SAINT-JEROME, Que. — A judge sentenced former national ski coach Bertrand Charest to a 12-year prison term Friday for sexually assaulting teenage girls he trained, calling his actions “inexcusable and criminal.”
“This behaviour is not acceptable in 2017, it wasn’t in 1998, just as it wasn’t in 1950 or any other era,” Judge Sylvain Lepine said in his ruling.
“It is criminal in Quebec, in Europe and in every country in the world.
“These young women were at an important stage of their personal development. Their entire adult life has been shaped by the accused’s acts.”
All but one of the victims and alleged victims were under the age of 18 at the time of the offences, with the youngest being 12.
With time already served in detention since his arrest in 2015, Charest has seven years and 10 months left in the sentence.
His lawyer, Antonio Cabral, said he will look at the sentence in detail before deciding whether to appeal, as he is doing for last June’s convictions on 37 of the 57 charges Charest faced.
“I am a bit surprised with that (with the length of the sentence),” said Cabral, who had recommended between four and six years. “Twelve years is a significant sentence.”
Crown prosecutor Marie-Nathalie Tremblay expressed satisfaction, however, as it corresponded exactly to what she and fellow prosecutor Caroline Lafleur had asked for.
“They (the victims) were happy with the outcome, with the sentence, with having been heard and with the judge delivering the message that (such behaviour) is not to be tolerated,” Tremblay told reporters.
She said four of the victims listened via videoconference to the sentence being read, while four others were in the courtroom in Saint-Jerome, north of Montreal.
The accused, who didn’t testify at his trial, was acquitted on 18 charges, while the court said it didn’t have jurisdiction over two other counts related to incidents that occurred abroad.
Lepine had called Charest a sexual predator when he found him guilty on charges involving nine of the 12 women who’d accused him of crimes dating back more than 20 years.
The 57 initial charges against Charest included sexual assault, sexual exploitation and one of sexual assault causing bodily harm.
Charest’s victims delivered emotional impact statements last month, with one telling the court he had robbed her of her childhood and acted like a predator.
Another cried as she recounted how she lives with “shame, guilt and disgust” because of the sex assaults.
Some of the offences took place both before and during Charest’s stint with Alpine Canada’s women’s development team between 1996 and 1998.
The national ski organization said in a statement after the June verdict was rendered that the ruling sent a message that abusing authority has no place in sports or in society in general.
Lepine, meanwhile, ripped into the organization Friday.
“Alpine Canada and its leaders failed miserably in their role as guardians and protectors of these young athletes,” he wrote.
“Their parents had entrusted them (Alpine Canada) with their safety. Alpine Canada chose rather to close its eyes, to not believe these young women and to hide the truth.”
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press