'Names have to be named' in 2003 World Juniors sexual assault allegations, activist says

Catherine Laroche says she was sexually assaulted at a house party in 2015 by a major junior hockey player who later played in the NHL. She now works with male college and minor hockey teams in Quebec to educate players about issues such as consent. She also helps other women who have had similar experiences. (Etienne Bruyere/CBC - image credit)
Catherine Laroche says she was sexually assaulted at a house party in 2015 by a major junior hockey player who later played in the NHL. She now works with male college and minor hockey teams in Quebec to educate players about issues such as consent. She also helps other women who have had similar experiences. (Etienne Bruyere/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence.

Six months after Halifax police opened an investigation into an alleged group sexual assault after the 2003 World Juniors hockey tournament in Halifax, a victims' rights activist says well-paid current and retired NHL players are being protected — and she wants that to stop.

"I think that names have to be named," said Judy Haiven, a retired professor, social activist and founder of Equity Watch, a non-profit organization set up to fight discrimination.

"Those young men who were in the 2003 juniors, most of them, probably all but one that I know of, went on to play in the NHL."

In October, an NHL spokesperson told CBC News, "At this point, we are monitoring the 2003 investigation opened by the authorities in Halifax."

Haiven has gathered background information about the players on Team Canada's roster. Every team they've played for is listed and, although many are now retired, she said it's not hard to find many of them.

"If it's true that there is a videotape, and I believe that's true, I don't understand why these people haven't been outed yet," she said.

"My real concern is the hockey players. Right now, my real concern is stopping this from happening."

Karen Pauls/CBC
Karen Pauls/CBC

The Halifax investigation is one of three involving junior players in Canada between 2003 and 2018.

New court documents that include interview transcripts and search warrant requests reveal why police investigators say they have reasonable grounds to accuse five World Junior hockey players of sexually assaulting a woman in a London, Ont., hotel room in 2018. Some of the material in the 94-page package has been redacted, including the names of those involved and specific sex acts.

Halifax police opened its case in July after TSN first learned of an alleged video during the height of the Hockey Canada scandal over revelations that Hockey Canada settled sexual assault claims using money generated from registration fees.

"I seen a hockey player of the 2003 World Junior Team, a Canadian player, take a video camera and turn it towards himself and say, 'This is going to be a lamb roast.' There was five or six naked players all masturbating with one person having sex with a girl on a bed who seemed extremely intoxicated," said a man who says he saw the video in Halifax nearly 20 years ago.

CBC News has agreed to keep the man's identity confidential because he said he fears he could suffer negative repercussions, both professionally and personally

"I recognize two of the players and both of them went on to have NHL careers," the man said in an interview last August.

CBC News has reached out to players on that 2003 team. At least three who responded say that so far, they haven't been contacted by police.

The Halifax police won't say who investigators have interviewed, but Const. John MacLeod says the case is active.

"They're speaking with everyone that they need to in relation to the investigation so they can they can move this forward," he said.

MacLeod won't confirm if investigators have heard from an alleged victim, saying he doesn't want to taint the investigation. There's no statute of limitations, he added.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Investigations going back decades are difficult "whether that be from evidence that may or may not be lost or we're dealing with some memory with individuals that they might not remember specifics," he said.

"We're going to treat the victims and the individuals involved with respect and dignity and we want them to come forward so that we can help them in any way that we can."

"Any information, whether it comes from memory, whether that's evidence or anything we can have, if that's brought forward to us, it would be helpful," MacLeod said.

Hockey Canada's independent third party has also hired an investigator with the SportSafe Investigations Group to look into the allegations.

WATCH | Activist calls for more to be done around 2003 sexual assault allegations:

Ottawa lawyer Jennifer White said her mandate is to make factual findings on what happened, whether Hockey Canada knew about it, and if they did, what they did about it.

She hopes this World Juniors tournament will spark some memories and that people will contact her and provide information, especially if they are uncomfortable speaking with police. She can be reached at jwhite@sportsafe.ca

"Those 19-year-old junior hockey players are now in their late thirties, which of course brings a different perspective to things," she said in a statement.

"We really want to find out if anything happened and if it did happen, what happened?"

'She shouldn't be driven by that pressure'

Catherine Laroche can understand why the victim may not want to come forward.

"No one calls us. No one comes and asks if you're OK," the mother of two daughters said, sitting in a hockey rink in Terrebonne, Que.

Laroche knows exactly what it's like to report allegations of sexual assault involving a major junior hockey player who become an NHL star.

She says it happened at a house party in June 2015. She had two glasses of wine before going into a sauna with a young man.

She believes either a man who was also in the sauna or one of his friends spiked her bottle of water with GHB, a drug that has been linked to date rape cases.

"Someone took me into a room, had sex with me, and after that I was found unconscious beside a toilet bowl filled with vomit," Laroche said.

Etienne Bruyere/CBC
Etienne Bruyere/CBC

She went to police to make a report in 2020 but it was six months before a detective contacted her to make a videotaped statement. Ten months later, a new detective was assigned to the case but said she wouldn't start speaking with witnesses until January 2022.

Laroche ultimately decided to drop the allegations because going through the justice system wasn't part of her healing journey.

"I had an anxiety attack, you know, and it was like five years later, six years later," she said. "I'm scared. I'm scared of not being believed. I'm scared about what people will say."

Laroche now works with male college and minor hockey players, helping them understand the concept of consent.

Since speaking out, she has also heard from many women with similar stories to hers — although not the one in the alleged Halifax incident.

Her advice to that woman?

"It depends on her needs in her process. Like if she wants to create something out of it, if she wants justice, if she believes that her mission is to come out and to show other girls to share their voice, it really depends on what's vibing inside of her," Laroche said.

"It must be a lot of pressure, but she shouldn't be driven by that pressure. She should be driven by what speaks to her inside."

Back in Halifax, Judy Haiven hopes the alleged 2003 victim isn't being triggered by all the coverage of this tournament.

She and others have an online petition demanding that some of the profits go toward programs supporting survivors of sexual assault.