Fighting off ex-ski coach's advances 'emotionally draining,' 12th witness testifies at sexual assault trial

A twelfth and final alleged victim took the stand at the sexual assault trial of Bertrand Charest in Saint-Jérôme, Que., Friday, describing how her former ski coach would touch her breasts in front of her teammates and call her crude nicknames.

Beginning Monday, the defence will mount its case.

Charest, 51, who worked with Alpine Canada's women's development team between 1996 and 1998, is facing 57 charges, including sexual assault and breach of trust, involving 12 alleged victims who were between the ages of 12 and 19.

He has been in custody since his arrest in March 2015.

The testimony of Friday's witness, a woman now in her 30s, mirrored the evidence of other alleged victims, all athletes who skied under Charest's tutelage as teens.

Coach said he loved her

She was in her mid-teens when Charest began coaching her. She said at first, it was a normal coach-athlete relationship but that changed over the next couple of years. 

She said he told her that he loved her and that they should have a relationship.

The woman said he began to touch her breasts, sometimes in front of others. In order to get a reaction from her, he would use a crude nickname for her which embarrassed her in front of her teammates, she said.

The woman recalled one incident in the 1995-96 ski season when she lodged at his home in the Laurentians. 

She said she was lying face down on the sofa as Charest massaged her neck and shoulders. At one point, he turned her over and begin kissing her on the mouth as he lay pressed on top of her. 

She said she was worried something more serious would happen, but the kissing stopped when he got up to answer the phone.

Under cross-examination, the defence asked how she indicated to Charest she did not consent to the kissing and the attention. 

"I was in his house and on his territory. He had a major influence over me. I didn't feel I could say no," she said.

Lent her family money to pay for training

The woman told the court when she stayed at Charest's house, every night before going to bed, he would tell her, "My door is open, you are always welcome."

She said she went to bed each night worried something would happen. 

The woman said Charest held the key to her success, lending her family money to allow her to continue skiing and allowing her to stay at his home while training in the Laurentians.

She said he held a disproportionate amount of influence over her life. 

She said fighting off the continual advances was "emotionally draining."

She said she didn't want to have sex with Charest because she didn't want him to be her "first one."

She said she's now happy she never had sex with her former coach, but resisting him wasn't always easy. 

"It would have been easier psychologically [to have sex with Charest] than to continually have to refuse his advances," she said.

Not yet decided if Charest will testify

The defence will spend the weekend going over strategy, including deciding whether Charest himself will testify.

Jacky-Éric Salvant, one of Charest's lawyers, described the Crown's case as decent, but he said the defence did notice some holes in that case it hopes to exploit. 

The defence's case is expected to last about one week.