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Sexual assault victims of ex-ski coach Bertrand Charest sue Alpine Canada

Three sexual assault victims of former ski coach Bertrand Charest are suing Alpine Canada, alleging the sports federation turned a blind eye to signs of wrongdoing.

Lawsuit alleges sports federation failed to take basic steps to prevent abuse from taking place

Anna Prchal, left, Geneviève Simard, right, and Gail Kelly, not pictured, filed a lawsuit against Alpine Canada at a Montreal courthouse Wednesday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Three sexual assault victims of former ski coach Bertrand Charest are suing Alpine Canada, alleging the sports federation turned a blind eye to signs of wrongdoing.

The three women are former Canadian skiers Geneviève Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal, who were all minors at the time of the offences for which Charest was convicted.

Charest is serving a 12-year sentence after being convicted in June 2017 of 37 charges, including sexual assault and sexual exploitation, for offences dating back to the 1990s involving nine victims. 

The three women 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.

Suit details years of alleged abuse

Their lawsuit, filed Wednesday at the Montreal courthouse, details alleged inappropriate touching, kissing and sexual intercourse between Charest and the three young skiers during training and competition trips in Canada and abroad, spanning the summer of 1996 to Feburary 1998. The allegations have not yet been tested in court.

The statement of claim, which was filed in French and viewed by CBC News, alleges that Charest, as coach, dictated rooming arrangements for the young athletes in his care during trips — frequently inviting them for one-on-one "private video viewing" sessions.

In one alleged instance of misconduct dating back to 1997, after Charest booked a shared hotel room for him and Simard during a stopover in Toronto, the young skier, then 16, hid in the bathroom in order to escape her coach's sexual advances.

Bertrand Charest was convicted in June 2017 of sexually abusing nine athletes between 1991 and 1998 when he was Canada's national ski coach. (Radio-Canada)

In another alleged example, on the same day another Alpine Canada coach was alerted of allegations of Charest's misconduct, Prchal was left alone with Charest, who eventually convinced her to have sex with him.

The suit states Charest exerted a "very strong psychological hold" over Simard, Kelly, Prchal and his other victims, as he controlled every aspect of their sporting careers.

'Innumerable reprehensible acts' 

The lawsuit argues Alpine Canada did not take even the most basic steps to prevent the abuse, alleging the organization ignored evidence of Charest's "innumerable reprehensible acts" to protect itself without worrying about the safety of its young athletes.

In a statement Wednesday, the sports federation said it has been in "ongoing discussions with the victims of Bertrand Charest" and continues to "support and co-operate with them to the fullest of our ability."

"We learned of the lawsuit filed by three victims today and are reviewing the details. Our commitment to supporting and working with the victims remains unchanged," the statement said.

But in a subsequent statement, Simard, Kelly and Prchal said Alpine Canada's assertion it was actively speaking with victims was "false."

"Our attempts to establish discussions were rejected," the three former skiers said. 

"If Alpine Canada today wants to change their attitude and offer us their support and co-operation, we expect a confirmation on their part that they will take part in a mediation in January 2019," they said.

CBC's Adrienne Arsenault sits down with four of Charest's victims, including Geneviève Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal:

CBC's Adrienne Arsenault sat down with four former Canadian athletes 3:40

Earlier Wednesday, Julie Girard, a lawyer for one of the victims, said on that Alpine Canada had been invited to participate in a confidential mediation to try and resolve the dispute. 

"Regrettably, Alpine has rejected mediation, thereby forcing the victims to publicly expose the abuse suffered in a court proceeding," Girard said.

In October, Charest's lawyers filed a document with Quebec's Court of Appeal, arguing that his sentence should be cut to between four and six years

Read the full statement of claim (in French):

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With files from CBC News

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