An image shattered Nygard's court appearance gives glimpse of man behind tanned, buff visage

The strangest part, as the man shuffled down the dimly lit hall, was the change of perspective.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2020 (894 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The strangest part, as the man shuffled down the dimly lit hall, was the change of perspective.

If you don’t run in the same circles as Peter Nygard, if you’ve never seen him in the flesh, then you are used to him looking down: from a billboard, for instance, or an oversized poster of himself affixed to a store wall, looking thick-armed and tan.

JOHN WOODS / FREE PRESS FILES In Winnipeg you are used to Peter Nygard looking down from a billboard.

For decades, everything around Nygard was big. The posters and the parties. The island in the Bahamas. The Boeing 727 with his name on the side in silver letters. The compound at Falcon Lake where he hosted events while he was still able to dodge sexual assault allegations, and to where he retreated this year when he no longer could.

That was part of the myth that he built. That is how he wanted us to see him. Larger than life and even larger than death, given his claims that stem cell treatment can eliminate disease and bring about immortality.

That should have been a warning: historical experience tells us to be wary of those who would claim themselves gods.

So set against that image, the moment Nygard made his first long walk down the courthouse’s second-floor hall was surreal, even a little jarring. If you hadn’t known who was coming, you wouldn’t have taken a second glance when he did. There was no fanfare. Nothing to mark him as famous. No coterie of assistants or much-younger women.

Just Nygard, escorted by two sheriffs, his ankles in shackles.

He looked defeated, and more than a little dishevelled. No fur coat, no flamboyant suit. Just socks under sandals, a Winnipeg Remand Centre-issued sweatshirt and trackpants, long grey hair tied up in a knot. Face slightly bowed towards the floor, and mostly hidden by a mask.

James Culleton / The Canadian Press A court sketch of fashion mogul Peter Nygard appearing in front of a judge in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Not a billboard. Not a monster. Just a man, 79 years old and, in the flesh, unremarkable.

This image of Nygard’s first court appearance in Winnipeg as the United States seeks his extradition on federal sex assault and racketeering charges was striking. It cut to the heart of what has been the problem with this story since the beginning: for so long, he seemed unassailable, protected by self-made myth, connections and money.

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But he was never anything other than a man, one who, by many accounts, was demanding, mercurial and egotistical.

This summer, several former employees recounted to me episodes of severe verbal lashings from Nygard to workers at his Winnipeg factories, marked by screaming so loud they could hear it between floors.

He got away with that, of course. He got away with a lot of things that stopped short of criminal. This society allows a great deal of space for powerful people to behave badly, so long as the cheques clear.

There are still many things we need to know about Nygard’s story, starting with this: who all enabled these behaviours to continue?

Over the years, reporters have tried many times to answer that question, and others. Law enforcement and courts have more leverage. As the U.S. federal government looks to prosecute Nygard for these charges, we may learn a great deal of things that could prove instructive, about how he evaded being called to account for so long.

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At least we can look at him as he is, now. One of the honourable aims of justice is to render equal that which society does not, though this is an ideal it often fails to achieve in practice.

Yet for those few moments in the court halls, and those hours in front of a judge, one could feel hope that truth will no longer languish in the shadow of myth.

A few minutes after Nygard entered the courtroom for his hearing, sheriffs escorted another man in handcuffs down the hall. He wore the same trackpants as Nygard, and the same formless grey sweatshirt.

I don’t know who he was, only that he was younger than Nygard, whose alleged crimes date to before that man would’ve been born.

In the end, they have come to the same place, though the former fashion mogul has resources at his disposal that the younger man has certainly never had, and probably never will.

Why it took so long for Nygard to get there, and face a court for the allegations that have long swirled around him, is something we still have to reckon with.

Peter Nygard plane at the airport. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS NOV 24, 2015
More women have added their names to a class-action lawsuit alleging rape and sexual assault by Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard. The Nygard headquarters is shown in Winnipeg, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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