Updated: Witness at trial of ex-skiing coach Bertrand Charest says he was ‘very controlling’
SAINT-JEROME, Que. — The first witness at Bertrand Charest’s sex assault trial testified Thursday the former national ski coach began kissing her and touching her breasts in 1997 when she was 17.
The woman said she met Charest over the next few months for several sexual encounters in locations that included hotel rooms, a van, a physio table, an airplane and Charest’s house. The alleged crimes took place in France, Austria and Mont-Tremblant.
Charest is facing 57 charges including sexual assault and breach of trust, with the 12 alleged victims between the ages of 12 and 19 at the time.
The witness described Charest as a “very controlling” coach who managed his students’ careers “from A to Z” and had influence over what she ate, where she stayed and where she attended school.
She said she felt the relationship was “abnormal” even though she believed at first she was in love with Charest, who is now 51.
“He laughed at me, he brought my self-esteem as low as possible only to build it up a little bit with small compliments,” she said.
The woman testified that many of the alleged incidents occurred during competitions and training camps, when coaches and students stayed in the same hotels.
She said she was never physically forced to meet with Charest but felt increasing “guilt and shame” about the relationship to the point where she fell ill in the fall of 1997 and began vomiting and getting migraines.
Charest then took her to see his own father who was a physician.
The accused took copious notes Thursday in the Saint-Jerome courthouse, where a screen was erected between himself and the alleged victim.
During cross-examination, defence lawyer Antonio Cabral questioned the witness in detail about an alleged incident in France, asking her to recall details about who else was nearby, why she went to Charest’s hotel room and whether Charest had been staying with another coach.
When asked why she was unable to quantify how many sexual encounters took place, the witness said she didn’t remember everything that happened.
“We’re going back 20 years, and I prefer to speak of the events where my memories are clear,” she said.
Cabral also questioned her in detail about a letter she wrote to Charest on Valentine’s Day in 1997 in which she expressed respect and admiration for him.
“Is that the kind of thing you say to someone who denigrated you?” he asked her.
Another of Charest’s lawyers, Jacky-Eric Salvant, said that letter and another written in September paint a picture of a romantic relationship that was “maybe more than just a relationship of coercion.”
The witness said her relationship with Charest ended in early 1998 when two other girls told her they had also been seeing the former coach, and the matter was revealed to Alpine Canada officials.
The trial resumes Friday and is expected to last about a month.
Salvant said about two dozen Crown witnesses are expected to testify.
Charest, who worked with Alpine Canada’s women’s development team between 1996 and 1998, has been in custody since his arrest in March 2015.
The allegations date back to the 1990s and also involve other locations such as Whistler, B.C., New Zealand and the United States.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
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