MONTREAL — Alpine Canada admitted Tuesday it had put its interests before those of three young female skiers who were sexually abused by their coach in the 1990s.
Canada's national governing body for alpine and ski cross racing said it was "profoundly sorry" in a news release announcing it had reached an out-of-court settlement with the former athletes over sexual abuse by one-time national ski coach Bertrand Charest.
Former skiers Genevieve Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal had accused the sports federation of covering up Charest's sexual abuse in the interest of results on the slopes and sponsorship money.
"Although we cannot undo what happened, we feel it is important to recognize and acknowledge that instead of providing support when the abuse was discovered, Alpine Canada put itself first, not the victims," the federation said. "For this, we are profoundly sorry."
The three women, who were minors at the time of the abuse, were demanding $450,000 each from the governing body. The lawsuit they launched last December accused Alpine Canada of failing to take the most basic steps to prevent Charest's predations.
It alleged the organization was made aware of Charest's troubling behaviour before it hired him in 1996.
Alpine Canada did not disclose the deal's terms but the chair of its board of directors, Martha Hall Findlay, said the settlement was "satisfactory to both sides."
"We understand the devastating impact this had on Ms. Kelly, Ms. Prchal, Ms. Simard and the others," Findlay said in a statement. "We wish to recognize their bravery in coming forward to ensure that sport is safe for future generations."
Charest was found guilty in June 2017 of 37 of the 57 sex-related charges he was facing, and was eventually given a 12-year prison term. The convictions involved nine of the 12 women who'd accused him of crimes that occurred more than 20 years ago, when the victims and alleged victims were between the ages of 12 and 19.
Charest's lawyers were in court last month appealing both his conviction and sentence, and he remains free on bail while the court decides his fate.
Neither Simard, Kelly nor Prchal were available for interviews Tuesday. In 2018, all three women obtained the right to be identified publicly after a judge granted their request to lift a publication ban.
Prchal told reporters in June 2018 about the overwhelming feeling of shame and humiliation that has stayed with her for the better part of 20 years.
"My childhood dreams and goals were robbed from me,'' she said. "My self-esteem was crushed. I found myself abandoned by the very people who were supposed to be taking care of me. Worst of all, they made me feel like I'd done something wrong."
JD Miller, president of B2ten, a charity that supports athletes, said his organization helped connect the women with a law firm, Davies Ward Phillips and Vineberg, which he said represented the three former national skiers pro bono.
"I can tell you that they are all looking forward to moving on with their lives," Miller said in an interview. "They are extremely proud of having stood up and having brought to light this matter to the Canadian public."
Last month, another former Canadian skier launched a proposed class action lawsuit alleging Alpine Canada didn't protect its female athletes from Charest's sexual assaults.
Allison Forsyth alleged in a statement of claim filed in British Columbia Supreme Court that Alpine Canada failed to property investigate the coaching history of Charest and is vicariously liable for his sexual misconduct.
Alpine Canada said it has made "significant improvements to its safety programs and is committed to continue to raise the bar."
The federation said some of those changes included instituting a code of conduct for all its coaches as well as a whistleblower policy. Alpine Canada said it now has "zero tolerance of athlete-coach sexual relationships."