Bertrand Charest, a former Canadian national ski coach, was found guilty of 37 charges including sexual assault and sexual exploitation for the abuse of athletes he coached between 1991 and 1998 in June, 2017. He has been in custody since his arrest in March, 2015.
Charest was facing 57 charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and one charge of sexual assault causing bodily harm. The 12 victims reported that the abuse took place between 1991 and 1998 in Quebec, Whistler, New Zealand, and the United States. The victims ranged in ages from 12 to 18 at the time of the offences.
Charest was found guilty of 37 of the 57 charges laid against him. He was acquitted on 18 charges and the court could not speak to two of the counts as they related to events that occurred in New Zealand. The guilty verdicts pertained to charges involving nine of the twelve women.
The victims’ credibility was central to the case. Judge Lepine stated,
The court believes the complainants and their testimonies are credible and reliable.
This is particularly noteworthy as the events in question took place more than two decades ago.
One victim gave evidence that Charest took her to have an abortion when she was 15 years old after having unprotected sex with him on numerous occasions. She stated that the sexual encounters continued after the abortion as Charest purchased contraceptives for her after getting a prescription from his own father.
Although Charest did not testify at the trial, his lawyer, Antonio Cabral, stated that the accused believed that the sexual relations he had with the young skiers was consensual.
Judge Sylvain Lepine emphasized that the victims in this case were vulnerable and compromised because they were afraid to lose Charest as their coach. Some of the victims gave evidence that they were in love with Charest at the time, but eventually came to understand that they had been manipulated. Judge Lepine stated that Charest’s actions represented an unequivocal abuse of trust and power.
Charest was sentenced on December 8, 2017 to 12 years in prison. He has already served time and now has seven years and 10 months remaining in his sentence.
Judge Lepine had many harsh words for Charest and recognized that Charest “did not and does not recognize the gravity or consequences of his actions”. In his sentencing, Judge Lepine emphasized the turmoil that Charest caused in the lives of his victims, including loss of trust, suicidal thoughts, intense stress, problems with intimacy, eating problems, and more.
Charest’s victims delivered emotional impact statements to the court, using phrases such as “being robbed of my childhood”, living with “shame, guilt and disgust”, and describing his behaviour as resembling that of “a predator”.
Judge Lepine stated in his remarks at the sentencing,
This behaviour is not acceptable in 2017, it wasn’t in 1998, just as it wasn’t in 1950 or any other era.
Judge Lepine also had harsh words for Alpine Canada when he stated,
Alpine Canada and its leaders failed miserably in their role as guardians and protectors of these young athletes. …Their parents had entrusted them with their safety. Alpine Canada chose rather to close its eyes, to not believe these young women and to hide the truth.
In response, the Chair of the Board of Alpine Canada Martha Hall Findlay provided a statement stating,
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.
Alpine Canada has recently changed its policies and procedures to prevent situations like this from happening in the future. SafeSport has been created to act as an independent body to review claims of abuse and investigate them outside of any conflict of interest from a particular team or organization.
THE FUTURE FOR CHAREST
Charest’s lawyer, Antonio Cabral, has appealed the sex-crime convictions on behalf of his client. Cabral alleges a lengthy list of legal errors made by the trial judge. Cabral specifically took issue with Judge Lepine describing Charest as a “veritable predator”.
Cabral has advised that he will ask the Quebec Court of Appeal to have Charest released pending the ruling on the appeal of the convictions.
We will continue to follow this case and provide updates as they develop.
In the meantime, if you are facing sexual assault charges or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 90-5404-1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services. We are available when you need us most.