Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon told a news conference Tuesday that the university tarnished all players with a “cloud of suspicion” last March when Mr. Rock suspended the team for the rest of the season.
Two students who were on the team were charged last summer with sexually assaulting a female student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay in February. The two are not part of the class action. Their 22 former teammates are asking for $6 million in damages.
“A dark shadow of suspicion was thrown over all the players” by the university’s internal investigation and suspension of the team, “even though the university already knew at that point the identities of the two players alleged to have been involved in the assault,” Mr. Greenspon told reporters.
The lawsuit names only one plaintiff, 24-year-old forward Andrew Creppin. The others must now seek certification as members of a class action.
Many are hesitant to be named in the suit because they have suffered from being publicly identified as team members, Mr. Greenspon said.
The university “punished Andrew and the rest of the students on the team before any due process was carried out,” he said. “It’s unconscionable for the university to tarnish the reputation of its student athletes in the manner that they did when they knew that these students were not involved.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to go about investigating sexual assault. This was the wrong way.”
Mr. Creppin said the university “talked down” to the team members, kept them in the dark, and then “they basically accused us all and threw us under the bus.”
He said at the time of the alleged assault he was at a Thunder Bay hospital where he and others had taken a sick teammate.
The suspension has caused him and other team members extreme anxiety and stress, he said. Some people on campus assume that since he was on the team, he must have been part of a “rape culture.”
“I was anxious going out in public. … People ask you all the time about it. … It’s very difficult when people ask you the same questions over and over again, like ‘What happened? What’s going on?’
“People jump to the conclusion that you’re hiding it” and that “you’re a rapist, part of this whole culture,” Mr. Creppin said.
He’s in fourth-year human kinetics and hopes to become a doctor or chiropractor. But he said that now he’s worried that he might not meet a medical school’s ethical standards.
He had also considered playing hockey in Europe after university, but that will be difficult after a year away from the game.
Mr. Greenspon said some of the players have transferred to other schools and their hockey programs, but their reputations and careers have been damaged.
In August, Captain David Foucher, 25, and assistant captain Guillaume Donovan, 24, both of Gatineau, were charged with sexually assaulting a 21-year-old Lakehead University student. The assault is alleged to have happened in the early hours of Feb. 2 when the men’s hockey team was in Thunder Bay for two road games.
The team was suspended after a friend of the victim contacted administrators at the University of Ottawa on Feb. 24, who then notified Thunder Bay police.
Mr. Greenspon also said the university has not revealed what is in its internal investigation report.
The university said in a statement it has not yet received the statement of claim and won’t yet comment.