Allison Forsyth (“Forsyth”), a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her ski coach, Bertrand Charest (“Charest”), is initiating a class action lawsuit against Charest’s employer, Alpine Canada.
Forsyth has launched a proposed class action lawsuit in the British Columbia Supreme Court against Alpine Canada, the national governing body for alpine, para-alpine and ski cross racing in Canada, alleging that the organization did not protect its female athletes from sexual abuse by their employee and coach, Charest.
Forsyth began alpine racing for the Canadian National Ski Team at the age of 17 in 1998. She participated in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games on behalf of Team Canada in 2002 and retired from racing in 2008.
In 2017, former Team Canada coach, Charest, was found guilty of 37 sexual assault, sexual exploitation and sexual assault causing bodily harm charges stemming from complaints made by nine victims ranging in age from 12 to 18 at the time of the offences.
Charest was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was released from prison in March 2019 on bail pending a ruling of his appeal, which was recently argued before Quebec’s Court of Appeal.
WHAT IS THE CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT?
The class action lawsuit seeks financial restitution from the defendant, Alpine Canada, for its own wrongdoing and its vicarious liability as the employer of Charest.
It is alleged that Alpine Canada hired Charest to coach the national ski team from 1996 to 1998 despite his reputation in the ski racing community of engaging in sexualized conduct with female athletes.
It is alleged that Alpine Canada failed to publicly acknowledge and investigate Charest’s sexual abuse and harassment of his athletes. The lawsuit states that Alpine Canada failed to protect its female athletes by not warning them, not responding immediately to complaints and not addressing the suspicion of sexual conduct.
The class action lawsuit alleges that Charest used his power and authority to manipulate and compel sexual acts with skiers in his care.
According to the claims in the lawsuit, “Charest began favouring [Forsyth], providing her with extra coaching and attention and touching her in an intimate manner. Charest told [Forsyth] that he could develop her into a great athlete and that she needed him to succeed in ski racing.”
Forsyth alleges that she felt trapped and pressured into a sexual relationship with Charest.
According to the lawsuit, there were a number of sexual encounters between Charest and Forsyth, including an incident whereby it is alleged that Charest sexually assaulted her in the stall of a women’s washroom in Austria.
Forsyth alleges that as a result of her relationship with Charest she has suffered severe anxiety, leading to anorexia and psychological devastation. The lawsuit seeks damages for emotional, physical and psychological harm. The lawsuit is also seeking punitive (damages awarded to punish the defendant and deter others from future breaches) and aggravated damages (damages awarded to compensate for intangible injury) for “the selfish, high-handed and callous conduct of Alpine Canada”.
What I really learned is the ramifications and the depth to which this man victimized athletes – before he worked for Alpine Canada and during his time for Alpine Canada. … I also learned about his coaching license never being taken away. And it really showed me that things need to change so this won’t happen to young athletes again.
The allegations against Alpine Canada have not been proven in court. Alpine Canada has issued a statement advising that it is reviewing the details of the lawsuit and that it applauds the courage of Forsyth and other women in speaking out about the abuse. The statement reads:
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.
In order to proceed, the class action lawsuit must first be approved by the B.C. Supreme Court. Forsyth will act as the representative plaintiff in the lawsuit, but it is unclear at their time how many other victims will take part in the lawsuit.
Cuming & Gillespie LLP will continue to monitor this case and report in this blog any new developments and whether the class action will be approved by the Court.
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