British Columbia

Proceedings against disgraced Canadian soccer coach postponed again as women's game faces reckoning

Former Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian National Team women's coach Bob Birarda was scheduled to appear in B.C. provincial court Thursday on nine sex-related charges.

Abuse scandals in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere are shining a spotlight on soccer for all the wrong reasons

Bob Birarda pictured in an interview with CBC News in 2007. (CBC News)

Court proceedings against former Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian National Team women's coach Bob Birarda have been postponed for a ninth time.

Birarda was scheduled to appear in B.C. provincial court Thursday on nine sex-related charges, but the matter was put over until Oct. 28.

Lawyers for both the Crown and Birarda agreed to the change before the appearance.

Birarda is charged with six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring, offences alleged to have occurred over a 20-year span between Jan. 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008, at or near North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver.

The names of the four complainants are protected by a publication ban. CBC has learned at least three of the four are former soccer players.

Birarda is out on bail and has yet to enter a plea. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

The case is gaining additional attention from outside of Canada as women's soccer globally comes under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The largest women's professional league in the world is in turmoil south of the border where last week two National Women's Soccer League players accused a prominent coach of sexual coercion.

NWSL players also accuse the league of being complicit in a cover-up that allowed Paul Riley to continue coaching for six years after one of the players first complained. 

Ciara McCormack, the former Whitecaps player who first spoke out about alleged abusive behaviour on the part of Birarda, said it's been difficult watching the NWSL situation unfold. 

Ciara McCormack, former Vancouver Whitecaps player, says women's soccer is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with a number of abuse scandals unfolding around the world, including in Canada. (CBC)

"It's almost like witnessing a car accident that you've already been in," she said. "Listening to the two women from the NWSL, how they came forward and the description of their situation ... is shocking. But then it's not shocking, because you lived the situation," McCormack said.

Fallout in the NWSL was immediate. League commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down and Riley was fired and had his coaching licence revoked.

Birarda still has his Canada Soccer coaching licence, according to McCormack.

His court appearance on Thursday was originally scheduled for Jan. 28, but had been postponed eight times until the ninth adjournment Thursday.

A criminal defence lawyer not involved in the case said delays are common when alleged historical crimes are involved.

"This can go on for months depending on how complex the case is," said Paul Doroshenko. "The lawyers will need to figure out what is admissible and not admissible."

With abuse scandals also unfolding in Australia and Venezuela, McCormack says the women's game is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning. 

"I think it's a positive because it's causing everybody to reflect on what we've put up with to this point, and just how everything really needs to change."

Birarda was released from his duties as head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team and Canadian women's under-20 team in October 2008 with little explanation. 

At the time, the Canadian Soccer Association called it a mutual parting of ways. Within months, he was coaching girls at a club team in Tsawwassen, B.C.

He was suspended from coaching at Surrey, B.C., club Coastal FC in February 2019 after McCormack wrote a blog called "A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story."

In the months following the blog publication, former Team Canada players alleged Birarda had sent sexualized text messages and made sexual comments to players, touched players inappropriately and used his position of power to make sexual advances.