The 62-year-old former manager of the Granite Curling Club has been accused of sexually abusing a mentally challenged male teenage employee during a staff Christmas party inside the historic, 133-year-old facility.
Winnipeg police began investigating the alleged December 2011 incident after being notified about it in September 2012. That nine-month delay is now the subject of controversy.
One of the so-called whistleblowers, Tonya Abrams, said she was told to keep her mouth shut when she first voiced concerns to Granite board members only days after the alleged attack occurred.
"I was basically told it was none of my business and to stay out of it," Abrams told the Free Press on Wednesday. She broke her silence this week now that police have formally charged the accused.
Paul Sveinson is charged with sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a person with a disability and sexual interference by touching the 15-year-old former Granite employee. A preliminary hearing has been set for next January. He is free on bail and no longer employed at the Granite club. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.
Abrams said she and other colleagues went to then-club president Frank Clark and other board members following the Christmas party, in which the teen employee was allegedly found shirtless in the sauna with the naked club manager. Abrams was working as a bartender at the Granite and said one of her male colleagues spotted the pair.
Clark refused an interview request Wednesday, referring all queries to his lawyer, Winston Smith.
Smith said Abrams has twisted the facts. He claims Granite board members took the allegations against Sveinson extremely seriously and did everything proper to determine whether they were legitimate.
Smith said Clark brought the parents of the alleged victim in for a meeting less than two weeks after the incident to discuss what they had been told was observed during the Christmas party.
"They reported back to us that nothing had taken place and that their son does not lie," Smith said Wednesday. Clark decided no further action was warranted.
However, a further meeting was set up with Abrams and other Granite employees to discuss the ongoing rumours making the rounds inside the club about Sveinson. A letter from Clark was later sent to staff in February 2012, which spoke of a Christmas party incident and how "there was simply a misinterpretation of what took place."
The Free Press has viewed a copy of the letter, which also asked staff to promise not to speak to club members about the supposedly false rumours that were being circulated.
Smith said Wednesday this meeting and letter were not meant to hide the truth, but simply to stop employees from potentially harmful gossip about an incident they believed at the time was unfounded.
"We said this gossip is very dangerous. We did what we had to do," said Smith. He admitted police also questioned him last fall about whether the club was trying to "interfere" with a potential investigation, which he refuted.
Abrams doesn't believe enough was done and questioned how legitimate the meeting with the parents really was and whether they were given a true picture of what supposedly happened.
"They didn't do an investigation. They did the opposite of what an investigation is," Abrams said Wednesday. "They were intimidating and bullying anyone who challenged them."
Abrams eventually quit her job in February 2012, saying she could no longer work in that environment. She said her only regret was not going to police sooner than last fall.
"There was no getting past their agenda. They were all about protecting the club over the rights of an innocent child," said Abrams.
Smith said he believes the parents came forward to police last September after getting different information from their son. As soon as they learned of the investigation, Sveinson was put on leave. He then resigned once the formal charges were laid.
"The club is so concerned about this. But they believe they acted accordingly," said Smith.
Abrams believes it was another club employee who initially contacted investigators last fall, which led to the interview of the parents and child and subsequent charges. She also co-operated by giving a formal statement.