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Maple Leafs star Tiger Williams charged with sexual assault

Former Maple Leafs star Dave “Tiger” Williams charged with sexual assault after incidents on-board a Canadian military flight to visit troops.

Dave 'Tiger' Williams is shown in 2014. Williams was charged Wednesday with two counts of sexual assault and assault under the Criminal Code and was arrested by military police on Friday.

STEVE RUSSELL / Torstar News Service

Dave 'Tiger' Williams is shown in 2014. Williams was charged Wednesday with two counts of sexual assault and assault under the Criminal Code and was arrested by military police on Friday.

OTTAWA—Former NHL player Dave “Tiger” Williams has been charged with sexual assault and assault following incidents on-board a Canadian military flight as he headed overseas for a morale-boosting visit with deployed troops.

And it appears that Williams, 64, was allowed to continue his tour with the soldiers in December even though the victim had immediately reported allegations that she had been assaulted during the flight.

Military police announced Friday that Williams — whose NHL career started as a Maple Leafs enforcer — had been charged with one count of assault and one count of sexual assault.

Williams was a passenger on-board a military CC-150 Polaris aircraft as part of a Team Canada contingent headed to Latvia for the visit with troops.

“The charges related to reported incidents during a Canadian Armed Forces flight to Latvia,” said navy Lt. Blake Patterson, spokesperson for Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and military police.

“The accused was a passenger . . . the victim reported the assault during the flight,” he said Friday in an interview.

He declined to say whether the victim was a member of the military or a civilian.

Williams could not be reached for comment. However, his lawyer, Michael Lacy, issued a statement urging people to hold off judgment.

“I understand from the police it is alleged that Tiger inappropriately touched the complainant over clothing on the buttocks,” Lacy said. “Tiger denies any wrongdoing and is confident he will be vindicated.”

The lawyer said Williams has a “proud” history of taking part in Armed Forces morale tours and “has been an enthusiastic supporter of our troops.”

“He looks forward to continuing his volunteer efforts when this matter is disposed of,” Lacy said. “We would urge everyone to hold off judgment in this matter until it is dealt with through the court process where the veracity of these claims can be best tested.”

Gen. Jonathan Vance has preached a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and assault and has stepped up efforts to crack down on such behaviour in the ranks.

The military declined to say Friday whether Williams continued his visit, even after the allegations had been reported. But one official told the Star he believed the hockey player remained on the tour and was not sent home.

Patterson said he did not know to whom the victim reported the alleged assaults. “I just know they were reported during the flight.”

“Military police were advised,” he said.

The case was referred to the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service — a branch of the military police that handles serious and sensitive investigations — for followup, Patterson said.

Military police are responsible for policing defence property, including locations where Canadian soldiers are deployed abroad. “This includes jurisdiction over civilians who accompany Canadian Armed Forces personnel on deployments or while on defence establishments,” Patterson said.

“This being a Canadian Forces aircraft, that’s how the jurisdiction was determined,” Patterson said.

Williams was charged Wednesday. He was released on conditions and a promise to appear, Patterson said.

Military police consulted with the Crown Attorney in Ottawa, and “it was determined to proceed with the case through the civilian justice system.”

The military said the case would be brought forward in Ottawa at a date to be determined.

“In all cases, the subject of charges is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the military said in a news release.

Williams’ hockey career began in 1974 when he was drafted by the Maple Leafs. He played 962 games over a career that took him also to Detroit, Los Angeles and Hartford before he retired in 1988. He scored 241 goals but is best known for racking up 3,971 penalty minutes, the most for any NHL player.

Williams was taking part in a so-called Team Canada visit that brings entertainers, athletes and media personalities overseas to boost the morale of deployed personnel. The trips happen twice a year and usually number about 20 people, the military said Friday. The participants are not paid, but they typically travel on military aircraft and stay in military accommodations.

Williams was a fan favourite and the December trip to Latvia was the 14th time he had gone abroad to visit the troops. During one 2007 trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan, Williams and other NHL greats faced off against troops in a ball hockey match under the scorching sun.

He’s also been an active member of the Maple Leafs alumni group, playing games with other past members of the team.

On Friday, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan issued a brief statement, saying he had just become aware of the charges.

“First and foremost, we want to acknowledge the incredible courage of this woman for coming forward,” Shanahan said.

“As an organization, we stand firmly against all or any forms of physical and emotional assault. With so little information available to us at this moment, and out of respect for the necessary legal process, we will refrain from commenting any further at this time,” he said.

Canada is leading a multinational brigade in Latvia with some 450 troops as part of a NATO mission to push back against Russian aggression in the wake of the annexation of Crimea.

Vance paid a visit to Canadians deployed in Latvia and Romania in earlier December. Posted on Vance’s Twitter feed was a picture of the general in a hockey jersey meeting with personnel.

“While many Canadians are gearing up for the holidays, women and men from the Canadian Armed Forces are busy doing superb work around the world,” Vance said in a tweet.

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