Alleged victims of Peter Nygard who are Indigenous and live in Canada say their police complaints are being under-investigated and they are concerned that Canadian authorities are not looking at their allegations with as much interest as law enforcement in the United States.
It’s a situation that Shannon Moroney, a Toronto-based therapist who is treating the two women, called “appalling” and “embarrassing to Canada” especially after she claimed at least 20 criminal complaints have been made against the former fashion mogul in Canada.
She is calling on the RCMP to coordinate the complaints across the country. But the national police force has said they will not get involved unless they are directed by federal and/or provincial authorities. But the justice ministry has said they cannot direct the RCMP.
For the women waiting for their complaints to be investigated, it is a frustrating process.
In the 1990s, Inuk Serena Hickes was a young new mom living with her husband and son in Winnipeg deep inside of what she describes as a “perfect bubble.”
“I was a new mom, and I bet as new moms can get this, you love your child more than anything, but you need adults to talk to,” she said. “My husband at the time, you know he went to work everyday and my son and I were only going to converse so much here.”
She was hired at a Winnipeg retail store owned by Peter Nygard and she said she was thrilled when she got the part-time job at a local mall.
“I was surprised because the target of clients was women older than me and when I was told I would be wearing the clothes on top of it,” she said. “I was like ‘that’s interesting. OK, I will roll with it.’”
She described a female manager that would compliment her often. After a few weeks of her employment, Peter Nygard himself visited the store.
During that visit, her manager told Hickes to go and clean out the back dressing rooms, something that now strikes her as strange as it hadn’t been a busy day.
“It was the end of the shift you know everyone had left the store and really It was not a busy day,” she said, “The reason I say this is because it is kind of an important thing that I didn’t pick up on.”
As Nygard left the store, he said “I’ll see you in New York’.
“To this day, I still have no memory of how I got home. I just remember getting home and just taking everything off and just getting in the shower and I just, I threw up.” she said. “I didn’t think my husband would ever look at me again so I just never told him.”
She says one detail keeps coming back to her, the special outfit she was wearing.
“I knew I had to feel really strong and it was the favorite outfit that my husband actually had bought me. It was this beautiful purple skirt and white blouse and right down to mother of pearl necklace and earrings.”
Hickes says that when she went back to work the next day, there was a ticket to New York waiting for her.
“I told my husband at the time that I had met somebody because I didn’t want him to track me down,” she said. “I didn’t want him to try and get me back and he is the most amazing dad so I left them.”
Class Action launched in the U.S.
Peter Nygard, a fashion mogul is the subject of a class-action lawsuit where he is accused of sexually assaulting and trafficking dozens of women and girls, dating back to 1977.
The class action was filed by 10 women, referred to as Jane Does, in February 2020 and has since grown to include the allegations of 57 women in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
Hickes says she told her story to the class action lawyers but the suit has been put on hold as of August 2020 and the reasons for that decision are sealed. Hickes’ story did not make it into the court documents.
“The first time I ever said this out loud was July 2020 and it was to a lawyer,” she said. “I thought I had questions and I ended up phoning her and then just everything, just the whole of everything, everything just started falling out of my mouth.”
Nygard was indicted on nine charges including racketeering and sex trafficking by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in December 2020. According to a news release at the time, the charges relate to “a decades-long pattern of criminal conduct involving at least dozens of victims in the United States, the Bahamas and Canada, among other locations.”
Hickes says she went to Winnipeg Police service in July 2020 and is still waiting for the crown to contact her. She wonders why Canadian authorities are not acting on the Canadian complaints with the same urgency as their U.S. counterparts, especially when some of those complaints occurred in the same year as hers.
“Canada I have no faith in but the FBI for some reason I have faith in,” she said. “I think 100 per cent the police do not want to show their shameful side, They are failing. They are failing.”
Moroney, the Toronto-based therapist treating dozens of other class-action Canadian claimants, including Hickes through funding provided by Our Sanctuary, a non-profit organization in the Bahamas. She said it is “appalling” that there have been no Canadian criminal charges against Nygard as of yet.
“I think it’s incredibly important that Canadians be asking what has gone wrong here and what is going wrong,” she said. “Because now we do have a situation in Canada where to my knowledge close to 20 women have now given statements to police and he still has not faced Canadian charges.”
The Winnipeg Police Service, per their policy would neither confirm or deny an active investigation into Mr. Nygard and declined our request for an interview. Only the Toronto Police would acknowledge an active investigation.
Moroney said the alleged victims represent a particularly vulnerable demographic in Canada.
“When we look broadly at Indigenous experiences, Indigenous lived reality, those vulnerabilities are vast,” she said. “There are victims that were economically disadvantaged, educationally disadvantaged, and racially disadvantaged.”
Hickes said she just wants to be able to move on and getting her complaint investigated would help her reach that goal.
“My justice is going to be me getting better to find out who I am without this ten-ton boulder sitting inside of me as the biggest secret of my life.”
Nygard’s lawyers Jay Prober and Brian Greenspan have not responded to interview requests, and no allegations have been proven in court.
The 79-year-old Nygard was arrested in December last year in Winnipeg under the Extradition Act. An extradition hearing is set for Nov. 15 to 19 at the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench.
He remains in custody at the Headingley Correctional Centre west of Winnipeg, Man.
The Hope for Wellness Help Line is available to all Indigenous people across Canada who need immediate crisis intervention. Services are available in Cree, Ojibwe, Inuktitut, English and French. Call 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free).