After conducting an investigation that was closed and later reopened, London, Ontario police announced Monday that it charged Carter Hart and four other players from the 2018 Canadian world junior team with sexual assault.
The alleged sexual assault took place on June 18, 2018, in downtown London. The players were in town for a Hockey Canada event, honoring the under-20 team's gold medal performance at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The Devils' Michael McLeod has been charged with two counts of sexual assault.
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Hart, the Flyers' 25-year-old goaltender, has been charged with one count of sexual assault, as has the Flames' Dillon Dube, the Devils' Cal Foote and Alex Formenton, a former NHLer now playing in Switzerland.
Savard Foy LLP, Hart's legal representation, confirmed last Tuesday that he had been charged with one count of sexual assault.
"He is innocent and will provide a full response to this false allegation in the proper forum, a court of law," it said in a statement. "Until then, we have no comment."
In April 2022, a lawsuit was filed against Hockey Canada, alleging that members of the 2018 world junior team sexually assaulted a young woman in June 2018. The lawsuit reached a settlement between Hockey Canada and the woman, according to a May 2022 story by Katie Strang of The Athletic.
London Police Service's initial investigation lasted from June 2018 to February 2019. It was concluded without charges, London police chief Thai Truong said Monday.
"It was determined by investigators at that time that there were insufficient grounds to lay a charge," Truong said at a press conference streamed on London police's YouTube channel.
A comprehensive review was initiated on July 20, 2022, reopening the investigation as more evidence was gathered.
For the length and complexity of the investigation, Truong, on behalf of the London Police Service, extended his "sincerest apology" to the woman who was allegedly assaulted.
"I want to recognize and acknowledge the victim," Truong said, "for her courage and her incredible strength throughout.
"I cannot discuss details that are now part of the case before the courts. I assure you that I will provide more information once these legal proceedings allow."
The case made its first appearance in court Monday and, according to the Canadian Press, will return April 30.
"The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a cornerstone of our justice system and it applies to the five accused," Truong said. "But right now, our organization is focused on supporting the victim and upholding the integrity of the criminal trial process. Today's charges are a critical, critical step as we move forward."
London detective sergeant Katherine Dann, of the sexual assault and child abuse section, read a statement from the legal representative of the woman allegedly assaulted, identified as E.M.
"It takes an incredible amount of courage for any survivor of sexual assault to report to the police and participate in the criminal justice system. That is certainly true for E.M., yet she remains committed to see this process through. We simply ask that the media and others respect her privacy and her dignity as this matter proceeds through the court process."
Citing personal reasons, Hart was granted an indefinite leave of absence from the Flyers on Jan. 23. Dube, McLeod, Foote and Formenton have also stepped away from their respective clubs.
"We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public," Flyers general manager Danny Briere read in part of a statement Jan. 24. "The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation-related questions to them. In the meantime, members of the organization, including Flyers players, will not be commenting any further."
In part of a statement Monday, Hockey Canada said it "has cooperated fully with the London Police Service throughout its investigation" and is "committed to continuing to support the legal process."
The NHL opened its own investigation in May 2022, stating it would "endeavor to determine the underlying facts and, to the extent this may involve players who are now in the NHL, we will determine what action, if any, would be appropriate."
At the All-Star festivities last weekend in Toronto, commissioner Gary Bettman gave clarity on the league's 12-month investigation and its position moving forward.
"Our investigators reviewed volumes of information and conducted interviews of all players on the 2018 team as well as other relevant individuals who were willing to participate in an investigation," Bettman said, via NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "We had concluded the investigatory portion of our process to the extent we could, and we were working with the NHL players' association to analyze the information we had, create a process to move forward and then determine what was an appropriate response when the news of the impending charges broke last week.
"There is a serious judicial process that looks like it's unfolding and we didn't, while we were doing our investigation, want to interfere with what the London Police Service was doing and we're not going to do anything to interfere or influence the judicial proceedings. We're all going to have to see how that plays out and we will then be in a position to respond appropriately, which we will do."
In September 2022, Hart said he was "fully cooperating" and "respecting the process" with the NHL's investigation.
"I can't really talk about it right now," Hart said then. "I wish I could. … But that's all I can really say."
He reiterated those comments last April at his end-of-the-season press conference.
"I can't talk about it right now," Hart said. "I wish I could, but not until it's over."
Hart will be a restricted free agent after this season. He's in the final year of a three-year, $11.937 million contract.