Police in London, Ont., have reopened a criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2018 world junior hockey team after determining there are additional investigative avenues to pursue.
Chief Steve Williams reopened the case just days after The Globe and Mail published details of videos and texts from around the time of the incident that were provided to police four years ago.
After the initial criminal investigation was concluded without charges in 2019, the case was not examined by a civilian committee that scrutinizes the London Police Service’s sexual assault investigations for missteps.
Jane McGregor, the chair of the committee, said this file is exactly the type of case the committee was designed to look at and investigators should have flagged it as a priority for review. It is not clear why the case wasn’t brought to its attention.
The case centres on an encounter in a hotel room on June 19, 2018, after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala at which the gold-medal-winning junior hockey team was honoured. A woman filed a lawsuit in April, 2022, in which she claimed she was sexually assaulted that night by eight Canadian Hockey League players.
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London police began an investigation shortly after the incident and it concluded in February, 2019. The investigation was led by Sgt. Stephen Newton, according to lawyers connected to the case. In an e-mail to a lawyer for one of the players, Sgt. Newton wrote that he did not have reasonable grounds to believe a sexual assault had taken place, according to lawyers for seven unnamed members of the 2018 world junior hockey team. Sgt. Newton did not respond to requests for comment.
The renewal of the police investigation will have implications for a number of inquiries into the incident, including by the National Hockey League and Hockey Canada, as well as Parliamentary committee hearings at which Hockey Canada officials have been called to testify. A public outcry has surrounded the case since it was revealed in May that Hockey Canada had settled the lawsuit, which sought more than $3.5-million, for an undisclosed sum.
The Globe attempted on Friday to reach lawyers for some of the unnamed players who have retained counsel, but did not receive a response. The lawyers have previously said their clients deny wrongdoing and that any sexual contact was consensual. The players who were asked to speak with police all did so voluntarily in 2018, the lawyers said. The complainant also spoke to police right after the incident.
The London police chief said he asked a team of officers this week to re-examine their initial investigation. They determined within two days that the case should be reopened.
“There are further investigative opportunities available to us, and as such, the criminal investigation has been reopened to allow those opportunities to be explored,” Chief Williams said in a statement.
He also said that once the criminal investigation is complete, he would welcome a review.
The sexual assault case review committee was created in 2018 in response to reporting in The Globe that found serious problems with the way police handle sexual assault investigations. After the Globe series, the service adopted new training and was one of the first in the country to commit to adopting civilian case review.
The committee is given full access to the case files to look for investigative missteps and signs that rape myths and stereotypes might have played a role in how a case was handled. Members provide notes that a liaison officer relays to the investigating officer. Sometimes, it can take a full day to go through one case, said Ms. McGregor, the chair. As a result, she added, the volunteer committee is heavily backlogged.
Ms. McGregor said what she knows about the 2018 incident comes from the media. On Tuesday, The Globe reported that during the initial criminal investigation, the players provided police with videos and text messages recorded or exchanged around the time of the incident.
The players’ lawyers said the two video clips show the sexual contact was consensual and that the complainant was not afraid or intoxicated, as she claimed. In her lawsuit, the woman alleged she went to a hotel room with one player and that seven others later entered the room and engaged in a range of sexual acts to which she did not consent.
Throughout, she alleged, she felt an imminent fear of physical harm and at times was crying and tried to leave the room. The woman said in her statement of claim that she felt pressure not to report the defendants to police and not to co-operate with the criminal investigation. She also alleged that she was directed to state that she was sober while being video recorded.
In one of the videos, recorded around 4:25 a.m. on June 19, 2018, the woman is standing in a hotel room covering herself with a towel.
“Are you recording me?” the woman asks. “Okay, good. It was all consensual. You are so paranoid, holy. I enjoyed it, it was fine. It was all consensual. I am so sober, that’s why I can’t do this right now.”
It’s not clear who recorded the video, why it was taped or what she was discussing.
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Ms. McGregor said the members of the committee, if they examined the case, would discuss things such as the circumstances in which this video was shot.
“I don’t think [the videos] are proof of anything,” she said.
“There is an obvious power differential … she might have said it was consensual, but are you going to refute it in a room full of young men? … These are the questions we’d be asking the officer to think about.”
In the text messages, sent a little more than a day after the alleged sexual encounter, a player asked the woman if she had spoken to police. The woman said her mother had done so, against her wishes. She said she was drunk that night and didn’t feel good afterward, but wasn’t trying to get anyone in trouble.
“I was OK with going home with you, it was everyone else afterwards that I wasn’t expecting. I just felt like I was being made fun of and taken advantage of,” the woman wrote.
The player asked the woman to “figure out how to make this go away” and go back to police.
Ms. McGregor said such conversations between a complainant and accused are very common in files the committee has reviewed.
The review committee is supposed to examine every “unfounded” file – cases where the accusation was determined to be false or baseless, where there was not enough evidence to lay a charge, or where the complainant withdrew. Karen Bellehumeur, a former Crown attorney and a member of the committee, said the characteristics of the 2018 case make it a prime candidate for review.
“Investigations involving questions of valid consent, capacity to consent and circumstances that may invalidate consent – such as fear – when no charges are laid in these types of cases, the police will always benefit from input from a review committee,” Ms. Bellehumeur said.
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