Former Winnipeg minor hockey coach charged in decades-old sex assaults

A Winnipeg lawyer has been charged with sex and child pornography crimes, nearly 30 years after he allegedly exploited two teenage hockey players.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2021 (635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg lawyer has been charged with sex and child pornography crimes, nearly 30 years after he allegedly exploited two teenage hockey players.

In June, Winnipeg police investigators were contacted separately by the complainants, who were in their early teens at the time of the alleged abuse. They told police they had been sexually assaulted by a coach while playing in the Assiniboine Park Hockey Association between 1993 and 1995.

The pair allege they were separately invited to the suspect’s residence, where they were given money and alcohol and subsequently sexually assaulted, police said Thursday. They told investigators the incidents were photographed and videotaped.

The alleged victims were abused on more than one occasion, said Winnipeg police Const. Dani McKinnon.

“It was an ongoing scenario,” she said.

The alleged victims were abused on more than one occasion, says Winnipeg police Const. Dani McKinnon. (David Lipnowski / The Canadian Press)

At the time, children as young as 13 were playing in the hockey association.

The two reported the abuse separately, but given the time frame, it’s possible they knew each other, McKinnon said.

“There is a possibility there are other survivors who were involved in the hockey league during that time frame,” she said.

Investigators notified the Assiniboine Park Hockey Association about the alleged abuse and subsequent charges, McKinnon said, adding it was unclear why the alleged victims chose to come forward now.

“These types of cases are extremely sensitive, they are very nuanced, they are very personal and private,” she said. “I think just the fact that they came forward when they did is quite remarkable.”

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy — whose own high-profile disclosure of sexual abuse more than 20 years ago helped secure the imprisonment of his former junior hockey coach, and sexual predator, Graham James — said feelings of shame, guilt and the power imbalance between victim and abuser all work to silence victims.

“Look at how a teenage boy or girl looks up to their coach or teacher; we know they look up to them way more than their parents, and all of a sudden the (abuser) is befriending them,” Kennedy said in an interview Thursday.

Feelings of shame, guilt and the power imbalance between victim and abuser all work to silence victims, says former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, a victim of Graham James. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The alleged victims “were probably hoping this would go away in their lives, and it probably hadn’t. They probably hoped they would be able to move on… but the reality is you don’t and you can’t unless you address (the abuse),” he said.

“It doesn’t always mean coming forward and being public about it, but there has to be action… maybe these two individuals recognized that.”

On Wednesday, police executed a search warrant at a residence on the first 100 block of Lake Park Drive and arrested Robert (Bob) Donald Joseph Dawson, 57.

The Winnipeg resident is charged with two counts each of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, forcible confinement, and making, printing, publishing child pornography or possessing it for the purpose of publication.

He remains in police custody.

Dawson, a University of Oxford graduate, according to his law firm’s website, was called to the bar in 1991, and practices in the area of civil litigation and administrative law.

He has not yet been formally suspended, Law Society of Manitoba chief executive officer Leah Kosokowsky said Thursday afternoon.

“This is an unfolding situation,” Kosokowsky said.

The Law Society worked with Manitoba Public Prosecutions and police to maintain the confidentiality of Dawson’s clients during the execution of a search warrant at his home. An independent lawyer ensured the warrant and related procedures were executed in a fashion that will protect solicitor and client privilege, Kosokowsky said.

The alleged home of Robert Dawson, which was raided by police on Wednesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“As Mr. Dawson is a sole practitioner, the Law Society is closely monitoring the situation and will take steps to protect his clients’ interests in upcoming matters, where necessary.”

Lake Park Drive is a quiet street in the Southdale area, lined with deep, well-kept lawns.

Most neighbours declined comment to the Free Press; none said they knew Dawson personally. No one answered the door at the house police raided Wednesday.

Police, including at points what appeared to be the tactical unit and an identification van, along with an ambulance, were at the home from about 10 a.m. until after 11 p.m., said one neighbour who requested his name not be used.

“They were in and out of the house the entire day and into the night,” said the resident, who moved onto the street earlier this year.

“I’ve never even seen (Dawson). He kind of kept to himself, I guess.”

It’s unclear when Dawson stopped coaching with the Assiniboine Park Hockey Association.

“His involvement in our program is nearly 30 years ago and pre-dates our current database system, so we do not have the details of his length and nature of service to the organization,” Ian McArton, executive director for Hockey Winnipeg, wrote in a prepared statement.

“These charges are extremely serious and very troubling to the volunteers, members and staff of Hockey Winnipeg. On behalf of Hockey Winnipeg’s executive, we are hopeful that justice is served in this case.”

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.


Updated on Thursday, September 2, 2021 2:08 PM CDT: Press conference photo added.

Updated on Thursday, September 2, 2021 6:44 PM CDT: Full write-thru with extra info, quotes, interviews, photos, new formatting

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