TORONTO — A woman who has accused Peter Nygard of sexual assault told jurors at his Toronto trial on Wednesday that fear, shame, and concern that the fashion mogul could derail her career prevented her from coming forward for years following the alleged attack.
Nygard, the founder of a now-defunct international women's clothing company, has been accused of using his position in the fashion industry to lure women and girls.
The 82-year-old has pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in alleged incidents ranging from the 1980s to mid-2000s.
The Crown has said that all five complainants in the case are expected to allege that they were taken to Nygard's Toronto headquarters under pretences ranging from tours to job interviews, with all encounters ending in a top-floor bedroom suite, where they were sexually assaulted.
Jurors heard that the first complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, met Nygard for a Rolling Stones concert in Toronto in the late 1980s before being led back to the top-floor bedroom suite, where she alleged she was trapped and attacked. She was in her 20s at the time.
The woman testified Wednesday that feelings of shame, fear that she wouldn't be believed and concern that allegations against a powerful figure would destroy her career as an actress prevented her from coming forward immediately after the alleged assault.
She testified that during the alleged assault, she told Nygard to "put on a f--king condom," which she said limited the amount of physical evidence – another factor that prevented her from going to police.
"It would have been my word against the word of someone who was very well known, well established, who knew the prime minister, the ex-prime minister ... that was a very wealthy man and had resources," the woman, now in her 60s, testified.
"At the time there was still this mentality that you were looking for it."
The complainant said she decided to go to police about a decade later.
She said she was out for lunch with a friend in Toronto in 1998 when she noticed an article about Nygard in a tabloid magazine, and told the friend about what happened. The friend urged her to come forward, offering to connect her with his acquaintances in the Toronto Police Service, she testified.
She said that after visiting police headquarters to give her statement, a police officer called and told her Nygard's head of security had flown to Toronto to find out who spoke to police, causing her to drop the case later in 1998 out of fear.
"I panicked, I was afraid for my life," she told jurors. "I decided that I preferred to be alive, and that I didn't need to be right."
She told the jury that while on a yoga retreat in Bali, Indonesia, in 2020, she read an article in the New York Times about a U.S. class-action lawsuit against Nygard, and decided to contact the lawyers in that case and pursue charges in Toronto. She also said she joined the U.S. lawsuit.
“Following the #MeToo movement, things have changed in society, and I think that that type of behaviour … it’s time for it to stop," she said in court.
"A lot of people have been hurt by this, and I’m older, I’m not so afraid. It’s something that has tainted my life. I want to get it over with."
Nygard – sporting a black suit, tinted glasses and his long white hair tied back – watched the videoconference screen in front of him as the complainant testified, at times listening to his lawyers talk. He turned to face his defence lawyer, Brian Greenspan, directly during cross-examination.
Greenspan questioned the complainant on her motives for coming forward, suggesting she did so to receive incentives from those who initiated the class-action lawsuit, or compensation from the class action, which he said was more likely to be successful if Nygard was found guilty in Toronto.
Greenspan also pressed her on her source for the information that Nygard's head of security had flown to Toronto to find his accuser. She said the information had been given to her by Toronto police.
"So you were running on hearsay and rumours, unsupported and unsubstantiated, isn't that correct?" Greenspan asked loudly. "I suggest to you that all of what you just said is an outright lie ... that none of it is true."
The woman wiped away tears following the heated exchange.
Nygard founded Nygard International in Winnipeg in 1967, and stepped down as chairman of the clothing company in February 2020 before it filed for bankruptcy.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2023.
Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press