MONTREAL — A renowned Canadian pairs skating coach was sentenced on Monday to 12 months in jail for sexual assault and gross indecency against a teenage athlete in the 1980s.
Quebec court Judge Josée Bélanger told a Montreal court that Richard Gauthier deserves a harsh sentence due to factors that include the age of the victim and the position of authority and trust Gauthier had over him.
"The fact that the victim was a child increases the degree of responsibility of the offender, and that's because of the vulnerability of children," she said.
"The court concludes that the accused’s responsibility is very great."
Gauthier, 61, was found guilty in January of two charges dating back to 1984 or 1985 involving the male skater, who was 14 or 15 at the time of the offences. He was acquitted of a third count of indecent assault against the victim, whose identity is covered by a publication ban.
In court, Gauthier was accused of having bathed naked with the victim, taken showers with him and spooned naked with him in a bed at the accused's residence.
Gauthier spent more than three decades training world-class pairs skaters. He was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as a coach in 2015, though he was expelled from Skate Canada following his conviction.
Several prominent members of the skating community testified in court on Gauthier's behalf. Those statements, while sincere, "illustrate well in what measure sexual violence toward children can be invisible in the eyes of society," Bélanger said in her ruling Monday.
Bélanger noted that the victim had "idolized" his coach and had compellingly described the lasting impacts of the assaults, including depression, difficulty with intimate relationships and trouble sleeping.
The victim was present in court, and cried as the decision on sentencing was read. He then turned his head and watched as Gauthier was handcuffed and taken into custody at the end of the hearing.
Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, the victim said that as he struggled with the aftermath of the assault, Gauthier was able to enjoy 40 years as a celebrated coach of world-ranked and Olympic athletes.
"He was able to enjoy this beautiful life, and I didn't get that," he said. "Regardless of the result, I experienced what I experienced, and that will never change."
However, the victim said coming forward was the "best decision I've ever made," and he said he hoped his story would inspire others to speak up earlier than he did so they can more quickly access help and healing.
Speaking up also "forces people to talk. It helps people to keep coming forward," he said, noting that he was motivated to come forward after seeing other victims speak out.
Gauthier's legal team had asked that he be given a suspended sentence, or a jail term that could be served on weekends, which Bélanger said would have been "inappropriate" and minimized the crimes.
However, she also said the Crown's suggestion of 18 months was too high given the numerous mitigating factors, including the fact that Gauthier was 23 at the time of the crimes, had no criminal record, and is considered a "low or very low" risk of reoffending. He has also lost his career, and was most recently working in a pizzeria, she noted.
As part of his defence, Gauthier told the court earlier this year that the acts with the victim took place in a different time, when personal relationships between coaches and athletes were less regulated.
He denied committing any sexual acts toward the victim, but said he'd lacked judgment by putting himself in a position where he was alone with his student outside of a training or competition setting.
"An error in judgment on my part at age 23, when life and morals were different, ruined my reason for living; namely teaching and my knowledge," he wrote in a letter read at his sentencing hearing in August.
Gauthier's lawyer did not comment after the sentencing. Prosecutor Christine Desjarlais said she was happy with the judge's decision, which she said sends a strong signal that "crimes against children are not to be tolerated."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press