Three former skiers sue Alpine CAnAdA
Officials alleged to have known about coach’s abuse but failed to protect athletes
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.
Former national ski team members, from left, Gail Kelly, Anna Prchal and Genevieve Simard are victims of Bertrand Charest.