On Monday, London Police will address the public for the first time since charging five members of the 2018 Canadian world junior hockey team for sexual assault in connection with a 2018 incident in which a young woman said she was sexually assaulted by a number of players in a London, Ont., hotel room following a Hockey Canada celebration honoring their championship run.
Carter Hart, Alex Formenton, Michael McLeod, Cal Foote and Dillon Dube have been charged with one count of sexual assault, with McLeod facing an additional charge of sexual assault, according to court documents obtained by The Athletic. Those five players have court appearances on Monday, though it is not immediately clear whether they will appear in person or have attorneys appear on their behalf.
Hart, Formenton, McLeod, Foote and Dube have provided public statements acknowledging the charges and denying wrongdoing. The charges have not been tested in court.
The young woman, who has only been identified in court documents as E.M., filed a lawsuit in 2022, which Hockey Canada later settled out of court. When news of the settlement surfaced in May 2022, the national governing body came under intense scrutiny for the way it handled the allegations, with the news prompting parliamentary hearings and condemnation from the highest reaches of the federal government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Following public outcry and national interest in the case, the London Police Service reopened its investigation into the matter, which began in the immediate aftermath of the alleged incident. That initial criminal inquiry was closed in February 2019.
London Police have been tight-lipped about the renewed investigation, though a 2022 court filing, first reported by The Globe and Mail, provided insight into the department’s efforts on the case. In that court filing, which was submitted to the court in order to seek judicial authorization for a search warrant and multiple production orders, police said they believed E.M. had been sexually assaulted by five players, whose names were redacted in the filing.
“I believe when taking a global view of the evidence, E.M. believed she had no alternative but to engage in specific sex acts. Further, I believe each of the suspects knew or ought to have known E.M. had not consented,” Sgt. David Younan wrote in the application to the court.
In E.M.’s initial lawsuit claim, she said that eight players had assaulted her over several hours in a London, Ont., hotel room. She said she had met the group of players at a local bar the night of the alleged incident and had willingly gone home with one player. She said she engaged in consensual sex with that player, but that he invited several of his teammates into the hotel room without her knowledge or consent. She said she did not consent to any of the sexual contact or acts that followed, during which she said she was spit on, slapped on the buttocks, laughed at and degraded. According to her initial claim, she spent part of the night crying in the bathroom and wanting to leave, but was coaxed by multiple players to remain in the hotel room. She noted that several of them had golf clubs in the room and that she felt physically intimidated and unable to leave.
One night in London: Allegations of sexual assault and a reckoning for Hockey Canada
In the 2022 court filing, police wrote that they believed as many as 12 players were involved in, witnessed or may have some information about the alleged incident. According to that filing, E.M. said in a police interview that players told her to lie down on the floor and placed a bed sheet underneath her during specific sex acts. She said that she felt like she was the “object of the group’s entertainment” and that the group was “making fun of her and laughing at her expense.” E.M. told police that “the group of guys was talking around her and about her, but not with her. … saying things like ‘You do this, and you do this.”
She said that at one point of the night during the alleged group sex assault, the player she initially went home with was sitting on the bed eating chicken wings he had ordered. She described him being “in the background” after specific sex acts (which were redacted).
E.M. told police that the same player asked her before she left the room: “You aren’t going to the police?”
The next day, after E.M.’s mother reported the alleged incident to the police, that player initiated a conversation with E.M., which later moved to text message. According to still images reviewed by police, E.M. told the player, “I was ok going home with you, it was everyone else afterwards that I wasn’t expecting.”
The player told her, “you need to talk to your mother right now and straighten things out with the police before it goes to (sic) far. This is a serious matter that she is mis representing (sic) and could have significant implications for a lot of people including you. What can you do to make this go away?”
According to the filing, police interviewed multiple players, received written statements from others and discovered the existence of a group chat for the world junior team. Multiple players also provided thumb drives to police containing text message exchanges in connection with that group chat. In the filing, police were also seeking records from Uber, a ride-sharing app, to identify and locate the driver who took E.M. home in the morning hours of June 19, 2018.
Whether London Police will share any additional details of its investigation and the charges remains to be seen.
It is unlikely a trial will be held any time soon, given the complexity and sensitivity of the case and the significant court backlogs that could cause delays. In Canada, a sexual assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
All four NHL players — Hart (Philadelphia Flyers), McLeod (New Jersey Devils), Foote (Devils) and Dube (Calgary Flames) have taken leaves of absence from their NHL clubs. Those four players have contracts set to expire at the end of this season. Formenton, who previously played for the Ottawa Senators, is also on a personal leave from his team in Switzerland.
For the NHL players charged with sexual assault, here’s what we know about the legal process
The NHL has conducted its own probe of the matter but when pressed about the issue during an NHL All-Star Game press conference, commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league will not assess any discipline until after the judicial process plays out. Bettman also indicated a reluctance to share any findings before the matter is resolved in court.
“All of the NHL players who appear to be subject of indictment are no longer with their teams, and 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 at the time,” Bettman said.
The NHL Players’ Association, which has provided guidance and representation to players throughout the league’s investigation, will also be waiting to see what happens with court proceedings.
“It’s an investigation that will now enter the courts,” union boss Marty Walsh said. “And I’m going to leave it there and see what the process of the courts are. Obviously, I’ve experienced this in my career over time, where charges have been brought against someone and it’s become a court proceeding and I’ve always been advised to just keep it at that.’”
Hockey Canada, which has been embroiled in controversy since the lawsuit became public, has not responded to requests for comment about the impending charges.
Amidst the fallout from its mishandling of the allegations, including the revelation that the organization had set up multiple funds of cash reserves to pay out settlements on uninsured claims, Hockey Canada overhauled much of the national governing body’s leadership. The organization installed a new board of directors and CEO and said it became a signatory to Abuse-Free Sport via the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, a federal agency tasked with preventing and addressing abuse, discrimination and harassment. Nike announced in July 2023 that the company was permanently ending its sponsorship of Hockey Canada, which dated back to 1999.
Hockey Canada initially probed the 2018 incident by retaining prominent Canadian law firm Henein Hutchison (Now Henein Hutchison Robitaille) to do an arm’s length investigation. The organization later reopened the investigation in July 2022. In November 2023, Hockey Canada told governors across the CHL that an independent adjudicative panel found that members of the 2018 World Junior team violated the governing body’s code of conduct during the Gala weekend, according to an email that The Athletic obtained.
After the panel released its findings to Hockey Canada and other parties involved, an undisclosed party filed a notice of appeal, according to a statement from the organization.
Hockey Canada declined to make any findings public with an appeal on the matter ongoing, saying it did not want to “interfere with the integrity of the appeal process.”
Players from the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship team have been ruled ineligible from appearing in international competition for Hockey Canada until the matter is resolved.
“Earlier this year, Hockey Canada made a decision that until the investigation and adjudicative process of the alleged incident in 2018 are complete, no players from the 2018 National Junior Team will be considered for participation for Team Canada,” Hockey Canada said in the statement. “This has been communicated to the management group for Team Canada at the 2023 IIHF Men’s World Championship.”
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Jana Chytilova / Freestyle Photography, Ethan Miller, Leah Hennel, Michael Reaves, Kevin Sousa / Getty Images)