Pandemic ‘not a get out of jail free card’ for Peter Nygard, court hears during bail hearing

A lawyer for the attorney general of Canada says former fashion mogul Peter Nygard can’t be trusted not to flee if he’s released on bail, and slammed a release plan put forward by defence lawyers as “utterly brazen and cynical.”

Scott Farlinger urged Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Shawn Greenberg not to grant Nygard’s bail application, after defence lawyers argued the 79-year-old must be released due to health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID situation is not a get out of jail free card,” Farlinger told court on Wednesday, the second day of a bail hearing for Nygard.

Nygard has been in custody since he was arrested at a home in Winnipeg on Dec. 14, 2020. He’s awaiting extradition to the U.S. for allegations he sexually assaulted dozens of women and girls over a 25-year period.

Farlinger argued the risk to Nygard from COVID-19 is outweighed by the seriousness of the accusations against him in the U.S., and by Canada’s duty to uphold treaties related to extradition.

What’s more, he said, evidence before the court leaves it unclear how much money Nygard still has at his disposal, and there’s no guarantee he can’t access it from house arrest and use it to run.

Farlinger told court Nygard is accused of engaging in decades of predatory behaviour, using force and coercion to induce women and girls to have sex with himself and others.

Investigators in the U.S. interviewed over two dozen victims, Farlinger said, including six individuals — one of them a minor — described in a bail letter from U.S. officials. Nygard is accused of forcible sexual assault against some victims, and using false promises of career advancement or modelling jobs to coerce others.

WATCH | Peter Nygard argues for release from jail amid COVID-19 fears:

Two former employees of Nygard companies told a Winnipeg court on Tuesday they’re willing to put up hundreds of thousands of dollars as sureties for Peter Nygard, if the former fashion mogul is released on bail. 1:57

Nygard is also accused of using his own companies and staff to recruit, transport and pay victims, Farlinger continued, with some “in-kind” payments such as paying for abortions, medical treatments or plastic surgery.

“[There is] evidence that Mr. Nygard had his own corporation create almost an industry, which was created, basically, to feed predatory behaviour,” Farlinger said.

There are allegations staff and victims organized recruiting events called “pamper parties,” Farlinger continued, where potential victims were ranked by their physical appearances.

Nygard is also accused of restricting his victims’ movements.

“This is a pattern of conduct. This is a pattern of using machinery of the Nygard group to generate victims for these sexual offences.”

None of the allegations against Nygard have been proven in court.

‘Serious issues’ with surety: judge

Nygard appeared in court via video link from Headingley Correctional Centre and appeared to take notes during the proceedings.

His lawyer Jay Prober told court Tuesday leaving his client in the jail would be “nothing short of a death sentence” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Farlinger argued the two men who came forward as sureties for Nygard — Greg Fenske and Steve Mager, both former employees of Nygard companies — were unsuitable.

In an affidavit filed in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench on Dec. 14, 2020, Sgt. Stefane Nicolas of the RCMP’s federal serious and organized crime unit said American authorities provided this undated photo of Nygard, along with a copy of an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. District Court. (Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench)

He told court the $900,000 property offered by Fenske as a surety — the same house where Nygard was living when he was arrested — was, in fact, paid for with funds belonging to Nygard. Farlinger argued that means Fenske, as a surety, “simply has no skin in the game.”

“The fact that the house … was paid for by Mr. Nygard completely negates the value of the surety,” Farlinger said. “It is an utterly brazen and cynical attempt to generate conditions that would be satisfactory for release on bail.”

He said the defence’s plan to electronically monitor Nygard’s movements wouldn’t prevent him from leaving the house.

“The chase is on, at that point,” Farlinger said.

Before adjourning for the day, Justice Greenberg told Nygard’s defence lawyers her decision will ultimately rely on the strength of the bail plan. She told court she sees “serious issues” with Fenske as a surety.

Those include the concerns raised by Farlinger that Fenske doesn’t have a financial stake in Nygard’s compliance, as well as the fact Fenske deleted Nygard company emails following U.S. court instructions not to do so.

“If Mr. Fenske … has nothing to lose, how does that satisfy me he’s going to adequately monitor Mr Nygard’s actions?” Greenberg said.

After the judge’s comments, Nygard’s defence team asked for, and received, additional time for the hearing, which was originally scheduled for two days.

The hearing will continue on Jan. 28 at 10 a.m.

Nygard ‘a time bomb’ if left in jail: defence

Nygard has always maintained his innocence and alleges the women accusing him of lying are part of a conspiracy to tarnish his reputation.

On Wednesday, his lawyers argued the defence’s plan for bail is “rock solid,” and said it would be dangerous for Nygard to remain in jail.

Defence lawyer Richard Wolson pointed to Nygard’s age — 79 — as well as health considerations, which include diabetes and the fact he has a pacemaker.

“Nygard is a time bomb,” Wolson said.

Wolson told court evidence against his client is flawed and argued Nygard is “the opposite” of a flight risk. Nygard doesn’t have a valid passport and has always been willing to speak to police, Wolson said.

He argued it wouldn’t be fair for Nygard to remain in jail as Canadian authorities sort out the details of his extradition.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Justice said U.S. authorities have until Feb. 12 to make a formal request for Nygard’s extradition. Then Canada will have 30 days — until March 15 — to decide whether or not to issue an authority to proceed, which authorizes an extradition hearing.