Peter Nygard to argue for release from jail amid COVID-19 fears during two-day bail hearing

Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard will appear via video link at a bail hearing in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

During the two-day hearing, the court is expected to hear from a number of supporters who filed affidavits advocating for Nygard’s release.

Nygard, 79, is charged with sex trafficking, racketeering and related offences in a 9-count grand jury indictment from a court in the Southern District of New York. 

The bail hearing was originally scheduled for Jan. 6, but was moved to Jan. 19-20 so that the lawyer for Canada’s attorney general, Scott Farlinger, could have time to coordinate with his American counterparts.

Farlinger told the court Nygard’s defence team submitted materials late — including Nygard’s own affidavit, which Farlinger said was not provided to him until two days before the hearing. 

Farlinger is expected to cross-examine some of Nygard’s supporters, including a former Hells Angels associate who said he would be willing to put up the $300,000 equity in his two homes to free the fashion designer.

WATCH | Former Hells Angels associate among Peter Nygard’s character references:

A convicted drug dealer and former gang member is willing to put up $300,000 surety in order to help secure a release on bail for fashion mogul Peter Nygard. 2:03

Nygard was arrested Dec. 14 at a million-dollar home in Winnipeg, and remains in custody awaiting extradition to the U.S. for allegations he sexually assaulted dozens of women and girls over a 25-year period.

“Nygard, and others known and unknown, including employees of the Nygard Group, used force, fraud and coercion to cause women to engage in commercial sex with Nygard and others, and to remain with Nygard against their will,” said the indictment.

American authorities alleged Nygard frequently targeted women and minor-aged girls who came from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and/or who had a history of abuse. The indictment said he controlled his victims through threats, false promises of modelling opportunities and other career advancement, financial support and by other coercive means.

Nygard was arrested Dec. 14, 2020, at this home in the Royalwood neighbourhood of Winnipeg. The house is owned by a numbered company headed by Greg Fenske, a former Nygard employee. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

In an affidavit to support his bail application, Nygard said his health has deteriorated since his arrest and that he fears he will get COVID-19 in jail and die.

In an affidavit, Nygard said he isn’t getting vitamins, fruit, vegetables and sleep. “The low level of nourishment … is draining my body of its ability to fight [off] the COVID,” Nygard said in the affidavit.

He said the food he’s given in jail is mostly sugar and “white carbs”, which Nygard said he quit eating 10 years ago. He said he became violently ill after having his first meal in custody.

“I am getting weaker everyday. I have lost weight; have difficulty breathing (it’s getting worse),” said the affidavit.

Nygard said he is only able to digest 20 per cent of the food served in custody and he fears it may cost him his life if he gets COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, I am not getting the nourishment necessary to keep me safe and healthy,” said the affidavit.

Nygard called himself a “prime candidate for a COVID death” because of his difficulty breathing and his old age.

Peter Nygard, 79, appeared in Manitoba court on January 6 from Headingley Correctional Centre via video conference. (Tadens Mpwene/La Liberté Manitoba)

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice Canada said US 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.

“Mr. Nygard is being afforded a fair process before the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in accordance with extradition law and Canada’s extradition treaty with the United States. As is the case for all extradition proceedings at this stage, the litigation is being handled by litigators in the Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the attorney general of Canada,” said Department of Justice Canada spokesperson Ian McLeod in an email to CBC News.

57 women have filed a class action lawsuit against Nygard in the Southern District of New York Court alleging he raped and/or sexually assaulted them. Some of the allegations date back to 1977, and some of the alleged victims say they were as young as 14 or 15 years old at the time.

That case was put on hold in August so that the FBI could complete its investigation.

Lawyers representing the women previously told CBC News they will have more than 80 victims in total that have signed onto the lawsuit once it’s allowed to resume.

Nygard has always maintained his innocence and has accused the women of lying as part of a conspiracy to tarnish his reputation.