Experts accuse Peter Nygard of intimidation after he sues complainant for defamation

Vancouver actress April Telek is being sued by convicted sex offender and disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard for defamation, after she reacted in a CBC story to news he had been charged with sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. (Google Meet - image credit)
Vancouver actress April Telek is being sued by convicted sex offender and disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard for defamation, after she reacted in a CBC story to news he had been charged with sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. (Google Meet - image credit)

Representatives of convicted sex offender and disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard have served one of his accusers with a lawsuit in Manitoba.

Nygard was charged last July with sexually assaulting April Telek. A month later, he sued her for defamation.

Legal experts believe this is part of a growing trend of witness intimidation intended to have a chilling effect that might prevent other victims from coming forward with their own allegations.

"It's outrageous," said Toronto lawyer Gillian Hnatiw.

"If media reports are to be believed, there are many, many victims of Peter Nygard. And if … there are some waiting in the wings still and watching how this is unfolding, it could potentially silence those women."

Nygard, 82, was found guilty by a Toronto jury last November of four counts of sexual assault, in connection with assaults in Toronto during a period from the late 1980s to around 2005.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

He is also charged with one count of sexual assault and forcible confinement in Montreal. That trial will begin in January.

In addition, he is facing the sexual assault charge in Manitoba involving Telek.

Telek, who lives in Vancouver, said Nygard invited her to Winnipeg for a modelling job in 1993, when she was 20. Once there, she says he held her captive at his Notre Dame Avenue warehouse for days, drugged and repeatedly raped her.

In 2020, Winnipeg police investigated complaints from eight women that Nygard sexually assaulted them.

The Manitoba Prosecution Service initially said there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction and therefore charges wouldn't be laid. That didn't sit well with then justice minister Kelvin Goertzen, who sent the case to Saskatchewan prosecutors for review in December 2022.

They came back with recommendations to charge Nygard in Telek's case, which Winnipeg police did last July.

Telek reacted to the news in a CBC story published at that time. Nygard then sued her and CBC, claiming the story and her comments were defamatory.

WATCH | Nygard accuser served with defamation suit:

On top of having to testify in the criminal case against the convicted sex offender, Telek now has to hire a lawyer to fight the civil allegations, which could cost thousands of dollars.

Telek told CBC News she is reluctant to comment on this story because Nygard is already suing her for defamation.

"He is suing me, claiming that previous public statements I made damaged his reputation. The reputation of an individual who was already under investigation in multiple jurisdictions for sexual assault, who has since been found guilty by a jury," said Telek in an email to CBC News.

Therapist, advocate and author Shannon Moroney, who counselled some of Nygard's accusers for years, said she can't believe Telek is being sued for speaking out.

"What I find more shocking is that it's allowable," Moroney said in an interview with CBC News.

Submitted by Shannon Moroney
Submitted by Shannon Moroney

"I'm left wondering, how is this even possible? How is this not just the most blatant act of intimidation that somebody could carry out?"

Moroney doesn't believe alleged abusers should be allowed to sue their accusers until after criminal charges have been dealt with in court. She likens such lawsuits to an attack on victims.

"Everyone has the right to a vigorous and vibrant defence. But this is so far beyond that," said Moroney. "This is intimidation.… It's quite frightening."

Nygard not suing other accusers

The 2023 CBC story that quoted Telek also featured quotes from two other Nygard accusers — KC Allan and Serena Hickes — who also complained to police. Nygard was never charged criminally arising from those complaints.

He has not sued those women or any of the other women who have accused him of sexual assault.

It is a Criminal Code offence in Canada to intimidate a witness. Legal experts say the timing of the lawsuit against Telek is questionable.

"I can't think of another instance where a lawsuit like this has been commenced while the criminal proceedings are ongoing. It does seem to be an example of, or an attempt at, witness intimidation," said Toronto lawyer Hnatiw.

Winnipeg police say they "continue to provide support to the survivors of sexual assault" but can't comment further as Nygard's case is now before the courts.

Hnatiw said the lawsuit also speaks directly to the power imbalance between victim and alleged abuser.

Submitted by Gillian Hnatiw
Submitted by Gillian Hnatiw

"If you are the less-powerful person in the situation — you have, you know, fewer resources, less economic power — then the threat of being sued in the first place is often enough to intimidate and silence," said Hnatiw.

If the defamation lawsuit had been filed in British Columbia or in Ontario, Telek could ask a judge to toss it under legislation designed to prevent cases aimed at victims who speak out.

It's called anti-SLAPP legislation — short for "strategic lawsuits against public participation." Manitoba does not have the same laws.

"SLAPP lawsuits originated in the context of political protest and debate," wrote Dayna Steinfeld, co-chair of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, or LEAF Winnipeg, in an email to CBC News.

The lawsuits "have commonly been used to silence advocacy concerning sexual violence, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement," said Steinfeld.

In a typical defamation lawsuit, the burden lies on the defendant to show they didn't defame the plaintiff. Anti-SLAPP legislation shifts the onus to the plaintiff to show there is merit to their suit, which allows courts to dismiss frivolous claims at the early stages.

Manitoba Justice Minister Matt Wiebe says the misuse of lawsuits by powerful people or corporations to silence people is a threat to free expression, and also creates a burden on the courts.

"It can intimidate those who seek to expose abuse or wrongdoing," Wiebe said in a statement to CBC News, adding the Manitoba government is "currently exploring options to protect the public from these types of lawsuits."

Lawsuit has 'no merit': CBC spokesperson

Nygard's defamation lawsuit alleges the July 2023 CBC Manitoba article contains statements that "lower the plaintiff's reputation amongst his peers" and members of the Canadian public.

He is demanding CBC apologize, retract the article and remove it from all websites.

"The character and reputation of Nygard have been severely injured. Consequently, Nygard has and will continue to suffer significant loss and damage and irreparable harm," said the Aug. 23, 2023, statement of claim.

CBC News refutes that claim.

"As Mr. Nygard has already been convicted of four counts of sexual assault, we are confident a court will agree this lawsuit has absolutely no merit," wrote Chuck Thompson, CBC's head of public affairs, in an email.

"It is concerning to us that Mr. Nygard is allowed to sue Ms. Telek simply for telling her story to media, especially when her story has been corroborated by many other women who have had similar experiences with him," Thompson wrote.

Nygard's lawyer, Wayne Onchulenko, who is also the president of the Law Society of Manitoba, did not answer questions about whether the lawsuit is intended to silence or intimidate Telek.

Growing trend globally: researcher

Mandi Gray, an assistant professor of sociology at Trent University, says these types of lawsuits are "not just a Canadian-specific problem."

"It's really been identified as a more global trend," said Gray, who wrote a book about the issue called Suing for Silence: Sexual Violence and Defamation Law.

For her book, Gray examined 17 cases. Some of the victims had reported their abuse to police, their workplace or their school campus, but in other cases the victims had only told friends and family — but were still sued.


"If these lawsuits are to continue at the level and degree that they are happening, we're going to see not just a disappearance of larger public conversations about sexual violence, but also a fear of telling a family member or having conversations with friends or a trusted network of people about sexual violence," she said.

That's the exact opposite of what the #MeToo movement had intended, said Gray.

Nygard's sentencing hearing in his Toronto conviction is scheduled for May 14.

He is also facing extradition to the U.S. to face sex trafficking charges in the Southern District of New York, when his upcoming Canadian trials are complete. His lawyers appealed the extradition order last April and are still awaiting a decision from Manitoba's Court of Appeal.

No dates have yet been set for the Winnipeg trial.