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Updated: 20th September 2020 01:25 Montreal

'He was a monster, a predator': Bertrand Charest's victims share impact statements

Nine victims of former national ski coach Bertrand Charest shared stories of stress, anxiety and years of struggle to cope with what they say have been the emotional and sometimes physical impacts of his crimes.

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Crown seeks 12-year sentence for former national ski coach for 37 sexual assault, exploitation offences

"I was completely destroyed as a person."

"The anguish is indescribable."

"My childhood was stolen."

One after another, in a Saint-Jérôme, Que., courtroom, victims of former national ski coach Bertrand Charest shared stories of stress, anxiety and years of struggle to cope with what they said are the emotional and sometimes physical effects of his crimes.

Charest was convicted last June on 37 charges, including sexual assault and sexual exploitation, dating back to the 1990s.

He could face a maximum of 14 years in prison.

The victims, between the ages of 12 and 19 at the time of the offences, were all competitive skiers he coached. Their identities are subject to a publication ban. 

Three victims read their letters in court, while one appeared by video. Prosecutors read letters from five others.

'I felt like I was going to vomit'

As the victims testified in court, Charest sat behind a white blind, hidden from their view. 

The first victim described how her dream of becoming a world-class skier turned into a nightmare and described her transformation from a smiling, social teenager into someone she didn't recognize.

"I felt like I was leading a double life," she said of being forced to hide Charest's abuse.

"The inability to tell him no, the sense of feeling like an object… I was completely destroyed as a person."

The woman said the stress at the time was so extreme that she suffered heart palpitations, vomiting and diarrhea, forcing her to miss training sessions.

She and several others spoke of developing eating disorders or losing weight and struggling with body image into adulthood — the impact, they say, of Charest's abuse and his constant critiques of their bodies.

'He manipulated me'

Several spoke of the control they say Charest exerted over the girls and women he coached, sowing discord among his athletes by playing favourites.

"We all wanted the nice Bertrand," one victim wrote in her letter. "I would have done anything to get his full attention."

"My self-esteem was wrapped up in what he would think of me," said another.

Others spoke of Charest's attempts to isolate them from friends, boyfriends and family members.

"He also withheld his attention if I didn't perform well," said one victim, who addressed the court by video.

"I felt intense self-hatred."

Several said they continue to struggle with forming healthy relationships and dealing with authority figures.

More than one victim questioned whether she might have gone further in her ski career, had it not been for Charest's destructive influence.

As one woman read her letter, she addressed Charest directly.

"You forever tainted the one true passion in my life," she said.

Worried for their children

While some said that the trial has helped them heal, others say their stress and anxiety have worsened with the details of their ordeal being brought to the surface again.

Most of the victims said they have spent years in therapy.

Several of the women criticized Alpine Canada, saying the ski organization failed to adequately protect them.

"People who I thought had integrity took the easy road," said a former team member whose letter was read in court, though she was not one of the victims of the crimes for which Charest was convicted.

While some said they have allowed their children to enrol in competitive sport, one said she has discouraged her children from competitive skiing.

"I'm so scared this could happen to them," said the first woman who testified in court. "Still today, I have no confidence in sports federations."

'Aggravating factors'

Prosecutor Caroline Lafleur is asking for a 12-year sentence for Charest.

Lafleur argued the number of victims, their ages, the fact that the crimes took place over a period of years and the fact that Charest was in a position of authority should be considered aggravating factors.

She cited a psychosexual report prepared for the court that said Charest still lacked remorse and did not believe he needed to seek help for his behaviour.

In that report, Lafleur said, Charest said he would be interested in giving speeches in schools to young athletes about "their responsibilities to control their emotions" in their relationships with their coaches. He said that otherwise, it would be the coaches "who pay for it later."

"Mr. Charest lives in another reality," said Lafleur in court.

Charest sat listening and taking notes while Lafleur spoke, at one point shaking his head.

Defence lawyer Antonio Cabral said Charest should receive a lighter sentence because he has no criminal record and has not reoffended.

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