredible strength” in the five and a half years since she first reported the alleged attack to police, and he noted that he was referring to her as a “victim” at her own request – rather than as a complainant or survivor.

The woman, identified in court documents as E.M., told police that she was sexually assaulted in the early morning hours of June 19, 2018, at a London hotel after a Hockey Canada fundraiser. London police closed an initial investigation in 2019, without laying charges. It was reopened in 2022 after the public learned of the allegations.

Chief Truong, who took over the top job at the London force in June of last year, declined to explain how the initial investigators had concluded there was not enough evidence to proceed, while the reopened probe had resulted in charges.

“I know there are questions regarding the initial investigation,” he said. “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. There is a place, and there is a time for me to provide those answers. And that time is not now.”

The five players charged in the case are all current or former NHL players. Two of them, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote, play with the New Jersey Devils. Another, Carter Hart, is with the Philadelphia Flyers. Dillon Dubé plays for the Calgary Flames. Alex Formenton, a former member of the Ottawa Senators, has played the past two seasons in Switzerland.

All five have denied wrongdoing and promised vigorous defences, and all have taken leaves from their teams.

On Monday morning, lawyers for the five players appeared in the Ontario Court of Justice in London by video conference, their first time in front of a judge since their clients were charged.

In a brief appearance, assistant Crown attorney Heather Donkers sought and obtained a publication ban on E.M.’s identity. The court also scheduled the players’ next court date for April 30.

E.M. is represented by Karen Bellehumeur, a former assistant Crown attorney who now works on behalf of sexual-assault complainants. She issued the first public statement on behalf of her client since the charges were laid.

“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,” Ms. Bellehumeur said. “That is certainly true for E.M. Yet, she remains committed to see this process through. We simply ask that the media and others respect her privacy and her dignity, as this matter proceeds through the court process.”

E.M.’s allegation became public knowledge three years after the initial investigation was closed. She had recently filed a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight unnamed junior players. In May, 2022, TSN reported that the lawsuit had been settled for an undisclosed sum. The case sparked national outcry and prompted parliamentary committee hearings and high-profile exits from Hockey Canada, the governing body for hockey.

In July, 2022, The Globe and Mail reported that Hockey Canada had maintained a multimillion-dollar reserve known as the National Equity Fund to pay out settlements in cases involving sexual-assault allegations – a fund fed by registration fees. The Globe also reported on a text message exchange between one of the players and E.M. that occurred in the days after the alleged assault, as well as videos that were shot in the room that night.

It was against this backdrop that Chief Truong’s predecessor, Chief Steve Williams, initiated a review of the initial investigation on July 20, 2022. That review, investigators said at Monday’s press conference, led them to new evidence, which culminated in the criminal charges laid last week.

Detective Sergeant Katherine Dann, who is the head of the London Police Service’s sexual-assault and child-abuse section and is also the supervisor on the junior hockey investigation, told Monday’s news conference she was assigned in 2022 to re-examine the case. She joined the unit in fall 2020 and was not part of the initial investigation.

Det. Sgt. Dann added that, after the case was reopened, her team “explored investigative opportunities” that weren’t pursued in the 2018 investigation. She said additional witnesses were interviewed and new evidence was collected.

“I can confirm that some of this evidence was not available when the investigation concluded in 2019,” she said. She declined to say whether that evidence had not been available because police didn’t look for it.

“I know this is going to be frustrating for everyone. Everyone wants answers. But I cannot compromise the investigation by providing specific details,” Det. Sgt. Dann said.

E.M.’s 2022 statement of claim against Hockey Canada referred to eight players who were allegedly involved in the incident. Asked whether police intend to lay more charges, or if some of those players co-operated with the police probe, Det. Sgt. Dann said investigators have only charged players where there are reasonable grounds to believe they committed an offence. She added that there have been “varying levels of participation” in the investigation, and she noted that E.M. has co-operated throughout the entire process

At multiple points throughout Monday’s news conference, Chief Truong was asked about hockey and hockey culture.

To this, the chief said the service wasn’t focused on questions about Hockey Canada or the sport itself. “This is an investigation where there is a victim of sexual assault,” he said. “I’m not a hockey player. I don’t know nothing about hockey. This is a sexual-assault investigation.”

Det. Sgt. Dann confirmed that her unit regularly does consent training in the London community, including with hockey teams.

Hockey Canada chief executive officer Katherine Henderson, who was named to the role in July, issued a statement Monday pledging the organization would conduct itself differently in the future.

“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,” Ms. Henderson said.

On Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that the league had completed its own investigation into the events of June, 2018. But he said the NHL won’t be releasing its findings, because the issue is now before the courts.

Police in London, Ont., spoke Monday for the first time about charges laid against five former junior hockey players over an alleged sexual assault in 2018. The Globe's Robyn Doolittle recaps a statement from the London police chief that included an apology to the alleged victim, though he declined to comment in detail about why the investigation was closed in 2019 and then reopened in 2022. The players’ lawyers have denied the allegations.


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