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Sister of former ski coach Bertrand Charest takes stand at his sex assault trial

Bertrand Charest is seen in a court drawing during a bail hearing on March 16, 2015 in St-Jerome, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike McLaughlin

Bertrand Charest is seen in a court drawing during a bail hearing on March 16, 2015 in St-Jerome, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike McLaughlin

SAINT-JEROME, Que. — Bertrand Charest was a passionate and visionary ski coach, his sister told his sex assault trial Monday.

His ski students were happy, relaxed and the atmosphere was "super fun," said Isabelle Charest, the defence's first witness.

"To be a good coach, it's not just about knowing technique," she said. "You have to know how to teach it. (Bertrand Charest) was very passionate. Other coaches didn't have his vision."

The accused is on trial on 57 charges, including sexual assault and breach of trust, in connection with 12 alleged victims between the ages of 12 and 19 during the 1990s.

Many of them have testified Charest was an abusive and manipulating coach, who was at times gentle and kind and at others vicious and insulting.

Several said Charest would use degrading and sexually laced insults to break their character.

Charest's sister, herself a competitive skier, told the court how coaches could be difficult, but only because they wanted to develop young athletes.

"I hated and adored my coach," she said of her early competitive skiing experience.

She testified how her coach once made her walk up a hill several times in one day, without using the ski lift, as punishment for not working hard enough.

"I felt humiliated," she said. "He broke me. But it took that to get me where I needed to go."

Isabelle Charest also told the court how it was common in the late 1980s and early '90s for coaches to rub the legs and buttocks of ski students to keep them warm.

"I'm not sure if that's still done," she testified.

Some of the alleged witnesses have testified the accused fondled various parts of their bodies.

Isabelle Charest stopped skiing competitively around 1990 and studied in the United States between '91 and '95.

When she returned to Canada, she spent time with her brother's ski team at the national championships.

She said Charest and his ski students "seemed like they were friends. The atmosphere was light."

In 1996, she was hired by her brother to manage a ski school he had opened in Mont-Tremblant.

She said she worked there until January 1997.

Several elite skiers lived at the home. They skied in the morning and had classes in the afternoon, she added.

She lived in the house and managed the day-to-day affairs and said the ambience was "super fun."

"Everyone laughed a lot," she said. "There were no fights. No friction."

One of the accused's alleged victims told a different story of her time at the ski school in 1996.

She said Charest was domineering and pulled her out of the school on multiple occasions and bring her over to his home for sex.

Isabelle Charest said none of the alleged victims ever confided in her about her brother abusing them.

She told the court she and her sibling had a respectful relationship and that he never insulted her physical appearance or was overtly mean to her.

"Did he ever make comments to you that were sexual in nature?" asked defence attorney Antonio Cabral.

"No," she replied. "Not at all. Never."

The Crown's cross-examination lasted only a few minutes.

Attorney Marie-Nathalie Tremblay asked about Isabelle Charest's testimony when she said earlier in the day that the construction on her brother's home was completed around Christmas 1995.

Tremblay showed the witness documents from a home inspector stating the house was completed in early October of that year.

"That could be," Isabelle Charest said.

Bertrand Charest's legal team said their client is not expected to testify.

They plan on calling up to three more witnesses by Wednesday and said they will begin final arguments Friday.

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