Manitoba

Peter Nygard's arrest brings relief and pain to his son and one of his accusers

As news of fashion mogul Peter Nygard's arrest became public earlier this week, it gave Serena Hickes the courage to come forward for the first time, instead of "taking her secret to the grave."

'This has been almost 30 years of absolute hiding everything from everyone,' says accuser

Peter Nygard's lawyer says the dozens of sexual assault allegations against him are false and part of a 'well-orchestrated' media campaign to bring him down. (Annie I. Bang/The Associated Press)

As news of fashion mogul Peter Nygard's arrest became public earlier this week, it gave Serena Hickes the courage to come forward for the first time with her own allegations.

Hickes was 21 when she worked at one of Nygard's retail outlets in Winnipeg.

In 1993, she said, she thought she was going to be used as a model for Nygard's company. Instead, she alleges, Nygard raped her at the store.

"This has been almost 30 years of absolute hiding everything from everyone I knew, because I was so scared of him," Hickes said.

"I'm in shock. I'm angry. I thought this was something that I was going to take to my grave."

Hickes said she feels it's also important for people to know she's an Inuk woman given the historic mistreatment of Indigenous women in Canada.

Serena Hickes says she was a victim of Peter Nygard, and that she is now in counselling. (Submitted by Serena Hickes)

Hickes filed a complaint with Winnipeg police a few weeks ago. She doesn't know what's happening with her case, especially now that she's heard that Nygard is under arrest and awaiting extradition to the U.S. on charges of racketeering, sex trafficking and sexual assault.

Nygard, 79, was arrested on U.S. charges at a home in the Royalwood area of Winnipeg on Monday night.

Winnipeg police declined to say whether they are investigating Nygard, citing privacy concerns.

Nygard has maintained his innocence and denies the allegations against him. Through his lawyer, Nygard says they are all lies, made up to destroy his reputation.

'I just didn't see a way out'

In an affidavit filed in court, the RCMP say they had been watching the home and Nygard for days starting on Dec. 10. They spotted him peering out a basement window and said he hadn't left the home in the time they were watching it.

According to the affidavit, evidence gathered in the U.S. includes interviews with more than two dozen people.

"The investigation shows that Nygard's criminal conduct has affected hundreds of victims," the affidavit says. "The harm to his victims has included not only economic and psychological harm but also numerous instances of non-consensual sex, including non-consensual group sex, attempted forcible rapes and drugging of victims."

The affidavit says that from 1995 to the present day, Nygard and multiple co-conspirators "have used force, fraud and coercion to recruit and entice female victims, both adults and girls ages 14 to 17, to engage in paid sex with Nygard and on occasion, with Nygard's business and personal associates."

Nygard, who is currently in custody in the Winnipeg Remand Centre, appeared in court on Tuesday. (James Culleton/CBC)

Multiple accusers said he made false promises of modelling or fashion industry jobs that did not exist, and then "sexually propositioned them as a condition of assistance."

Hickes, now 49, said the female manager at the store where she worked always told her she was beautiful and looked great in Nygard clothing, and that she had told the fashion designer all about her.

"I was very petite, very young-looking. And she constantly would tell me, like, 'Hey, you look great in the clothes,'" said Hickes.

Hickes had just gotten married and given birth to her son at the time of the alleged rape. Afterwards, she says she told her husband that she had met someone else, and left her family for fear of the consequences for her family if she was victimized again.

"I ran for my life because I just didn't see a way out," said Hickes. 

Fifty-seven women have joined a class-action lawsuit, filed earlier this year in New York, accusing Nygard of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking. Some of the allegations go as far back as 1977.

Son glad about his father's arrest

Peter Nygard's son Kai said he's relieved to hear of his father's arrest. He said he's been working behind the scenes, waiting for this to happen.

Kai Nygard says he is relieved his father's accusers will get their day in court. He feared his dad would flee Canada before being brought to justice. (Submitted by Kai Nygard)

"I'm just absolutely thrilled to find out that he's going to have to face a trial and go through the judicial process and not be able to just take off with a pot of money offshore somewhere," Kai Nygard said in an interview.

For all his relief, Kai said it's been difficult for him to hear all the accusations against his father.

"After all the evidence that I've heard ... it's been absolutely heartbreaking, because ... I was really a loving, loyal son for so long," he said.

"I take no pleasure out of taking these actions against my own father. It's been absolutely devastating to me personally to have to go through this. It hurts me to have my own father reveal this other person that is a monster."

This home in the Royalwood neighbourhood of Winnipeg, which is owned by a numbered company headed by an employee of Nygard, was under surveillance for several days prior to Nygard's arrest on Monday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Police say Nygard a 'flight risk'

The affidavit says "Nygard presents a serious flight risk," as he "continues to possess substantial funds" and "has staff or assistants available to him to assist in making arrangements to flee."

As recently as April 2020, the affidavit says, "Nygard was considering travel to Malta or Bermuda" and that he was considering the "logistics of travelling under an alias."

RCMP say they have information "from another agency that Nygard takes a lot of medications, is an old man who isn't well and can barely lift his arms above his head."

That description is in stark contrast to the image of Nygard seen on posters at his commercial properties and the Winnipeg airport.

Signage at Nygard's Winnipeg headquarters shows the fashion mogul as buff and bronzed. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Nygard has been liquidating some assets recently and using company employees to "extract cash for his use," according to the affidavit.

Land title documents show the million-dollar Winnipeg home where Nygard was arrested was purchased by a numbered company in September. 

Greg Fenske, a former Nygard executive, is listed as director on company documents, and had registered the numbered company in April. Its business is described as providing "administrative services."

While Fenske is named in the court documents, he has not been charged with any criminal conduct in Canada or the U.S.

The FBI says Nygard used his companies to pay for victim recruitment, travel expenses, plastic surgery, abortions and medical treatments. The FBI also says he used corporate employees and funds to "quash negative publicity" and "engage in illegal witness tampering."

The court documents say Nygard victimized women at properties in Winnipeg, Toronto and Falcon Lake, Man.

Allegations of recruitment events 

The documents also say Nygard used dinners, poker games and "pamper parties" as tools to identify new potential victims.

Nygard regularly patronized sex and swingers clubs and repeatedly forced and coerced "girlfriends" and "assistants" to engage in non-consensual group sexual activity, according to the RCMP affidavit in court documents.

Nygard will appear in court again in the new year. His lawyer Jay Prober says he'll apply for bail in the meantime. (James Culleton/CBC)

The affidavit says there is email correspondence with Nygard employees about pamper parties and other recruitment events "directing employees as to physical requirements for female invitees" and "ratings" of guests.

The emails also said preparations included "ensuring that there was sufficient sexual lubricant and cash on hand for Nygard."

Toronto therapist Shannon Moroney has been counselling some of Nygard's accusers.

"They've shown an enormous amount of bravery to be able to come forward when, you know, you absolutely know, that there was a very high chance that you will not be believed," said Moroney.

Toronto clinical social worker and therapist Shannon Moroney says she's been helping 25 Nygard accusers work through their trauma. (Zoom)

She said news of the arrest is leaving victims sad and confused.

"It's ... this enormous sadness and even guilt that so many other women and girls have been hurt. And lots of people think, if only I'd come forward sooner, maybe I could have stopped this."

She said some of the women had reported Nygard to police over the years, but nothing was done about it.

"Why didn't Canada do something long before?" said Moroney.

Peter Nygard's arrest brings relief and pain to his son and one of his accusers

CBC News Manitoba

5 months ago
2:11
A Winnipeg Inuk woman is coming forward for the first time to say Peter Nygard raped her in the 1990's. Serena Hickes says she thought she would carry her secret to the grave, but is speaking out after news of the fashion mogul's arrest. 2:11

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caroline Barghout

Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca

With files from Joanne Levasseur

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