VANCOUVER — A former Canadian Olympic ski team member has launched a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging Alpine Canada didn’t protect its female athletes from the sexual assaults of a former coach.
Allison Forsyth alleges in a statement of claim filed in British Columbia Supreme Court that the national governing body for ski racing failed to properly investigate the coaching history of Bertrand Charest and is vicariously liable for his sexual misconduct.
Charest was convicted in a Quebec court on more than three dozen sex charges involving female athletes ranging in age between 12 and 18.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but his lawyers were in court this month appealing both his conviction and sentence and he remains free on bail while the court decides his fate.
Forsyth’s lawsuit doesn’t name Charest as a defendant, instead it alleges Alpine Canada hired Charest as a coach for the national team from 1996 to 1998 when it was common knowledge in the ski racing community he engaged in sexualized conduct with female athletes.
The allegations have not been proven in court and Alpine Canada says in a statement that it is reviewing the details of the lawsuit relating to events that occurred in the 1990s.
“For the past 20 years, Alpine Canada has been working to ensure a safe environment for all athletes, and we are continually reviewing best practices with regards to athlete safety and security.”
Another lawsuit was filed last year against Alpine Canada in Quebec by three other former female ski team members making similar allegations.
Alpine Canada’s statement released Wednesday says it applauds the tremendous courage of Forsyth and other women in coming forward and speaking out.
“Their determination and commitment to helping drive change is inspiring.”
Forsyth’s lawsuit alleges Charest first sexually assaulted her in a bathroom, then told her she would be required to continue the sexual interactions if she wanted to succeed on the national team.
“In January 1998, the plaintiff told Charest that their sexual interactions would stop and that she no longer wanted his sexualized attention,” the lawsuit says. “Charest told the plaintiff that her skiing career was over.”
Allegations threatened Forsyth’s skiing career
Forsyth, who is now 40, alleges in her lawsuit that she met with the then-president of Alpine Canada who told her that she would have to be careful about her allegations or the team would lose sponsors.
“Alpine Canada implied that speaking publicly would threaten the plaintiff’s ski racing career,” the statement says.
She began racing for the Canadian National Ski Team in 1998 at the age of 17. She skied for Canada in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
“Despite her outward success as an Olympic and World Cup athlete, the plaintiff’s sexual abuse by Charest and abhorrent treatment by Alpine Canada continued to impact her psychological and physical health, which impacted her ability to compete.”
She retired in 2008.
Watch: Former ski coach found guilty on 37 sex-related charges. Story continues below.
A class-action lawsuit must first be approved by the B.C. Supreme Court. Forsyth is proposing that she would act as the representative plaintiff, but the action doesn’t say how many others might take part in the lawsuit.
It alleges Alpine Canada failed in a series of actions to protect female athletes including by not warning them, not responding immediately to complaints and not addressing the suspicion of sexual interference.
The lawsuit asks for damages for emotional, physical and psychological harm.
It also asks for punitive and aggravated damages for “the selfish, high-handed and callous conduct of Alpine Canada.”
Alpine Canada is liable for its own wrongdoing and is vicariously liable for Charest’s wrongdoing, it says.
“Alpine Canada derived financial benefit, including retaining and attracting sponsorships, in silencing national team athletes and failing to take adequate, or any steps, to openly and publicly investigate Charest’s sexual abuse.”