MONTREAL — Alpine Canada prefers to make the news when one of its skiers reaches the podium. But heading into the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the organization was balancing medal dreams with the fresh nightmare of a sexual assault scandal that unfolded last year in a Quebec court.
On Dec. 8, a provincial court judge sentenced former Alpine Canada women’s coach Bertrand Charest to 12 years in prison for the sexual assault of nine teenage skiers in his charge in the 1990s. The court heard how over a seven-year period, Charest used his power as coach to enter into sexual relationships with skiers, all but one of whom was under 18. In one instance he arranged for an abortion for a teenage girl he got pregnant. Charest is “a true monster, a predator,” another victim told the court.
Judge Sylvain Lépine said Charest’s “inexcusable” acts ruined ski careers and psychologically scarred his victims. But he also singled out the failure of Alpine Canada, the national governing body for alpine ski racing, to protect young skiers. “Alpine Canada chose instead to close its eyes, to not believe these young women and to hide the truth,” the judge said.
Martha Hall Findlay, chair of the Alpine Canada board, says the arrest of Charest in 2015 and last year’s criminal trial have led to a reckoning in the organization. In a statement issued when Charest was sentenced, she hailed the courage of the victims and apologized to them on behalf of Alpine Canada.
When Charest’s actions first became known to Alpine Canada in 1998, he was dismissed in what was publicly presented as a routine coaching change. Years of silence followed. “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,” Hall Findlay said in her statement. It was only when one of the victims learned that Charest was still teaching children at a Quebec ski resort, nearly 20 years later, that he was brought to justice.
Bertrand Charest, who faces a total of 56 charges involving 11 young females, is seen on a court drawing during a bail hearing, on March 16, 2015 in St-Jerome, Que. A trial is set to begin north of Montreal today for a former national ski coach who faces dozens of sex-related charges involving allegations from girls as young …read more