Three for­mer skiers sue Alpine CAnAdA

Of­fi­cials al­leged to have known about coach’s abuse but failed to pro­tect ath­letes

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DAN BARNES [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/sports­dan­barnes

Three for­mer na­tional team skiers have filed a $1.35 mil­lion law­suit against Alpine Canada, al­leg­ing a fail­ure to pro­tect the ath­letes from sex­ual, phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse at the hands of for­mer coach Ber­trand Charest.

The suit was filed Wednes­day in Mon­treal by the law firm Davies, which rep­re­sents for­mer ath­letes Genevieve Si­mard, Gail Kelly and Anna Pr­chal. It seeks $300,000 each for com­pen­satory dam­ages and $150,000 each in puni­tive dam­ages.

Charest was con­victed in June 2017 in a Que­bec court on 37 charges, in­clud­ing sex­ual as­sault and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of nine for­mer ath­letes, in­clud­ing Si­mard, Kelly and Pr­chal. All nine for­mer skiers were aged 12 to 18 at the time of the abuse. The of­fences oc­curred be­fore and dur­ing Charest’s ten­ure as a coach for Alpine Canada’s women’s devel­op­ment team, which ran from 1996 to 1998.

Charest was sen­tenced in De­cem­ber 2017 to 12 years in jail and has re­cently ap­pealed to cut that time in half.

The suit al­leges Alpine Canada lead­er­ship was made aware of the abuse in 1998 by vic­tims of Charest, but did not act to pro­tect the skiers.

Charest was al­lowed to re­sign and main­tain his coach­ing li­cence. He was ar­rested in March 2015 only af­ter Si­mard dis­cov­ered he was work­ing as a ski coach at Mont Blanc, near Mont Trem­blant, and re­ported the abuse to po­lice. Charest has been in­car­cer­ated since.

At the time of Charest’s con­vic­tion, Alpine Canada’s board chair Martha Hall Find­lay is­sued a state­ment on be­half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“When the in­ci­dents came to light in 1998, the or­ga­ni­za­tion could have of­fered more sup­port to the vic­tims in this dif­fi­cult time. We have learned from this hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion by rewrit­ing our poli­cies, re­quir­ing manda­tory train­ing and im­prov­ing gov­er­nance.

“Alpine Canada is ready to col­lab­o­rate with any or­ga­ni­za­tion that is com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing safety, re­spect and preven­tion of ha­rass­ment in sport. We wel­come all ini­tia­tives pro­posed or de­vel­oped by any rel­e­vant and ex­pe­ri­enced or­ga­ni­za­tion across the coun­try that will help achieve this goal.

“We want to en­sure no one ever suf­fers like these women have suf­fered.”

She de­tailed some of the ac­tions Alpine Canada had taken to en­sure the safety of ath­letes, in­clud­ing manda­tory back­ground checks for all Alpine Canada staff and coaches, a code of con­duct, a whistle­blower pol­icy and zero tol­er­ance of ath­lete-coach sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.

Last June, Pr­chal, Kelly and Si­mard, as well as an­other of Charest’s vic­tims, made pub­lic state­ments about the ef­fect of the abuse and the lack of sup­port they re­ceived from Alpine Canada.

“My child­hood dreams and goals were robbed from me,” said Pr­chal. “My self-es­teem was crushed. I found my­self aban­doned by the very peo­ple who were sup­posed to be tak­ing care of me. Worst of all, they made me feel like I’d done some­thing wrong. As with most vic­tims of abuse, I have lived with the feel­ing that this was my fault.”

Find­lay re­acted again on be­half of Alpine Canada in De­cem­ber 2017 when Charest was sen­tenced.

“In­stead of be­ing there for the ath­letes, in­stead of pro­vid­ing sup­port when these ac­tiv­i­ties were dis­cov­ered, Alpine Canada put it­self first, not the vic­tims. In do­ing so, Alpine Canada failed them. More than 20 years on, I want to say, per­son­ally and on be­half of Alpine Canada, that we are pro­foundly sorry.”

Que­bec court judge Syl­vain Lepine had al­ready crit­i­cized Alpine Canada dur­ing the hear­ing in a Saint-Jerome, Que., court. He said the or­ga­ni­za­tion chose not to lis­ten to the ath­letes and failed to pro­tect them.

Julie Gi­rard, a part­ner at Davies, said Wednes­day that Alpine Canada had been in­vited to at­tend a pri­vate and con­fi­den­tial me­di­a­tion ses­sion but re­fused.

“Alpine Canada was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in a me­di­a­tion in­tended to pro­vide a so­lu­tion which would avoid go­ing through court pro­ceed­ings. Regrettably, Alpine (Canada) has re­jected me­di­a­tion, thereby forc­ing the vic­tims to pub­licly ex­pose the abuse suf­fered in a court pro­ceed­ing. Con­sid­er­ing that such le­gal pro­ceed­ings are now on­go­ing, the vic­tims’ at­tor­neys, Davies, will not make any other state­ment.”

Cather­ine La­casse, who han­dles me­dia re­la­tions for Alpine Canada, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion was made aware of the suit by me­dia on Wednes­day morn­ing. She said the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not im­me­di­ately have a state­ment to make on the court ac­tion.

GRA­HAM HUGHES, FILE

For­mer na­tional ski team mem­bers, from left, Gail Kelly, Anna Pr­chal and Genevieve Si­mard are vic­tims of Ber­trand Charest.

Ber­trand Charest

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