Former world junior hockey players’ sex assault case adjourned to April

The sexual assault case against five former members of Canada’s world junior hockey team made its first appearance in a southwestern Ontario court Monday and is set to return at the end of April.

Ottawa Senators’ Alex Formenton during an NHL hockey game in Philadelphia, Friday, April 29, 2022; New Jersey Devils defenceman Cal Foote before an NHL hockey game in Newark, N.J., Friday, Oct. 27, 2023; New Jersey Devils’ Michael McLeod during an NHL hockey game in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023; Calgary Flames centre Dillon Dube during an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023 and Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart during an NHL hockey game in Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday, April 3, 2021. The five players from Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team are facing sexual assault charges. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum, Noah K. Murray, Matt Slocum, Paul Sancya, Corey Sipkin

Dillon Dube, Cal Foote, Alex Formenton, Carter Hart and Michael McLeod were not present in the London, Ont., court and their lawyers appeared by video.

The players were charged with sexual assault late last month. A court document shows McLeod is facing an additional charge of sexual assault for “being a party to the offence.”

Lawyers for the players have said their clients will defend themselves against the allegations.

The charges relate to an alleged incident at a hotel in London in June 2018. 

During a brief hearing Monday, prosecutors sought and obtained an order protecting the identity of the complainant, which is standard in sexual assault cases, as well as that of two witnesses.

Assistant Crown attorney Heather Donkers also said the players’ lawyers would receive “substantial disclosure” in the next few days. Disclosure is the evidence collected by the prosecution against the accused.

The case will be back in court April 30.

Later Monday, London police are scheduled to provide an update on their investigation.

The police probe was initially closed without charges months after the alleged incident but investigators reopened it in 2022.

Hockey Canada and the NHL, where four of the accused now play, also launched their own investigations. 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week the league would wait until the criminal case has concluded before commenting. Hockey Canada has not issued an official statement on the charges.

Dube plays for the Calgary Flames, Hart for the Philadelphia Flyers, McLeod and Foote for the New Jersey Devils. Formenton previously played for the Ottawa Senators before joining a team in Switzerland. All have been permitted to go on indefinite leave. 

Cases such as this one are part of a broader conversation about sports culture and masculinity,  said Michael Kehler, a research professor of masculinities studies at the University of Calgary.

Sports culture has traditionally praised a certain type of masculinity focused on dominance, control and violence, he said. 

“For a long time, you know, the messaging within sport culture has been, ‘this is what it means to be successful, this is what it means to get praise and to get promoted,’” he said.

“Sport associations need to change the message and they need to do this in a way that points out that we need to have greater transparency, we need to have greater honesty, and we need to create safer spaces for sport.” 

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