Nygard in custody, empire shattered

Litany of rape allegations against Winnipeg fashion mogul


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It’s a story that took far too long to break.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2020 (891 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a story that took far too long to break.

Allegations of rape and sexual misconduct swirled around Peter Nygard for decades. Throughout those years, he built a multimillion-dollar fashion empire, became one of the most recognizable Winnipeggers, rubbed elbows with high-profile people and was even given a key to the city.

But behind the larger-than-life playboy façade lurked something sinister.

The first sign something was wrong came in 1980: an 18-year-old woman said she’d been raped by Nygard. The Winnipeg Police Service arrested Nygard, then 39, and charged him. But the charge was quickly stayed by the Crown after the accuser refused to testify in court.

Other allegations came to light through the decades, including a 1996 out-of-court settlement after three employees of Nygard’s company claimed sexual harassment, but nothing seemed to stick.

Then came the #MeToo movement and with it, the downfall of Nygard.

As 2020 seeps into 2021, Nygard finds himself locked up in the Winnipeg Remand Centre, staring down a possible extradition to the U.S. where he’s wanted on sex trafficking and racketeering charges.

Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard appears in front of a judge on Tuesday in this court sketch. (James Culleton / The Canadian Press)
Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard appears in front of a judge on Tuesday in this court sketch. (James Culleton / The Canadian Press)

As of Dec. 24, his legal team had yet to file a bail application, meaning he is likely to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve alone in jail.

The beginning of the end came Feb. 13, when 10 women filed a class-action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York with disturbing allegations. The women said Nygard drugged, raped and sodomized them.

Some of the accusers were minors at the time of the alleged offences. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, and soon, things began to move quickly.

On Feb. 25, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, working in co-operation with detectives from the New York City Police Department, raided Nygard’s international headquarters in Times Square. By the end of the day, he ostensibly stepped down from the company he’d forged for decades.

The Free Press then travelled to the Bahamas — where Nygard had long maintained a gated estate in an exclusive, ritzy community — and interviewed a handful of women who shared disturbing stories of abuse. The women alleged Nygard had dangled promises of life-changing modelling opportunities in front of them, only to drug and rape them.

Shortly after the class-action lawsuit was filed in February, more women came forward with similar stories. The number of accusers continued to rise — from the initial 10 to dozens more, to more than 50 who’ve signed on to the class-action suit.

The Free Press has also interviewed women who have not signed on to the lawsuit but have similar accusations. In one instance, a woman said Nygard sexually assaulted her on a date when the two were in high school in Winnipeg roughly 60 years ago.

As the accusations continued to pile up, Nygard maintained his innocence, claiming he’s at the centre of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by Louis Bacon — his billionaire Bahamian neighbour with whom he’s had a high-profile and volatile feud for a number of years — to ruin him.

His lawyer, Jay Prober, has claimed Nygard’s accusers cannot be trusted and have been paid off to spread lies and false allegations about his client.

A lawyer for Beyond Borders, an organization dedicated to ending child sex abuse, later issued a public statement urging Canadian officials to investigate Nygard, saying his alleged crimes weren’t something that should be left for foreign law enforcement to handle.

Should Nygard be extradited to the U.S. and face trial, his conspiracy claims will finally be put to the test in court.

The mounting rape allegations had an immediate financial impact: Nygard’s clothing empire went into receivership and the retail chain Dillard’s dropped his products.

The controversy even swept up Winnipeg Coun. Kevin Klein, who worked for Nygard in 2012 and 2014, but who earlier this year distanced himself from his former employer.

There was talk of rescinding Nygard’s honorary key to the city, while a municipal park named after him in Deloraine — where he lived as a child after his family immigrated from Finland — was hastily renamed. There were also protests outside one of his Winnipeg stores.

Even two of Nygard’s sons, who are unnamed in court documents, have filed a lawsuit alleging their father paid a sex worker to rape them when they were teenagers.

On Dec. 15, the Free Press reported Nygard had been arrested and was in custody at the Winnipeg Remand Centre. He had an initial court appearance that day and is scheduled to be back in court Feb. 13.

The story continues in 2021.

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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