Skip to main content


Players will cooperate in NHL’s abuse investigation, lawyers say

Hockey Canada jersey Hockey Canada jersey - Getty Images

Content Warning: The following article contains references to sexual assault.

(Clarification: Lou Strezos, a lawyer for the former Canadian Hockey League players accused of sexual assault, clarifies that it was investigators for Heinen Hutchison were made aware in 2018 of players who were represented by counsel. In a July 13, 2022, letter to Hockey Canada, Strezos and co-counsel Kaleigh Davidson wrote that Hockey Canada was aware in 2018 of the players' identities. Strezos says that is incorrect. He said he does not know whether Hockey Canada officials have ever been aware who the players involved were.) 

Lawyers representing a group of former Canadian Hockey League players accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2018 say the players will cooperate with the National Hockey League’s investigation into the incident and that the league should not discipline the players because any sexual contact between the players and the woman was consensual.

“Our clients will fully participate in the NHL investigation,” attorney Kaleigh Davidson said in an interview with TSN on Sunday. “Interviews are currently in the process of being arranged.”

While the players have pledged to speak to the NHL about the allegations, Davidson and other lawyers representing the former CHL players declined to say whether the players also will cooperate with a separate Hockey Canada investigation, even though the players face a possible lifetime ban from the organization for refusing to do so.

Hockey Canada announced Thursday that it is reopening its investigation into the alleged assault and the woman involved in the case has said she will cooperate.

Davidson said that the NHL should not discipline the players involved.

“That would be a very dangerous precedent to set,” she said. “If players can be sanctioned for engaging in consensual sexual activity, the question becomes where do we draw the line? Employers should not be making judgment calls about what consensual sexual activity is acceptable based on perceptions about what fits within highly personal and subjective social norms, particularly when these norms change over time.”

The NHL has informed attorneys involved in the case that the league wants its investigation to wrap up before team training camps open this fall, a source said.

Davidson and Louis Strezos are among a group of 13 criminal defence lawyers who represent seven hockey players connected to a sexual assault lawsuit that has shaken the hockey world in recent months.

In a lawsuit that was filed in April and settled weeks later, a woman referred to as “E.M.” in court documents alleged that eight Canadian Hockey League players, including at least some who were members of Canada’s 2018 World Juniors hockey team, assaulted her for hours in a London, Ont., hotel room following a Hockey Canada event in June 2018.

The woman alleged the players then pressured her to shower also directed her to make a recorded statement saying she was sober and had had consensual sex with the players. She also alleged the players pressured her not to make a complaint to police or cooperate with any criminal investigation.

The woman’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

While the lawsuit was settled and no criminal charges have been laid in the case, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is investigating Hockey Canada’s response to the alleged assaults and the subsequent lawsuit filed against Hockey Canada, the CHL, and eight players referred to as John Does 1-8.

After Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and then-chief executive Tom Renney testified before the committee on June 20 – Renney retired from Hockey on July 1 and Smith is now the organization’s CEO – the committee ordered two more days of hearings, which are scheduled for July 26 and 27.

Strezos and Davidson wrote Hockey Canada a 10-page letter on June 13, demanding that the organization inform the committee when it reconvenes that Smith and Renney provided “a false and misleading” narrative during their June 20 testimony about how the organization settled the lawsuit filed earlier this year by the alleged assault victim.

Strezos and Davidson demanded in their letter that Hockey Canada inform committee members that their clients never refused to cooperate with investigations by London police or Heinen Hutchison, a Toronto law firm hired by Hockey Canada to probe the allegations. The lawyers say that any sexual contact between the players and the woman was consensual, and that Hockey Canada should seek an assurance from the committee that the identities of the players will not be disclosed in any documentary evidence.

Hockey Canada wrote in a statement that it stands by its decision to reopen its investigation into the alleged sexual assault.

“Hockey Canada’s decisions throughout this process have been taken independent of the players and will continue to be taken independent of the players to protect the integrity of the investigations and to ultimately reach the right outcomes,” the organization wrote in a statement to TSN. “Our hope is all players will participate in the reopened investigation. If not, they will face a lifetime ban from all Hockey Canada activities and programs. We will continue to co-operate and work with the government of Canada and the Heritage Committee to answer questions about what took place in 2018, the decisions we have taken since and our plans to be a leader in improving hockey for everyone.”


In their letter to Hockey Canada, Strezos and Davidson wrote that Smith and Renney’s testimony “provided the public with a false and misleading narrative of the settlement of the E.M. claim. COO Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney suggested that HC had notified the players of the claim through their representatives, and/or teams. That is simply untrue and nothing has been said by HC to the contrary either publicly or on HC’s website.”

Strezos and Davidson wrote, “At no time did HC notify the players of the E.M. claim and seek their input into the veracity of the allegations. Instead, it chose to unilaterally settle the claim, and, presumably, obtain release(s) and a non-disclosure agreement. The players never had a chance to challenge the very serious allegations that were made. HC’s public statements on the matter, including those before the Committee, have created the impression that the allegations should be accepted as the truth, when in fact they are quite the opposite. [Hockey Canada] was well aware of the players that were represented by counsel during both the Henein Hutchison LLP and criminal investigation. At no time did [Hockey Canada] provide counsel with a copy of the E.M. claim or even inquire if counsel could accept service thereof. Indeed, we had to obtain it from the court in London after we learned it had been settled.”

Strezos and Davidson wrote to Hockey Canada that their clients are “now in an impossible position.”

“E.M. chose to make her demonstrably untrue allegations anonymously and to keep the players’ identities anonymous,” they wrote. “[Hockey Canada] then unilaterally settled the claim both on its own behalf and on behalf of eight unnamed players referred to as John Doe’s. The result is that our clients have been deprived of the ability to meaningfully challenge E.M.’s false allegations without revealing their identities. Further, there is the real risk that our clients’ identities will be revealed during the ongoing Committee hearings, possibly by [Hockey Canada] itself, in the production of its interim report, or otherwise. In the current environment, where the false allegations in the E.M. claim are being taken as true, this would cause incalculable and irreparable damage to our clients’ reputations and careers.”

Attorney Michelle Psutka, who also is part of the legal team representing the seven hockey players, said in an interview that two videos were made on the morning of June 19, 2018. The first video is six seconds long and was filmed at 3:30 am and the second video is 12 seconds and was filmed at 4:30 am, she said.

She declined to comment on the content of the videos.

“It's our perspective that the video has to be viewed because a mere verbal description without viewing the video will not provide an adequate description,” Psutka said.

Davidson said London police were provided with copies of the videos in July 2018 and that Heinen Hutchison investigators were allowed to view the videos during the same time period, but were not provided with digital copies of them.

Strezos and Davidson wrote in their letter to Hockey Canada that a detective from the London Police Service’s sexual assault and child abuse section conducted an investigation for eight months and that each of their clients who was asked to do so cooperated with the investigation.

When the police investigation began, attorneys with Heinen Hutchison agreed in an August 20, 2018, email to the players’ lawyers to put the Hockey Canada investigation on hold. 

After the criminal investigation was purportedly closed on Feb. 6, 2019, with no charges being laid, the players’ attorneys did not hear again from Heinen Hutchison, Davidson said.