The Sexual Assault Charges Against the World Junior Hockey Team – Five Things You Need to Know

Posted by  on February 16, 2024
The Sexual Assault Charges Against the World Junior Hockey Team – Five Things You Need to Know

Blog by Arun S. Maini

Anyone who follows hockey in Canada knows that five players from the 2018 world junior hockey team were recently charged with sexual assault against a woman in June 2018 in London, Ontario. The case has caused major repercussions throughout the world of sport and beyond, and reveals some changes in the way that sexual assault cases are perceived and handled in society today.

Our criminal lawyer, Arun S. Maini, has over 25 years of experience with sexual assault cases. He was quoted by TSN in their coverage of this news story.

There are a lot of questions and issues that this case raises, but here are five key points you need to know:

What are the allegations?

In June 2018 in London, Ontario, a young woman, E.H., went to a bar downtown, where she met member of the hockey team, who were celebrating after a gala event. There was a lot of drinking. She went back to the team’s hotel with one of the players and engaged in consensual sex in his room.

But afterwards, he allegedly texted some of his teammates to come to his room. For the next several hours, she engaged in sexual activity with a number of the players, while others watched. She says that she was drunk and that none of the sexual activity was consensual, other than with the player she first came to the hotel with.

There are video clips and text messages in which she states, in response to pointed questions from a player, that she was consenting to the sexual contact and that she was enjoying it. The initial player, with whom she had agreed to have sex with, texted her repeatedly the next day to ensure that she was not going to involve the police.

The young woman did go to the police the next day, and an investigation began. However, the case was closed a few months later when the police decided that they did not have a strong enough case to lay charges.

Why was the case re-opened?

The case against the players was re-opened for a few reasons, mainly due to the growing public awareness following the #MeToo movement, and greater media reporting of sexual assault and the low number of charges and convictions, that in the past, used to be registered in these cases compared to other types of offences.

A lot has changed since those days before #MeToo. Greater media exposure and public awareness, as well as changing attitudes towards unwanted sexual advances, have all contributed to new policies, procedures and laws about sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Complainants (who are often prematurely referred to as “victims” before it is determined whether a sexual assault occurred), are given more say in the process, and whose views about whether they would like the case to go to court are given more weight than ever before.

The police now operate under “zero-tolerance” policies which recommend that they assume that the complainant is telling the truth, and respond accordingly. This has led to a widespread increase in charges, as police have shifted from conducting detailed investigations to taking a statement from the complainant and then laying charges against the suspect. Instead of making tough judgment calls about whether a case is sufficiently solid to be prosecuted, the police are sending the matter to court to let others make that decision. (This is a somewhat simplified of the complex dynamics in these cases, but the data and our experience as sexual assault lawyers support this conclusion).

In the hockey case, the difference almost certainly lies with the fresh look the police took in 2022, following a great deal of publicity from the lawsuit the complainant filed against Hockey Canada and subsequent Parliamentary hearings. A simple shift in the investigative approach, from giving the suspect the benefit of the doubt, to giving it to the complainant, made all the difference.

Charges against the players, with all the publicity that will follow the case throughout the process, will shed light on what happened in the hotel room that night, and on some of the darker side of junior hockey and celebrity. This will also be an important moment of public education the likes of which we have not seen since the prosecution of CBC host Jian Ghomeshi several years ago.

Will the case go to trial or be settled?

This case will go to trial.

Each player will have to decide whether to challenge the allegations or try to resolve the case, keeping in mind that a conviction for sexual assault will mean not only a likely jail sentence (remember that these players were over 18 at the time and therefore adults) but the end of their hockey careers.

Each of the defendants has played in the major leagues and has the money to hire the best and most high-profile lawyers around.

The Crown recognizes this case as a very important moment in the public’s perception of the administration of justice when it comes to sexual assault cases. The defendants are young male heroes in Canada’s most celebrated sport. The government must be seen to be enforcing the law evenly, without bias or favoritism. Failing to take the matter to court when the complainant EH was willing and determined to seek accountability would have been an abdication of responsibility. Similarly, a quiet settlement of the charges for a reduced penalty would send the wrong message.

That means that the battle lines are drawn and this case will be hard-fought.

The only resolutions that will happen will be if a player agrees to cooperate with the prosecution and testify against his former teammates in return for immunity or a reduced penalty. Otherwise, expect the team to maintain a united front, which will give them the best chance of prevailing against the government’s case.

What will the legal strategy be?

The key to winning the case for the players will be to raise doubts about whether the complainant was consenting to the sexual activity in the hotel room.

On one hand, she was recorded as saying she was consenting, and that she was enjoying herself. On the other hand, she later said she felt fear and pressure to go along with what the players wanted, and being drunk, her judgment and ability to think clearly was impaired.

Every detail about this woman’s life will be scrutinized by investigators and lawyers looking for clues that might suggest that this woman is not credible, or that she had a motive to lie about not consenting. Some may try to suggest that she had a financial motive to go to the police and to file a lawsuit. Or that she felt hurt and rejected by the player she really had her heart set on, when he treated her as a one-time fling.

Expect the lawyers at trial to focus on the youth and immaturity of the players, and suggest that they were not really aware of what was going on, or that they believed the complainant was consenting. Not having a more mature adult’s awareness of the dynamics of a power imbalance between them and her, or being caught up in the momentum of the moment, they might not have been aware of the need to inform themselves and question whether what appeared at first glance to be consent really was consent.

The Crown will urge the judge (or the jury) to use common sense. A young woman who had agreed to sex with a single young man likely would not have immediately afterwards wanted sex with half the team in full view of the others. And being drunk and surrounded by a large number of tall, imposing naked men in a small hotel room may well have been a very intimidating experience. This is the nightmare scenario for many young women. However, the fact that most young women would not have been okay with this does not mean that this one young woman did not, in that moment. Perhaps she merely had regrets the next day when she sobered up. Or perhaps she did feel trapped and that she had no other choice but to comply with their sexual demands.

The Crown cannot force any of the defendants to testify, but they can and will do so for any players who were not charged, but were in the room or who have direct knowledge of the incident. The government will put maximum pressure on all of them and will count on one of them cracking and turning against their former teammates, shattering the common front they will try to create.

Will the players be found guilty?

That is a tough call to make at this early stage.

Many years ago, when the laws and policies and public awareness were different, a group of young hockey stars would not be convicted in the face of a young, impressionable woman who got drunk and seemingly chose to “fool around” with them. But surface appearances are no longer what counts in these cases: the test for consent places responsibility on the young men who decided to engage with her to make sure that she was ok with what was going on, and a video clip after the fact does not cut it.

Yes, the public and a jury may have sympathies for these healthy and attractive young men, the cream of Canada’s athletic ambitions. And the test for a verdict of Guilty is a tough one for the Crown to meet. But the people who will decide this case also have daughters and sisters and female friends, and almost any woman can relate to the feeling of being ogled and trapped and objectified by the leering of a group of drunk men egging each other on.

This case will bring out all of the different facets of a sexual assault case- the good, the bad and the ugly. It will certainly be a teachable moment for the public, which has become aware in recent years of the controversies surrounding these most complex and fraught cases.

Arun S. Maini at the Defence Group has over 25 years of experience with sexual assault cases. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges and need the advice of an experienced and skilled lawyer to help you through the legal process, call The Defence Group for a free consultation at 877-295-2830 or email us through the Contact Us link throughout our website.

Arun S. Maini is a criminal lawyer and former prosecutor with over 25 years of experience in the area of sexual assault.

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Arun S. Maini, lawyer and founder of The Defence Group, has practised criminal law since 1995. He’s a graduate of the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University Law School. After completing his articles at a Bay St. law firm, Mr. Maini joined the federal Department of Justice as a prosecutor of drug trafficking, tax evasion, and immigration fraud cases in Toronto, Brampton and Vancouver. In 1999, Mr. Maini transferred to the provincial Crown attorney’s office in Brampton, where he prosecuted a wide range of criminal offences, from theft to murder. In 2003, Mr. Maini left the government to establish The Defence Group. Mr. Maini handles all criminal offences and regulatory prosecutions.

Over more than 25 years as a criminal lawyer, Mr. Maini has prosecuted and defended hundreds of criminal cases, and has extensive jury trial experience. Mr. Maini has also lectured at The Advocates’ Society and has taught advocacy at the Law Society and Osgoode Hall Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy program. Maini appears occasionally in the media to comment on criminal law – see examples from the CBC, the Toronto Star, and the National Post.

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