News

Two face sex assault charges; lawyer for other members says case has tarnished their reputations

Photo: Marta Kierkus

A lawyer representing former members of the University of Ottawa men’s hockey team announced they are filing a class-action lawsuit seeking a total of $6 million in damages from the university and its president Allan Rock.

Lawrence Greenspon, who represents more than half the former team, not including the two members currently facing charges, told reporters at a press conference Jan. 13 that the university tarnished the reputations of all the players by suspending the team following revelations of an alleged sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is a serious crime, but since offenders carry a huge stigma, it is particularly important to make sure that innocent people aren’t accused,” said Greenspon.

News broke last March that some players had allegedly sexually assaulted a female Lakehead University student while the team was in Thunder Bay for two games.

In the wake of the news, the university administration fired head coach Réal Paiement, suspended the team for the current season, launched an internal investigation on the incident, and created a taskforce to report on the state of sexualized violence on campus.

In August, Thunder Bay police charged two men with sexual assault: captain Guillaume Donovan and assistant captain David Foucher.

The lawsuit states that when the university was notified of the allegations, president Rock “knew or ought to have known the identities of the two named team members,” and that his decision to suspend the entire team cast a “dark shadow of suspicion over all of the team players.”

The legal documents state the players suffered anxiety, harassment, saw their grades drop, and were barred from athletic functions. Several members were not allowed to attend their graduation ceremonies, and lost summer jobs.

Greenspon, also a U of O alumnus who graduated from common law in 1978, said the university has also hurt its own reputation by handling the situation the way it did.

He said he expects the lawsuit to take up to seven years to resolve.

Andrew Creppin, 24, the representative plaintiff in the suit, said he feels the way the university has handled the case has already negatively impacted his future success, and that he will forever be looked down upon.

“It was hard for us to even wear our coats out in public without being ridiculed,” said Creppin.

The documents state that on the night of the alleged assault, Creppin and three other members took teammate Stephen Blunden, who had fallen ill, to the hospital, and were not in the hotel. The documents say the illness could be due to excessive alcohol consumption, but Greenspon and Creppin refused to provide further comment.

When they returned to the hotel they learned they had missed a team meeting led by head coach Real Paiement at 4 a.m., where he informed the team about the alleged complaints, according to the documents. Blunden, alongside Donovan and Foucher, received three-game suspensions.

Reached for comment after the press conference, the university said it had not yet been served any documents regarding legal action and would review them when they do.

In a statement in August, Rock defended the decision to suspend the team which he said was made based on recommendations from an independent report and not solely as a result of the police charges.

The U of O launched an internal investigation, which resulted in two reports.

The first led by investigator Steven Gaon, which found that while the allegations of excessive drinking and sexual misconduct were an isolated incident, the behaviour of some players failed to meet university expectations for varsity athletes.

The second report conducted by two external experts in university sports management recommended the creation of student-athlete behavioural guidelines, the establishment of an ethics, and discipline committee, and the creation of a code of conduct for the wider student body.

Foucher and Donovan last appeared in court Jan. 13, when their case was pushed to a later date. Local duty counsel said the defence was still waiting for evidence to be made available.

Their next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 10.