Police in London, Ont., have launched an internal review of a sexual assault investigation that concluded without criminal charges in an incident in a hotel after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala in June, 2018.
The alleged sexual assault has been at the centre of a growing controversy that has engulfed Hockey Canada since it settled a lawsuit in May with a woman whose statement of claim accused eight Canadian Hockey League players of participating in the assault. Police said they would revisit the investigation a day after The Globe published details of texts and videos exchanged and recorded around the time of the incident.
The internal review will examine “what, if any, additional investigative avenues may exist,” London Police Chief Steve Williams said in a statement Wednesday.
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“To ensure due diligence, given the serious nature of this allegation, I have directed that an internal review of the investigation be conducted,” Chief Williams said. “The London Police Service is committed to thoroughly investigating all complaints of sexual assault.”
Chief Williams said the review will begin immediately. His statement did not detail who would be leading the internal probe. He added that there is no predetermined deadline for its completion.
In his statement, London’s police chief said he was aware of the significant public interest in the case. He said members of the force’s sexual assault and child abuse section conducted a “lengthy and detailed” investigation that began in June, 2018. The investigation was completed in February, 2019, with no criminal charges laid.
A public outcry has surrounded the case since the lawsuit was settled in May, as officials from Hockey Canada have been called to testify before Parliament and major sponsors have temporarily pulled their support for the organization.
In the civil lawsuit, the woman alleged that she went to a hotel room with one player and that seven others later entered the room without her consent and engaged in a range of sexual acts to which she did not consent. Throughout, she alleged, she felt an imminent fear of physical harm.
The lawsuit, which sought more than $3.5-million in damages, was settled on terms that were not disclosed and the claims have not been tested in court.
The woman’s lawyer declined to comment on the police decision to re-examine the case.
Seven unnamed members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team, who say they were never notified of the lawsuit and would have contested its allegations, have hired lawyers to represent them.
The Globe attempted to reach some of the players’ lawyers on Wednesday, but did not receive a response. The players’ lawyers have said previously that each of their clients fully cooperated with the London police investigation in 2018. Each player who was asked by police to give a statement or interview did so, the lawyers said. The players also provided police with videos and text messages recorded or exchanged around the time of the incident.
According to the lawyers, the lead detective for London police said in an e-mail in February, 2019, he had concluded that he did not have reasonable grounds to believe that a sexual assault had taken place.
The players deny wrongdoing and say that any sexual contact that took place was consensual, according to their lawyers.
Last week lawyers for the seven unnamed players met with The Globe and Mail and showed reporters a text message exchange between the female complainant and one of the players as well as two video clips taken on the night of the incident.
The lawyers said the videos show the sexual contact was consensual and that the complainant was not afraid or intoxicated, as she claimed. In her statement of claim, the woman alleged that she was directed to state that she was sober while being video recorded.
In a video clip, recorded around 4:25 a.m. on June 19, 2018, the woman is seen standing, covering herself with a towel in a hotel room.
“Are you recording me?” the woman asks. “Ok, good. It was all consensual. You are so paranoid, holy. I enjoyed it, it was fine. It was all consensual. I am so sober, that’s why I can’t do this right now.”
It’s not clear why the clip was recorded or what she was discussing.
In the text messages, sent a little more than a day after the alleged sexual encounter, a player asked the woman if she had gone to the police. The woman said it was her mother who had spoken to police against her wishes. She added that she was drunk that night and didn’t feel good about it afterward, but that she wasn’t trying to get anyone in trouble.
“I was ok with going home with you, it was everyone else afterwards that I wasn’t expecting. I just felt like I was being made fun of and taken advantage of,” the woman wrote.
The player asked the woman to revisit the situation with police.
“Can you please figure out how to make this go away and contact the police,” the player asked.
The woman replied saying she told police that she wasn’t going to pursue it and it was a mistake.
The woman did give a statement to police, according to the lawyers for the players.
In her statement of claim, the woman alleged she had been under pressure from the defendants – who are not named but are referred to as John Does one through eight – not to report them to police and not to co-operate with the criminal investigation.
The statement from London’s police chief stops short of a commitment to reopen the case. The chief declined an interview request and the media relations office said it could provide no further information beyond the statement itself.
The chair of London’s police services board, Susan Toth, said Wednesday that although police boards cannot comment on specific investigations or operational decisions, the board supports the chief’s decision to announce an internal review.
Ms. Toth said the police board will be discussing this matter “from a governance lens” at its next meeting in September. The board will also be reviewing the London police sexual assault investigation policy, she said.
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