MONTREAL — A lawsuit filed Wednesday against Alpine Canada by three victims of former national ski coach Bertrand Charest alleges the sports federation covered up the sexual abuse in the interest of results on the slopes and sponsorship money.
“The plaintiffs were sacrificed by Alpine (Canada) on the altar of performance and sponsors,” the statement of claim says.
The women are former Canadian skiers Genevieve Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal, who were all minors at the time of the sex-related crimes for which Charest was convicted in June 2017.
They are each seeking $300,000 in damages for psychological, physical and sexual abuse they suffered. They are also seeking $150,000 each in punitive damages.
The suit, which has not been tested in court, says Alpine Canada did not take even the most basic steps to prevent the abuse. It alleges the organization was made aware of Charest’s troubling behaviour before it hired him in 1996.
After it became known in 1998 that Charest was having sexual relations with a number of his young skiers, Alpine Canada’s program director at the time, Joze Sparovec, was dispatched to the French Alps — where the team was competing — to deal with the crisis.
The lawsuit says that in a frosty meeting with Sparovec and two team officials, Simard remained silent about the abuse while Prchal and another skier, Allison Forsyth, acknowledged they had been abused. Kelly, in a state of “significant emotional and psychological distress,” met Sparovec alone.
The lawsuit alleges Kelly was asked to sign a document promising not to take legal action against Alpine Canada if the incidents adversely affected her athletic career. It says she signed without even reading the document.
Charest was forced to resign as a national coach, but Alpine Canada never withdrew his coaching license, the suit alleges. And it says that “even though a crime had been committed against minors for whom it was responsible,” Alpine Canada did not notify police.
“During the rest of their careers as skiers, the code of silence prevailed at the heart of the Alpine (Canada) organization,” reads the suit, filed in Montreal. “Nobody spoke of the events. The victims felt guilty and responsible for the abuse.”
Alpine Canada said Wednesday it is studying the details of the lawsuit and declined a request for an interview. In a statement, the federation said discussions with Charest’s victims continue, and it is providing support to the extent that it is able.
“These women have shown extraordinary courage in agreeing to speak, and we salute their determination and their commitment to contribute to change,” the statement said.
It took the victims years before they felt able to go to authorities and bring Charest to justice. He was sentenced last December to 12 years in prison for sex crimes. He is appealing both the verdict and his sentence.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs have lived with “multiple, devastating” effects of the abuse.
It says punitive damages are warranted because Alpine Canada was “wilfully blind” in its handling of Charest: “It covered its actions, seeking to smother a scandal, which led to repeated abuses on its part against the plaintiffs.”
It is also alleged that Alpine Canada rejected the plaintiffs’ effort to resolve their claim through private mediation, which would spared them having to recount again in court their abuse.