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Hockey Canada sexual assault case: Timeline of developments, what comes next

It has been a seismic couple weeks for Hockey Canada as five current or former NHL players surrendered to London, Ontario, police in connection to a sexual assault case from 2018.

The five players in question — New Jersey Devils forward Michael McLeod and defenseman Cal Foote, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart, Calgary Flames forward Dillon Dube and former Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton — were part of Canada’s gold medal-winning world junior championship team in 2018 that has been under investigation after a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the team in a civil lawsuit filed in 2022.

Each player turned himself into London police over the past several days to face charges pertaining to the police investigation. Lawyers for all five men confirmed to ESPN that their clients deny any wrongdoing, and will fight the charges brought against them.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters on Friday that the NHL had commissioned its own year-long investigation into the incident that included interviewing every player from the 2018 team. Bettman said the league will not release its findings until after the London police’s judicial process is finished.

An update on the case from London police is expected via news conference on Monday, Feb. 5.

It has taken nearly six years to reach this milestone in a case that has rocked Hockey Canada — the sport’s national governing body — to its core. Before the police provide further insight into the legal path ahead in Monday’s news conference, here’s a timeline of what we know so far, including when the alleged assault took place, who was involved and why that lag time exists between the alleged incident and finally identifying (and charging) the players believed to be involved.

Jan. 5, 2018: Buffalo, New York

Canada defeated Sweden 3-1 to win gold at the 2018 IIHF world junior hockey championships.

June 17-19, 2018: London, Ontario

Those two dozen World Junior champions were reunited five months later at the Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf Event, a prestigious and well-attended annual two-day fundraiser. Most of the players were given accommodations at the luxurious Delta Hotel London Armouries. The atmosphere was reportedly convivial from the start.

That first night — Sunday, June 17 — featured a team-only dinner for the players and staff of the 2018 team to recap and revel in their achievement.

The Hockey Canada gala began Monday, June 18. Players spent the day making public appearances around the city and attending a VIP cocktail hour before the official party opened at RBC Place London. There were more than 1,000 attendees packing the former London Convention Centre, and the night raised approximately $1 million.

The event wrapped up around 10 p.m. After that, several players reportedly went to Joe Kool’s, a sports pub on London’s vibrant Richmond Street, and gathered in a back room. From there, the group moved on to Jack’s, a bar that was reportedly packed (as usual) with a number of college students from several of London’s local institutes.

It was at Jack’s where a young woman — referred to in her 2022 statement of claim court filing as E.M. — met one of the players. He would be referred to in her filing as John Doe 1. Per that statement of claim, the woman became increasingly intoxicated before ultimately leaving the bar with John Doe 1 and returning with him to the Armouries hotel. There, the two “engaged in sex acts.”

Afterwards, John Doe 1 invited teammates into the room without the victim’s consent. In her statement of claim, she said that the players made her touch herself and perform oral sex on them and that they engaged in vaginal sex with her without her consent. When she attempted to leave the room, she was “directed, manipulated and intimidated” into remaining there and came to fear for her physical safety when players brought their golf clubs into the room.

Before the woman finally left, she reportedly was coerced into making a pair of videos in which she stated everything that happened was consensual.

The next morning — Tuesday, June 19 — the players teed off at London Hunt & Country Club to cap off Hockey Canada’s gala festivities. Meanwhile, according to a later Parliamentary testimony from former Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, the victim’s then-stepfather called Hockey Canada’s human resources department to report the alleged sexual assault that occurred.

Renney testified that he and Hockey Canada president Scott Smith learned of the alleged assaults when they arrived back in Calgary from the gala. They subsequently reviewed the information they had with Hockey Canada’s risk management and insurance partners. From there, Smith said a representative of Hockey Canada contacted London police; players were also informed an investigation would be taking place and they were advised to cooperate.

Hockey Canada officials maintained that they did not know which players were allegedly involved in the assault. Neither Henein Hutchison LLP (the governing body’s law firm) nor London police confirmed those identities at the time. Hockey Canada claims it informed Sports Canada of what allegedly happened, and commissioned its own third-party investigation — via Henein Hutchison — into the matter.

February 2019

London police informed Hockey Canada that its criminal investigation was closed. Hockey Canada claimed the woman in question declined to speak with authorities or their investigators. No charges had been filed at this stage.

September 2020

Hockey Canada closed its own third-party investigation into the matter.

April 2022

The victim filed her statement of claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight players “including but not limited to members of the Canada U20 Men’s Junior Hockey Team from the 2018 World Junior team.”

May 2022

Hockey Canada settled its case on behalf of the defendants, reaching an out-of-court settlement with the woman for an undisclosed amount. Scott would later testify that Hockey Canada liquidated investments in order to complete the settlement.

Later that month, Renney contacted Canada’s former Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, to tell her that Canadian news outlet TSN would be breaking a story about the court filing and subsequent settlement. St-Onge maintains this was her introduction to the alleged incident and the court case that came afterwards.

On May 26, TSN reporter Rick Westhead broke the news of the woman’s allegations and lawsuit against the contingent of players, and that she had accepted a settlement in the matter.

June 2022

After news of the alleged assault and the court case was made public, St-Onge ordered an audit of Hockey Canada to ensure no public funds were used in the settlement.

By mid-month, Renney and Smith were brought before members of Parliament during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting to discuss Hockey Canada’s response to the incident in question. Both testified that 19 players were “encouraged” but not required to speak with the governing body’s third-party investigators. They also added that the identities of those eight players in the court filing remained unknown to them.

St-Onge announced from there a freeze on Hockey Canada’s federal funding until the findings of a third-party investigation were completed.

Several high-profile sponsors — including Scotiabank, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons and Esso — began distancing themselves from Hockey Canada. At the same time, multiple players from the 2018 world junior team began releasing statements denying they were involved in the alleged assault.

On June 30, Renney retired as Hockey Canada CEO. He had previously released a succession plan in April that had Smith set to take over the role on July 1. Smith did so, while remaining president of the federation.

July 2022

Hockey Canada revealed via open letter that it would reengage the previous third-party investigation into the 2018 incident, and that participation by all players from that team would be mandatory, or else they’d face a full ban from future Hockey Canada activities.

Hockey Canada also became a signatory to the country’s Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which is able to independently investigate abuse complaints and impose sanctions. The governing body also said it will be requiring sexual violence and consent training for all its employees and players connected to high-performance programs, and that a third-party review of the organization’s governance would be conducted.

On July 18, the Canadian Press reported Hockey Canada had been maintaining a fund of minor hockey membership fees that it used to pay for uninsured liabilities. That included sexual assault claims. The following day, Hockey Canada confirmed via public statement the existence of that fund — called the National Equity Fund — which covered “a broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives.” Hockey Canada quickly announced from there that the fund would no longer be used to settle sexual assault claims.

While Hockey Canada was explaining itself, the London police announced an internal review of its own investigation from 2018.

October 2022

Smith was forced out as CEO of Hockey Canada, and its entire board of directors resigned. An interim management committee was established to guide the organization until a new board was elected.

November 2022

Hockey Canada received a final third-party report from Henein Hutchison LLP.

April 2023

St-Onge announced Hockey Canada’s federal funding had been restored.

“I set three conditions for them, they’ve met those three conditions,” St-Onge said. “It was so that the proper change was implemented in the organization.”

July 2023

Katherine Henderson was announced as the new Hockey Canada president and CEO.

November 2023

Hockey Canada revealed it had received and reviewed findings from that third-party investigative report, and that the results were under appeal.

“That [previous] hearing is complete,” Hockey Canada said in a statement. “The panel has provided its final adjudicative report to all involved parties. Shortly thereafter, a notice of appeal was filed, as is permitted under Hockey Canada’s Investigation and Adjudication Procedures.”

The statement did not say who asked for the appeal and whether it was more than one person.

In addition, the release said that an independent judicial panel held a hearing to determine whether and how players from that 2018 world junior team had breached the governing body’s code of conduct and debated possible penalties.

All players from that 2018 team remained suspended from any programs until the appeal process was completed.

January 2024

The Globe and Mail reported five players from the 2018 team were asked to surrender themselves to London police.

Prior to that news breaking, Formenton and Dube had already been taking leaves of absence from their respective teams. McLeod, Foote and Hart would quickly do the same.

Lawyers for all five players released statements maintaining the players’ innocence in the matter.

The London police announce a news conference will be held with media on Feb. 5 to provide an update on the investigation and what next steps will be taken therein.

What’s next?

Each of the NHL teams with players involved in the case have declined comment beyond the fact that the players have been granted indefinite leave. The NHL and NHLPA have also declined to make any substantive comment, as they await new information.

Following Monday’s news conference, it is expected that a statement will be made at the league level.

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