Bertrand Charest, ex-Canadian ski coach, 'acted like a true predator,' judge says

Calling him a "predator" who had total control over the girls and young women he was coaching, a judge has found former Canadian women's ski coach Bertrand Charest guilty of 37 criminal charges, including sexual assault.

Quebec court finds former coach guilty of 37 sex-related charges connected to 9 girls

Former Canadian ski coach Bertrand Charest was found guilty Thursday of 37 charges, including sexual assault and breach of trust, involving girls he coached two decades ago. (CBC)

Calling him a "predator" who had total control over the girls and young women he was coaching, a judge has found former Canadian women's ski coach Bertrand Charest guilty of 37 criminal charges, including sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

Quebec court Judge Sylvain Lépine read his ruling Thursday morning in a packed courtroom in Saint-Jérôme, north of Montreal.

Several of the women who testified against Charest, 52, were in the courtroom to hear the decision. The incidents occurred 20 years ago.

Lépine said there was, without question, an imbalance of power between Charest and the complainants. 

"The accused had total control — emotionally, athletically and psychologically — over all of the complainants," the judge said.

Charest was facing charges including sexual assault and breach of trust in connection with 12 complainants, who were between ages of 12 and 19 at the time of the incidents.

He was convicted of charges relating to nine of those complainants.

Charest was asked to stand in the prisoner's box as Lépine read out his decision. 

Lépine said he found the prosecution's evidence to be "overwhelming," and stated that he found the complainants' testimony to be credible and trustworthy despite the defence's attempts to discredit them.

"The accused acted like a true predator, carefully weaving his web to attract young women, adolescents, and exercised total influence over them."

Some of the complainants in attendance glanced over at Charest while the judge spoke.

Two charges were put aside because they concerned incidents that happened in New Zealand, outside the court's jurisdiction, and Charest was acquitted on 18 other charges.

In a statement, Alpine Canada said the decision makes it clear that there is no place in sport or society in general for individuals in a position of authority who abuse or harass others.

"Alpine Canada recognizes the courage of those former athletes involved in this trial, and we are very appreciative that through their bravery to come forward, justice has been served."

It says it will continue to work with its partners on "all relevant initiatives that strengthen the prevention of any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination locally, provincially and across all sports."

Ruling sends message

Prosecutor Caroline Lafleur said it was important to note that the judge found the complainants credible, which sends a clear message to others in the same situation.

"Even 20 years later, the victims filed complaints, testified and were believed by the courts," she said.

Chantal Dubois, spokesperson for a non-profit group that helps female survivors of sexual violence, said the decision shows it's never too late to come forward, if victims want to press charges.

She added the judge was unequivocal about issues of consent when the alleged abuser is in a position of power.

"The law is clear and it was stated and repeated today: It's never possible to have a consensual relationship when in a position of authority with minors, and that's very important," Dubois said.

Defence lawyer Antonio Cabral said his client was "disappointed" with the decision, but is trying to stay positive.

The complainants claimed Charest abused them when he was their coach, before and during his stint with Alpine Canada's women's development team between 1996 and 1998.

Several of the complainants testified they had sexual relationships with Charest, with many saying he was controlling and manipulative toward the athletes he managed.

It was alleged the incidents occurred at Mont-Tremblant, north of Montreal, as well as in Whistler, B.C., France, Austria, New Zealand and the United States.

Charest, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2015, did not testify during the three-week trial in March.

Some of the women who testified said they felt they were in love with Charest at the time, but eventually came to believe they had been manipulated.

With files from Jaela Bernstien