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Report: 5 members of Canada's 2018 junior hockey team to face sexual assault charges

Five players from Canada's 2018 world junior team have taken leaves of absence from their professional hockey clubs amid a report that five members of that roster have been asked to surrender to police in London, Ont., to face sexual assault charges.
Police in London, Ont., are not confirming a report that five members of Canada's 2018 world junior hockey team have been told to surrender to authorities to face charges of sexual assault. A London Police cruiser is seen in London, Ont., Friday, May 30, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Five players from Canada's 2018 world junior team have taken leaves of absence from their professional hockey clubs amid a report that five members of that roster have been asked to surrender to police in London, Ont., to face sexual assault charges.

Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote — both of the New Jersey Devils — and former NHLer Alex Formenton, who is now playing in Switzerland, all have been granted indefinite leave over the past four days.

The Globe and Mail, citing two unnamed sources, reported Wednesday the pending charges are connected to an alleged group sexual assault of a woman in a London hotel room.

The incident is alleged to have occurred following a Hockey Canada gala in June 2018, where the players were honoured for their victory at that year's world junior tournament. None of the allegations have been proven in court. 

The Flyers and Swiss club HC Ambri-Piotta cited personal reasons for Hart's and Formenton's leaves. The Swiss team also said Formenton has been allowed to return to Canada. The Flames cited Dube's mental health, while the Devils did not give a reason why McLeod and Foote were granted leave.

Messages left with the agents representing all five players were not immediately returned. The NHL, NHL Players' Association and Hockey Canada declined to comment.

Police in London would not confirm the Globe's report.

"We are unable to provide an update at this time," London police said in a statement. "When there is further information to share regarding this investigation, we will be in contact with media outlets."

Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General said Wednesday that no charges relating to the 2018 incident have been filed in court, and The Canadian Press has no information that connects the players' leaves to the investigation.

London police plan to hold a Feb. 5 press conference on the matter.

The Flyers announced Hart's leave of absence Tuesday in the aftermath of the 25-year-old coming off one of his worst starts of an otherwise strong season when he allowed five goals on 15 shots in a loss to Colorado before being pulled. General manager Daniel Briere said he didn't know if the situation contributed to Hart's recent play in any way.

"I really can't tell because we don't know anything," Briere said Wednesday. "We're not aware of anything. I think there's a lot of speculation. That's all we know."

Asked after practice in Newark, N.J., if the absences of McLeod and Foote were related to the report, Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said: "I don't know. I don't know."

A woman identified as E.M. in court documents filed a $3.55-million lawsuit in the spring of 2022 that was quickly settled out of court by Hockey Canada before TSN first broke the story.

Subsequent revelations that the national organization maintained a fund drawing on minor hockey fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including lawsuits related to sexual assaults, sparked an unprecedented backlash against the sport's governing body.

Hockey Canada's governance and transparency were subsequently called into question, leading to a series of parliamentary hearings.

Bloc Quebecois MP Sebastien Lemire, who was part of those hearings, said Canadians' faith in its institutions has been shaken.

"There is a whole question of trust," Lemire said in French in Saguenay, Que. "We expect charges, we expect to be able to turn the page on these alleged events from London in 2018. But there are still troubling elements that, for me, need further clarification.

"There needed to be political intervention for things to move ... sports are still in crisis, sports are still sick."

Hockey Canada officials testified to parliamentarians in June 2022 the organization had "strongly encouraged" — but not mandated — the 19 players at the London gala speak to its own third-party investigators.

The fallout was swift.

The federal government froze funding, while several corporate sponsors paused support. Hockey Canada reopened its third-party investigation in July 2022, adding that player participation was now mandatory.

The Canadian Press was first to report later that month Hockey Canada maintained a fund that drew on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.

After a string of disastrous Parliament Hill appearances in Ottawa, Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith left the organization in October 2022, the same day the entire board of directors resigned.

London police, meanwhile, closed an initial investigation in February 2019 without filing charges, but reopened the case in 2022. 

A lead investigator wrote in legal documents filed with Ontario courts in December 2022 there were grounds to believe a woman was sexually assaulted by five players on the junior team.

The NHL also launched its own investigation, which deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in June had concluded.

Along with Hockey Canada and the London police, that made for three separate probes into an incident that has cast a long shadow over the sport in Canada.

Hockey Canada said in November the findings of its independent third-party report are under appeal.

All players from the 2018 junior team have been excluded from international events.

A Hockey Canada official told a parliamentary committee during one of its 2022 hearings that the organization had paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual abuse and assault since 1989, not including the London incident.

Smith took on the additional title of CEO from the retiring Tom Renney on July 1, 2022, in the midst of the scandal, but was out three months later amid blistering calls for his resignation.

-With files from Thomas Laberge in Quebec City, Emilie Bergeron in Saguenay, Que., and The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2024. 


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press