Former Greenfield Park minor hockey coach pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges

François Lamarre, a retired Montreal police officer, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of sexual assault involving young boys dating back to his decades as a hockey coach in Greenfield Park.

Many in community asking why past complaints to police weren't taken seriously

François Lamarre, 70, appeared in court in Longueuil this morning on charges of sexual abuse dating back to his time as a hockey coach in Greenfield Park. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

François Lamarre, a retired Montreal police officer, pleaded not guilty this morning to charges of sexual assault involving young boys dating back to his time as a hockey coach in Greenfield Park.

The 70-year-old made a brief appearance at the Longueuil courthouse.

He did not comment to reporters other than to say he was sick and had fallen in the parking lot. For that reason, he was in a wheelchair provided by the courthouse.

Lamarre was charged Dec. 4 with gross indecency, indecent exposure, sexual assault, sexual touching and invitation to sexual touching.

The initial allegations involve four boys between the ages of nine and 16, alleged to have been sexually abused over a 25-year period, from 1972 to 1997.

Since then, Longueuil police said, 16 more potential victims have come forward, and more charges against Lamarre should be expected. 

This morning, a Quebec court judge read the charges and went over the conditions for Lamarre's release. 

They include not being in contact with the victims or in the presence of minors.

Lamarre told the judge he understood the conditions.

He said he did not have a lawyer and is going through legal aid to get one. 

Lamarre is due back in court Feb. 4.

Police, Crown didn't act on complaints made decades ago

Thursday was Lamarre's first court appearance in relation to charges involving sexual abuse, but authorities were alerted to concerns about the man's behaviour long before this court case.

Over two decades, three separate people went to various police forces — including to the Longueuil police serve — all alleging sexual abuse by Lamarre.

It wasn't until this December, though, that the longtime hockey coach was charged. 

CBC has spoken with two of the four alleged victims in the case now before the courts, as well as a witness and many members of the community who knew Lamarre during his hockey coaching days.

As they grapple with the news, many have been left wondering why the initial allegations were not taken seriously.

A man who CBC is calling Steve first went to Toronto police in 1997. 

I said, 'Oh, he was a police officer.' I felt the temperature change. The air came out of the room, I swear to you.- 'Steve,' alleged victim

CBC is using a pseudonym because his name is covered by a publication ban, since he was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse.

"With me, it was not just wrestling and fondling, it was way more deviant than that," said Steve.

In the years that followed, Steve says, he never spoke about the abuse and turned to alcohol to self-medicate.

It wasn't until he met his wife that he spoke about what allegedly happened to him. Right before the birth of their son, in 1997, Steve decided to speak to police.

"I was trying to take care of it and table it," he said.

Steve says he met with two Toronto police investigators, sitting with them for a few hours.

"I got through it and towards the end, I said, 'Oh, he was a police officer,'" he said.

"I felt the temperature change. The air came out of the room, I swear to you."

Steve says he was told his accusations weren't in the Toronto police force's jurisdiction.

Toronto police told CBC they could not comment on the case.

François Lamarre, left, in a photo from the 1972-1973 hockey season, and right, in 2010, is accused of sexually assaulting young boys over a 25-year period. (Longueuil police)

Witness approached Greenfield Park police in 1997

Scott Mackenzie says he went to Greenfield Park police at around the same time —  not as a victim but as a witness.

At that time, the town wasn't part of Longueuil and had its own police force.

Mackenzie says many people in Greenfield Park were suspicious of Lamarre and his behaviour around the young male hockey players he coached, but nobody spoke out about it.

Around 1997, upon returning home for a Christmas visit and once again seeing Lamarre with a group of young boys, Mackenzie went to police with his suspicions. He says police told him they could do nothing without a victim coming forward.

CBC reached out to the Greenfield Park police chief at the time, Jean-Pierre Larose, who now heads the Kativik Regional Police Force.

"I have never met [Lamarre] and I can't recall the complaint that you mentioned," he said in a phone interview.

"It didn't come to my office. No bells are ringing."

'Jacques' went to Longueuil police in 2009

It took him decades, but Jacques says he finally got the courage to go to police in Longueuil 10 years ago.

Jacques is not his real name. As another one of the four alleged victims involved in the current case, his name is covered by a publication ban.

He alleges that Lamarre sexually abused him when he was 13 and 14, through the summer of 1993.

Jacques says Longueuil police did not give him support or treat him like a victim of sexual abuse.

"I felt that they never took me seriously," he said.

"I remember saying at the time, 'I can't be the only one. I cannot be the only one.'"

Longueuil police confirmed that a victim did come to them in 2009.

"The investigation was done and the case was brought to the Crown prosecution," says Sgt. Patrick Barrière.

"We did what we had to do."

Quebec's Crown prosecutor's office ultimately decided not to lay charges.

"We cannot comment as there is an ongoing case," said Jean-Pascal Boucher, spokesperson for the Crown.

Jacques says, while he was impressed that Longueuil police came back to him on their own in February for the new case, he's disappointed it took ten years.

"I think the investigation really didn't go as far as it should," he said.