British Columbia

B.C. skier speaks out about sex abuse suffered as a teen at the hands of former coach

Allison Forsyth says she was 17 years old, training and competing in Europe, when junior national ski coach Bertrand Charest started abusing her

Allison Forsyth says she was 17 years old, training and competing in Europe, when her ordeal started

Former Canadian Olympic skier Allison Forsyth can now finally talk about the abuse she suffered 20 years ago after having the publication ban on her name lifted. (Chris Donovan/The Canadian Press)

Allison Forsyth says the sexual abuse she suffered under coach Bertrand Charest started when she was 17 while training and racing in Europe as a member of the junior Canadian ski team. 

Now 39 and a mother of three, the Nanaimo native is joining seven other women in having the publication ban on their names lifted so they can tell their stories and bring change to the Canadian sport system.

"I know that I will never be the same person that I was before this happened," said Forsyth. "I can't change what happened to me but I can change what happens in the future."

Forsyth won bronze at the 2003 World Championships and reached the World Cup podium five times in her career. ((Getty Images))

Twelve women — all former competitive skiers — testified against Charest last year.

Although the judge said he could not convict the former coach on the charges related to Forsyth because the offences occurred outside of Canadian jurisdiction, Charest was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty on 37 counts of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation dating back to the 1990s.

His victims were between the ages of 12 and 19 when the offences occurred. One became pregnant by Charest at age 15 and had an abortion.

Let down by Alpine Canada

Charest was fired from the national team in 1998 after Forsyth came forward to make Alpine Canada aware of his actions. She says the organization never offered the victims any help. 

"I would definitely say that I didn't feel supported by my national sport organization Alpine Canada. They knew. They did not act on it," she said. 

A tearful Allison Forsyth announces her retirement due to injury in 2008. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

"It was challenging to live the experience and it was exceptionally challenging after the experience, feeling very low, very depressed and very alone."

Alpine Canada has since apologized to Charest's victims. It also said that it has learned from this situation by rewriting its policies, requiring mandatory training and improving governance.

Trying to heal

Speaking about her ordeal remains difficult, but Forsyth says it's a step in the healing process.

"I still suffer from anxiety and depression and issues with trust. And I'm terrified for my children. I don't want to raise them in a system where I'm scared to send them to sport, because I love sport and am passionate about it."

Forsyth and the other victims have banded together to ask the government and national sport organizations to bring in long overdue policies to protect athletes.

"It's not a male or female thing. It's also not a child versus adult thing. It's a sport thing, an environment where issues can quite easily occur — abuse of power, coercion, manipulation, mental and emotional abuse," she said. 

"The next step [is to] take it seriously and put in place the safeguards that are needed to protect future generations so we can all raise our children in confidence to enjoy what was tainted for me."