CALGARY – Two victims of disgraced national ski coach Bertrand Charest joined former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy on Friday to demand immediate action from the federal government to combat abuse in sports.
Charest was found guilty in June 2017 of 37 sex-related charges and was given a 12-year prison term.
The convictions involved nine of 12 women who’d accused him of crimes that occurred more than 20 years ago when they were between the ages of 12 and 19.
“Our story is horrible. It has affected our lives. Some dreams were never accomplished because we had this predator that came into our lives,” said Genevieve Simard, who was joined by Amelie-Frederique Gagnon at a news conference at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary.
“We want to take this horrible chapter in our lives and we want to turn it into something positive and to make sure this kind of abuse doesn’t happen again.”
The former skiers had already issued a list of changes they want the federal government to implement to protect children. They include online training for members of sports organizations on mental and physical abuse. They also want independent safety officers to investigate when concerns are raised.
On Friday, they said they want any sports organization receiving government funding to be required to have a safety plan.
“If there’s not a safety plan, then they don’t get money,” said Simard. “We all know for amateur athletes and amateur sport we need funding from the government to run our programs. That’s why it needs to come from them.”
Kennedy, who became a children’s rights advocate after being abused by his former junior hockey coach Graeme James, said victims often feel cut off with nowhere to go.
“Sometimes with these issues you feel you’re alone and today I think we realized we’re not alone. There’s a lot of people pulling on the rope,” he said. “We need to shift our focus from the incident to the impact. We’ve seen the impact. The impact is real and we know that.”
Gagnon said she is relieved to finally be out of the shadows and was motivated partly by having two children of her own.
“You feel alone for so many years. You have so many negative feelings that you have to carry by yourself and I feel better today.”
The women recently won the right to be identified when a judge granted their request to lift a publication ban.