Peter Nygard says people couldn't get locked in his private suite at Toronto building

TORONTO — Former fashion mogul Peter Nygard told a jury Wednesday that "under no circumstances" could someone get locked inside his private suite at his company's Toronto building, as there were several exit options.

Nygard took the stand in his own defence on Wednesday at his sexual assault trial in Toronto, telling court that the so-called Finland suite at 1 Niagara St., had three exits and only one of them required a passcode because it led into his office.

Nygard said he installed that passcode -- which was 1-2-3-4 -- because he didn't want people who used the suite to have access to private information inside his office.

He said there was another door that led to the reception area, which required a passcode to get inside the suite, but only a push of a button from the inside to get back out.

Nygard said there was also a door that led to a small washroom, and that washroom was connected to the "public" area of the building via another door that could be opened. Both bathroom doors had handles, he said.

“Under no circumstances could you ever get locked in there," he told the jury.

In its opening address at the beginning of the trial, the Crown had indicated that the doors to Nygard's private suite had no handles. David Gauthier, who previously worked for Nygard doing construction and design work, testified that one door inside the private suite was built into a mirrored wall and could only be opened by pushing a button on a control panel near a large bed.

Nygard acknowledged on Wednesday that the door that opened by pushing a button was built into a mirrored wall. He said that door also had a handle.

Nygard, the founder of a now-defunct international women's clothing company, is accused of using his position in the fashion industry to lure women and girls.

Multiple complainants in the trial have alleged they were taken to Nygard's Toronto headquarters under pretences ranging from tours to job interviews, with encounters ending in a top-floor bedroom suite where they allege they were sexually assaulted.

Some of the testimony court previously heard from complainants included allegations that they were trapped inside the private suite with Nygard.

The 82-year-old has pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in alleged incidents ranging from the 1980s to mid-2000s.

The fifth and final complainant in the trial testified last week and the defence began presenting its evidence this week.

Defence lawyer Brian Greenspan took Nygard through multiple photos of the interior of 1 Niagara St., including the Finland suite, as well as drawings of the layout of the top floor. Nygard testified that the building was typically full of activity and that it often hosted fashion shows on the top floor.

Nygard also said that the reception desk outside his private suite and office was always staffed and that someone was always in the building, including late at night.

Earlier on Wednesday, Greenspan asked Nygard about his childhood, his family's immigration to Canada from Finland after the Second World War and his rise in the North American fashion industry.

Greenspan also asked Nygard about his various properties in different countries. When he asked whether his Bahamas estate had a secret spot for sexual conduct, Nygard replied: "That's insane ... no such thing."

Nygard also testified about relationships he's had over the decades since his divorce, telling the jury that because he travelled so much for work, he tended to be in relationships with women who could travel with him.

Nygard founded the business that became known as Nygard International in Winnipeg in 1967, and stepped down as chairman of the clothing company in February 2020 before it filed for bankruptcy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press