A Canadian Multimillionaire, a Caribbean Feud and an International Rape Case

A Canadian Multimillionaire, a Caribbean Feud and an International Rape Case

When I first got the call from a colleague in New York asking what I knew about Peter Nygard, my answer was: nothing.

I had never heard of the multimillionaire, nor the fashion empire he had built.

Credit…Jonathan Becker

I was about to get a crash course. What started as a short research assignment to assist Kim Barker with her story became a long, full-time job for the two of us, as well as for Grace Ashford, a researcher at The Times.

Last week, we published our investigation, detailing how the ugly feud Mr. Nygard had waged against Louis Bacon, his billionaire neighbor in the Bahamas, had led to a lawsuit, with 10 women accusing Mr. Nygard of rape. We also dug up a pattern of sexual assault and harassment complaints against Mr. Nygard that predated the fight, stretching back 40 years.

Mr. Nygard fashioned himself as Canada’s Hugh Hefner — traveling with an entourage of young women who described themselves as paid girlfriends, installing a stripper pole in his private jet and once stating that his attempt at celibacy was “the worst 20 minutes of my life.”

Now 78, he has always maintained that the sex he has is consensual.

Although most of the accusers were in the Bahamas, where Mr. Nygard was a resident and spent much of his time, I started my research in Winnipeg. That’s where Mr. Nygard grew up, since immigrating to Canada from Finland as a child, and where he founded his company, Nygard International.

In Winnipeg, Mr. Nygard is a household name — a local rags-to-riches hero who employed many city residents and had received the key to the city from the mayor. The local tabloid described his daughter Alia’s nuptials as the city’s “royal wedding.” At one point, there were billboards with his image on them throughout the city, and one at the airport that said: “Peter Nygard Welcomes You to Winnipeg.”

Strangely, few people were willing to talk openly about him. They were scared.

Former employees quietly recounted how Mr. Nygard ran his business like a military unit. Employees were docked pay for arriving even one minute late. There was a “Nygard dictionary” and a Nygard manual on emails, which outlawed pleasantries.

They recounted stories of Mr. Nygard’s volcanic temper. One former employee showed me videos of him raging and swearing almost without breath.

“My two years at Nygard International was like a tour of duty in Vietnam,” said Timothy Grayson, one of the rare former employees willing to use his name.

They were also scared that he would sue them. Mr. Nygard is notoriously litigious, and is known to drag out lawsuits — exhausting his adversaries’ time and money. In 2009, he sued three former employees he suspected of talking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Those lawsuits are ongoing.

Another employee showed me the “cease-and-desist” letter she got from Mr. Nygard’s lawyer the morning after a former colleague dropped by her home for a drink. The letter accused her of making “malicious, false and defamatory statements” about Mr. Nygard to her friend. The two assumed her friend’s company phone was bugged. She was still petrified, a decade later.

Many people shut the door in my face. Others agreed to talk, but only on background, meaning we couldn’t publish their names.

Even the women who had gone public before, filing sexual harassment claims against Mr. Nygard in Winnipeg and agreeing to interviews with The Winnipeg Free Press in 1996, refused to be identified again. Mr. Nygard had settled with all of them, but maintained his innocence. One told me she received threatening calls after the articles ran. “It’s not part of my life I ever want to revisit,” she said.

The fear we heard from former employees made us redouble our efforts to build trust and persuade some to go on the record. By the time we published our article, we had talked to more than 270 people — some of them more than a dozen times.

Two days after our story was published, the unimaginable happened: The F.B.I. raided Mr. Nygard’s Los Angeles home and New York office, the result of a secret, monthslong investigation by a task force that investigates child exploitation.

In the aftermath, Dillard’s, a major American department store chain, announced it would no longer carry his line. Mr. Nygard said he was stepping down as chairman of the private company he had built up over 50 years.

Mr. Nygard has not been charged with anything and maintains his innocence. A spokesman, Ken Frydman, said Mr. Nygard expected his name would be cleared. He accused his nemesis, Mr. Bacon, of being behind the raids.

Although it was never determined who killed a police officer at during the uprising at Oka, Quebec in 1990, last week’s newsletter also incorrectly reported that was the case for the 1995 killing of Dudley George, an Indigenous protester involved in a an occupation at Ipperwash, Ontario. In 1997, Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kenneth Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in connection in connection with the shooting of Mr. George.

This week’s Trans Canada and Around The Times sections were compiled by Ian Austen, Canada Correspondent.

  • While youth participation in basketball and tennis in Canada continue to rise, hockey is headed in the other direction. Several factors are behind the decline, but Étienne Lajoie and Salim Valji found that cost of participation is the leading one. And David Ayres, who became Canada’s most famous emergency goalie this week, spoke with Victor Mather, my colleague in Sports.

  • Canadian National and Via Rail trains are slowly coming back into service after the Ontario Provincial Police moved Mohawk demonstrators away from tracks in Tyendinaga, Ontario. Smaller, short-lived protests have continued to flare up through the week as politicians met with hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who have been trying for more than a year to stop a pipeline from passing through a portion of their land in British Columbia. Another potential source of protests vanished this week when Teck Resources told governments it was no longer looking for permission to build a huge oil sands project in Alberta. Clifford Krauss, a former Toronto bureau chief who now covers the energy industry from Houston, reported that the global oil glut means that economics, as much as environmental concerns, are challenging the oil sands.

  • The Times film critic Glenn Kenny found that the greatest strength of “Disappearance at Clinton Hill,” a suspense thriller set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is its “dank, dread-filled atmosphere.” It also features David Cronenberg as an actor, not a director.

  • Nearly a million Syrians have been driven from their homes and are living in makeshift accommodations as a result of a bombing campaign directed by President Bashar al-Assad. Here are the words of Ahmad Yassin Leila, a refugee whose 18-month-old daughter froze to death: “I dream about being warm. I just want my children to feel warm. I don’t want to lose them to the cold. I don’t want anything except a house with windows that keeps out the cold and the wind.”

  • As a health and science reporter for The Times, Donald G. McNeil Jr. has reported on several virus outbreaks. Speaking this week with “The Daily,” he drew on that experience to paint a chilling picture of how bad the coronavirus situation could get.

We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to nytcanada@nytimes.com.

Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here.

Latest Category Posts