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Canadian police apologize to woman for taking 6 years to bring charges in sexual assault investigation involving hockey stars

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>From left
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By Paula Newton, Lindsay Isaac and Jason Hanna, CNN

(CNN) — New information uncovered during a reopened investigation led to sexual assault charges being brought last week against five professional hockey players, four of whom are playing in the NHL, Canadian police said Monday, six years after the offense was allegedly committed.

The case against the players, who were members of the Canada world junior hockey team at the time of the alleged incident, was closed in early 2019 and reopened in July 2022 after an outcry from the Canadian public.

The charges relate to an unnamed woman’s accusation that multiple members of Canada’s world junior hockey team sexually assaulted her in London, Ontario, in 2018. The five men facing charges were members of that team.

The players, New Jersey Devils center Mike McLeod; Devils defenseman Cal Foote; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart; Calgary Flames center Dillon Dube; and former Ottawa Senator forward Alex Formenton are each charged with one count of sexual assault, according to an official police charge sheet released by Hockey Canada.

McLeod is charged with an additional count of sexual assault for “being a party to the offence,” which relates to “aiding the behaviour of someone else,” Detective Sgt. Katherine Dann said during a news conference in London on Monday. The players have all been released with undertakings, which are used when police feel confident the conditions placed on the accused will sufficiently protect the safety of the victim and witnesses, according to Dann.

London Police Chief Thai Truong apologized to the victim for the length of time it has taken to file charges. “I want to extend on behalf of the London Police Service to the victim and her family for the amount of time that it has taken to reach this point,” he told reporters.

Earlier Monday, lawyers for the accused appeared in a London court for the first time via video link for a procedural hearing. None of the players were seen on video, according to CNN news partner CTV News, and no pleas were entered, though they are all expected to plead not guilty.

In previous statements by their lawyers, the players have all denied any wrongdoing and said they plan to defend their innocence in court.

CTV News reported the prosecution presented its case and said a “significant” amount of “disclosure,” which refers to forms of evidence, would be sent to defense attorneys in the coming days. The next court date is set for April 30, CTV reported.

The current NHL players have been told to surrender to authorities, London police have said.

How the case came to light

The case garnered widespread attention in May 2022 when Canadian broadcaster TSN reported the woman had settled a lawsuit she’d filed against Hockey Canada – the nation’s governing body for the sport – and members of the junior team over the assault allegations.

A cascade of developments followed, including parliamentary hearings in June 2022 over Hockey Canada’s handling of the case and announcements in July 2022 that London police and Hockey Canada would reopen their investigations.

Formenton, who was playing professionally in Switzerland, “will vigorously defend his innocence and asks that people not rush to judgment without hearing all of the evidence,” his attorneys Daniel Brown and Lindsay Board said in a statement. Formenton, who played for the Senators in 2017, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from Swiss hockey club Ambri-Piotta.

McLeod “denies any criminal wrongdoing,” his attorneys David Humphrey and Seth Weinstein said in a statement. “He will be pleading not guilty and will vigorously defend the case.”

Foote “is innocent of the charge and will defend himself against this allegation to clear his name,” his attorney said. “What is most critical at this time is the presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial that everyone in Canada is entitled to.”

Hart “is innocent and will provide a full response to this false allegation in the proper forum, a court of law,” his attorneys Riaz Sayani and Megan Savard said in a joint release.

Dube “will plead not guilty and maintains his innocence,” and “will defend the allegations in court,” his attorneys Louis P. Strezos and Kaleigh Davidson said in a statement.

The Flames are “aware of the charge of sexual assault that has been laid against Dillon Dube,” the club said. “We take this matter very seriously. Because the matter is now pending legal proceedings, we will have no further comment at this time.”

The Flames had said January 21 that Dube was “granted an indefinite leave of absence from the team while he attends to his mental health.” Last week, the club said it had “no knowledge of pending charges at the time Dillon’s request for a leave of absence was granted.”

The Devils, for whom McLeod and Foote play, are “aware of the reports” and have “been told to refer all inquiries regarding this to the league,” the team told CNN.

The NHL declined to comment last week when reached by CNN. CNN also has sought comment from the woman’s lawyer and Hockey Canada.

Hockey Canada apologized for its handing of the case

A month after the TSN report, the Canadian government announced in June 2022 that it was freezing federal, public funding for Hockey Canada until the organization had submitted the complete results of its original, two-year investigation and plans for implementing change within Hockey Canada.

During parliamentary hearings in June 2022, executives for Hockey Canada disclosed that it was notified of the incident the day after it was alleged to have taken place in 2018.

“We immediately initiated a process to investigate, beginning by contacting police.
We commissioned an independent investigation and appointed an independent adjudication panel of judges to review the findings of that investigation,” testified Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s former CEO.

Renney confirmed during the hearings that Hockey Canada had settled a civil lawsuit that the woman filed in April 2022, but he did not reveal the settlement amount.

In July 2022, Hockey Canada published a letter apologizing for it said was inadequate action regarding the assault allegations, and said it was reopening an internal investigation. Three months later, the organization announced its CEO and board of directors were being replaced.

CNN’s David Close contributed to this report.

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