Nanaimo-born Olympian Allison Forsyth is leading a class action lawsuit claiming female athletes on the Canadian ski team were subjected to “psychological, physical and sexual assault, harassment and abuse” from 1996 to 1998.
The case revolves around former Team Canada coach Bertrand Charest who was found guilty in 2017 on 37 sex-related charges stemming from the complaints of nine women who were between the ages of 12 and 18 at the time of the crimes.
Charest was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was recently released on bail pending an appeal.
Charest’s employer, Alpine Canada, is named as the defendant in the lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court.
Speaking from her home in Ontario, Forsyth told CBC that the former skiers who have come forward have been stunned to learn the extent to which Canadian ski officials seemed to turn a blind eye while Charest preyed upon young skiers.
‘Things need to change’
“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,” said Forsyth.
“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.”
Forsyth alleges in the class action claim that Charest used his power and authority to manipulate and extract sex from skiers in his charge.
She says in the summer of 1997 while training in New Zealand, she confronted Charest about a relationship he was having with another skier identified as Athlete No. 1. Athlete No. 1 was a minor and was receiving individualized and private coaching from Charest.
According to the claim, Charest admitted to the relationship, telling Forsyth — who was 18 at the time — that he wanted to end his affair with Athlete No. 1 and that a relationship with Forsyth would help him do that.
“Immediately, Charest began favouring [Forsyth], providing her with extra coaching and attention and touching her in an intimate manner,” reads the claim. “Charest told [Forsyth] that he could develop her into a great athlete and that she needed him to succeed in ski racing.”
The claim says despite Forsyth’s efforts to deflect Charest, he became ever more insistent, finding ways to get her alone and telling her a relationship with him would give her an edge over the other athletes. He even told Forsyth he could see himself married to her.
Forsyth said she felt trapped and pressured into a sexual relationship.
Severe anxiety, psychological devastation
The claim outlines a number of alleged sexual encounters between the two, including an incident where Forsyth alleges Charest sexually assaulted her in the stall of a women’s washroom in Austria.
Forsyth said she suffered severe anxiety that let to anorexia and psychological devastation because of Charest.
In February of 1998, Forsyth told a female physical therapist about the relationship. The therapist told her that another skier identified as Athlete No. 2 had also confessed to having sexual relations with Charest.
Sponsors over skiers
The claim alleges that soon after, Alpine Canada finally acted on the allegations against Charest. The organization’s president Joze Sparovec told Forsyth “that she would have to be careful or the team would lose sponsors.”
Charest resigned from the team with no public explanation. Alpine Canada did not revoke his coaching licence, nor were police informed.
Forsyth believes he continued to coach after leaving Alpine Canada.
Alpine Canada has not filed a response and none of the allegations have been tested in court.
Forsyth’s lawyer said the intention of the class action is to include all skiers who were impacted by Charest during his tenure with Alpine Canada.
“Even people who choose not to come forward with their own stories are entitled potentially to compensation or whatever occurs in the action, even though they’re not named,” said Tanya Martin.
In response to the lawsuit Alpine Canada said in a statement that it “applauds the tremendous courage Allison and other women have shown in coming forward and speaking out.”
In December of last year, three former national team skiers who were all minors when victimized by Charest, filed a separate lawsuit against Alpine Canada.