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Alpine Canada, former skier Allison Forsyth reach settlement in Charest lawsuit

CALGARY — A quarter century after blowing the whistle, Allison Forsyth feels heard. Alpine Canada has settled a lawsuit with the former national team skier via the sport body's insurer.
Former Canadian Olympic skier Allison Forsyth poses for a portrait in Toronto on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan

CALGARY — A quarter century after blowing the whistle, Allison Forsyth feels heard.

Alpine Canada has settled a lawsuit with the former national team skier via the sport body's insurer.

Forsyth sued Alpine Canada over its handling of former coach and convicted sex offender Bertrand Charest.

"It's justice," Forsyth told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "It's been 25 years since 1998 when I first reported that this was occurring.

"I did this because I wanted to show that sometimes you have to fight and keep fighting for accountability."

Charest was convicted in 2017 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for various sex crimes against young skiers under his care — including minors — in the 1990s.

Quebec's Court of Appeal later dropped Charest's convictions from 37 to 21 and reduced his sentence to 57 months. He was granted parole in 2020.

Charest wasn't convicted on charges involving Forsyth due to jurisdictional issues because the alleged incidents occurred outside of Canada.

Forsyth, who now works as a safe sport advocate, launched a class-action lawsuit against Alpine Canada in 2019, and refiled as an individual in 2021.

She accused Alpine Canada of failing to supervise Charest and ensuring policies and procedures were followed to protect athletes.

Forsyth has said when she brought Chartrand's behaviour to the attention of Alpine Canada's leaders in 1998, the president's response was to tell her to be careful or the team would lose sponsors.

Alpine Canada did not disclose financial terms of the settlement, but the agreement is noteworthy in that it doesn't include a non-disclosure agreement that prevents Forsyth from talking about her experience.

"They know I am not here to hurt them now. I am not here to smear them now," Forsyth said. "I am here to show the world that we need to talk about these things and they need to give me the permission, which gracefully they have, because there's a trust there that needs to be a part of sport. Athletes being able to talk about their abuse is critical to solving this very complex problem.

"I truly think Alpine Canada as of today is doing their very best to protect their athletes. This is about righting the wrongs of the past, and providing an organization an opportunity bear witness to how wrong the past was."

Alpine Canada will also donate $15,000 over the next three years to the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport.

"This settlement is between Allison and our third-party insurer. This isn't a situation where Alpine Canada funds were used to settle claims," said Therese Brisson, who was hired as Alpine Canada's chief executive officer in 2020.

"It is not our view that government partnership or membership funding should ever be used by an NSO to reach settlements and matters of this nature. That's why we have insurance."

In 2019, Alpine Canada settled a separate lawsuit filed by former national-team skiers Geneviève Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal, who were all minors at the time of the offences for which Charest was convicted. They publicly identified themselves when they sued Alpine Canada in 2018.

"There are predators among us and keeping them out is a priority," Brisson said. "We're repulsed by Charest's actions, which have been terrible. 

"Certainly saddened by Allison's experience personally and apologize to her for her harm. We support her continued ability to discuss her experience without any restrictions.

"Personally, I hope this settlement, acknowledgment and apology make a meaningful difference in healing."

Forsyth raced for Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics and won a giant slalom bronze medal at the 2003 world championship.

She won five World Cup medals in giant slalom before retiring in 2008. The 44-year-old from Nanaimo, B.C., is chief operating officer of ITP Sport, which offers safe sport services and consultation.

Forsyth says she's received a letter of apology from Charest. She's also met with him face to face as part of her journey towards healing. She didn't want to go into detail on the meeting because she doesn't want to retraumatize other survivors.

Alpine Canada's board and management were overhauled in 2019 and 2020. Brisson, a former Canadian women's hockey team captain, succeeded Vania Grandy as CEO.

The organization said in a statement Tuesday that were no other outstanding lawsuits against it.

Forsyth still believes in the power of sport if it's safe.

"Right now, I'm proudly going to go watch my nine-year-old play hockey and I want the world to know that too," she said. "We have to be more aware, we have to work to shift, but I am a proud mom of athletes and I will always say sport is a beautiful place to raise your children. 

"I don't want to see that go away."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press