TORONTO — Peter Nygard, who once led a women's fashion empire, was found guilty of four counts of sexual assault on Sunday but was acquitted of a fifth count, plus a charge of forcible confinement.
The jury at his trial in Toronto handed down the verdict on their fifth day of deliberations following a six-week trial. The 82-year-old Nygard — who appeared in court in a wheelchair with his hair tied back and sporting a long Canada Goose jacket over a hoodie and tinted glasses — stood stoically beside his lawyers as the jury read out each ruling.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Crown attorney Neville Golwalla thanked the jury, Toronto police and the complainants for what he called a "just result."
"This is a crime that typically happens in private and profoundly impacts human dignity. To stand up and recount those indignities in a public forum such as a courtroom is never easy and takes great courage," he said of those who came forward.
Nygard had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which stemmed from allegations dating back from the 1980s until the mid-2000s.
His lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said he'll be reviewing the verdict to determine whether it warrants an appeal.
"The jury has spoken and we now have to review the rulings that were made to determine whether or not there will be further proceedings," said Greenspan.
"Mr. Nygard is frail and has numerous health challenges, that will be part of the position taken when we come back in a number of weeks with respect to the sentence."
Five women – whose identities are protected by a publication ban – had testified that they were invited to Nygard's headquarters at 1 Niagara St. in Toronto under pretexts ranging from tours to job interviews, with all encounters ending in a top-floor bedroom suite where four of them were sexually assaulted.
Multiple complainants told the jury similar stories of meeting Nygard on a plane, at an airport tarmac or at a nightclub and then receiving invitations to come to the headquarters. All five women said their meetings or interactions with Nygard ended with sexual activity that they did not consent to.
Greenspan said the issue of similar fact evidence — which is evidence of a person's prior disreputable conduct unrelated to events before the court — was allowed by trial Justice Robert Goldstein and will inform whether an appeal is warranted, since it often dictates outcomes in cases like this one.
One of the complainants testified that Nygard wouldn't let her leave his private suite for some time, which led to the forcible confinement charge. Others also testified about feeling trapped in the suite, describing doors that had to be opened with a keypad code or the push of a button near the bed.
One woman testified that she was only 16 years old when she accompanied an older man she was dating at the time to Nygard’s headquarters, where she said Nygard sexually assaulted her before another woman handed her an emergency contraceptive pill on her way out.
Nygard testified in his own defence at the trial and denied all five women’s allegations, saying he didn’t even recall meeting or interacting with four of them. He insisted he would never engage in the type of conduct he was accused of, and said no one could have been locked inside his private suite under any circumstances.
At the end of the trial, the Crown argued that Nygard was evasive and unreliable in his testimony and the similarities in all five women’s stories showed a pattern in his behaviour.
The defence, on the other hand, argued that the complainants crafted a "false narrative" about Nygard and suggested their sexual assault claims were motivated by a class-action lawsuit against him in the United States.
Following the verdict, Kai Bickle-Nygard told reporters he had been trying to "blow the whistle" on his father since 2019, a decision he said came at great personal cost — including his reputation and inheritance.
An examination of the case shows voices being systematically silenced, he said, but also proves there is a path forward for victims of sexual abuse. He encouraged others to see if they "can find that strength" to pursue that path.
"It's not just about Peter Nygard. It's about examining the system, the laws and the rules to see where that problem was so that we can correct it for others in the future," he said.
"We are dealing with this systematic monster who used his business talents for evil to prey on others, and it's a very good thing that justice was served here. I hope everyone who's affected by this has a sigh of relief."
Shannon Moroney, a trauma therapist and survivor advocate for more than 50 of Peter Nygard's alleged victims, was seen outside the courthouse excitedly calling some of the complainants to break the news.
"It's relief, it's victory, it's joy, it's pain, it's disappointment ... This is a battle won in a much bigger war," she said.
"The message from the survivors who have the guilty verdict in their names share it not only with the one who didn't get the guilty verdict in this case, but with every other survivor, every other girl and woman who Peter Nygard has harmed, has stolen their lives and their years from."
Nygard is still facing criminal charges in three other jurisdictions.
He is accused of sexual assault and forcible confinement in separate cases in Quebec and Manitoba, related to allegations dating back to the 1990s. He is also facing charges in the U.S.
Nygard was first arrested in Winnipeg in 2020 under the Extradition Act after he was charged with nine counts in New York, including sex trafficking and racketeering charges.
The federal justice minister at the time had said Nygard would be extradited to the U.S. after the cases against him in Canada are resolved.
None of the charges against Nygard in those other jurisdictions have been tested in court.
Nygard founded a fashion company in Winnipeg in 1967 that ultimately became Nygard International. The company produced women's clothing under several brand names and had corporate facilities in both Canada and the U.S.
Nygard stepped down as chairman of the company after the FBI and police raided his offices in New York City in February 2020. The company has since filed for bankruptcy and entered into receivership.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2023.
— With files from Sonja Puzic
Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press