Under a shroud of controversy, four esteemed players of the National Hockey League – goaltender Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, center Michael McLeod of the New Jersey Devils, forward Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames, and defenseman Cal Foote, also of the Devils – find themselves on the precipice of a daunting legal battle. The quartet has been instructed to present themselves to the authorities in London, Ontario, to face charges of sexual assault emanating from an incident purported to have occurred on a June night in 2018. This sobering directive comes as two knowledgeable sources relayed the developments to TSN, signaling a pivotal juncture in this high-profile case that has lingered in the periphery of the hockey world.
As the city braces for a press conference scheduled for Monday, where the London Police Service is expected to brief a rapt public, these players prepare to enter the fray of a complex legal situation. This escalation comes on the heels of a January report by The Globe and Mail which indicated that five players from Canada’s 2018 World Junior team were summoned to answer to charges. Former Ottawa Senator and current Swiss league player Alex Formenton already faced this procedural rite when he reported to police in late January.
Gary Ellis, a seasoned former head of the Toronto Police Service’s sex crimes unit, espoused to TSN the protocol that awaits the players: fingerprinting, a photo for the record, and an undertaking to maintain no contact with the complainant – these steps mark just the beginning of their legal journey.
At the heart of the case lies the grievous accusation that the five players, in the aftermath of a Hockey Canada Foundation function, committed sexual assault against a woman at a London hotel. The complainant, known in legal documents only as E.M., claimed that what began as consensual relations took a dark turn when additional men were illicitly invited to partake without her consent. While these grave accusations remain unproven in the halls of justice, they have cast a pall over the players’ careers and reputations.
Lawyers of McLeod and Dube have stepped forward, articulating their clients’ fervent intentions to plead not guilty. The storm has also swept up the Calgary Flames, Dube’s NHL team, who, through a statement, acknowledged the gravity of the charge laid against their player and cited their lack of prior knowledge. McLeod’s representation confirmed the charge and proclaimed his innocence, vowing a dogged defense in the case.
Hart and Foote, likewise, through their respective counsel, have echoed the sentiment of innocence and mounted an intention to clear their names in court, leaning heavily on the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise – a cornerstone of the Canadian legal system.
Initially dismissed by London police in early 2019 due to insufficient evidence, the case has since been blown wide open. Reports of a secretive $3.55-million settlement by Hockey Canada related to the incident stirred the public conscience, leading to parliamentary inquests and a tidal wave of backlash. Consequently, the NHL, as well as Hockey Canada, initiated their own examinations while London police reignited their once-dormant investigation.
Further compounding matters, and perhaps indicative of mounting evidence, a London police officer lodged a court document in late 2022, suggesting there was enough probable cause to believe that a sexual assault had indeed been committed by these individuals associated with the 2018 World Junior team.
The four aforementioned players, all currently 25 years old, find their careers paused as they take leaves from their respective teams amidst this legal whirlwind. Hart, in his sixth NHL season, is poised at the end of a lucrative contract. Dube sits similarly, while McLeod and Foote, the latter the progeny of NHL alum Adam Foote, face their own tumultuous paths, both in the spotlight and, imminently, in the courtroom.