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Former skiers reach out-of-court deal with Alpine Canada in sex assault lawsuit

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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.”

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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Crime up, homicide down: Five things to know about the 2018 crime statistics

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police tape

OTTAWA — New national crime data for 2018 was released Monday, courtesy of Statistics Canada, with big changes to some key indicators. Here are five things that stood out:

Crime up, but still near decades-long low

The national statistics agency says both the crime rate and its measurement of the severity of crime were up two per cent this year, the fourth straight year of increases since 2014.

StatCan cautioned the prevalence of crime and its severity remain 17 per cent lower than in 2008, reflecting a long decline in crime rates nationally. From its peak in 1991, the national crime rate declined more than 50 per cent until 2014.

The agency says the increase in the severity of crimes in 2018 was attributable to marked increases in fraud (up 13 per cent), one particular class of sexual assault (15 per cent), shoplifting (14 per cent) and theft of items worth over $5,000 (15 per cent).

Less homicide, but provinces may vary

The rate of homicides in Canada ticked down nationally by four per cent, with 15 fewer homicides in 2018 than in 2017.

But the statistics tell a different story when broken down by province. Much of the decrease in came from declines in Alberta (38 fewer) and British Columbia (30 fewer), but Ontario experienced an enormous increase in homicides — 69 more than last year.

Statistics Canada analyst Greg Moreau notes that several incidents in Toronto, including the Danforth shooting one year ago (in which two people were killed), the discovery of eight victims of serial murders, and the North York van attack (in which 10 people died) all elevated the number of homicides recorded in 2018.

The data also shows decreases in firearm-related (by eight per cent) and gang-related (by five per cent) homicides across the country, the first time they have decreased since 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Statistics Canada further notes Indigenous people continue to disproportionately be the victims of homicide. Though they make up five per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people were 22 per cent of homicide victims.

Sexual assault is up, and more left unreported

The rate of “Level 1” sexual assault — defined statistically as sexual assault without a weapon and without other physical harm — was up 15 per cent in 2018 over 2017. And in his article, Moreau says that rate remains “likely an underestimation of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada.”

This is the fourth consecutive year this class of sexual assault increased, and it usually makes up around 98 per cent of all police-reported sexual-assault incidents. But since these types of crimes often go unreported, the actual incidence is likely not reflected in the statistics.

In 2014, another Statistics Canada survey estimated only five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police.

Prince Edward Island reported an increase in sexual-assault reports by over half (55 per cent, though with the number of incidents provincewide in the dozens) while Nova Scotia (42 per cent), Yukon (20 per cent) and Ontario (18 per cent) all reported increases above the national average for 2018.

Hate crimes down from 2017 peak

After the rate of hate crimes spiked in 2017 by almost 50 per cent, there was a reduction of 13 per cent in 2018. Still, hate crimes occurred at a higher rate last year than in any other year since 2009, Statistics Canada says.

Statistics Canada notes the decline is almost completely attributable to reductions in Ontario, and the number of hate crimes against Muslims halved year-over-year.

Both violent and non-violent hate crimes decreased, and hate crimes that targeted black people and hate crimes targeting people over sexual orientation both fell by double digits. The share of hate crimes aimed at Jews also fell, by four per cent.

More fraud, more extortion

Statistics Canada notes the world of scams and extortion is increasingly moving online, with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre flagging schemes in which scammers pretend to be from the Canada Revenue Agency as well as gift-card scams.

Overall, the rate of fraud increased by 12 per cent, and sits almost 50 per cent higher than in 2008, after growing for seven years in a row. There were over 129,400 incidents of fraud reported to police in 2018, StatsCan says.

StatCan does say the increasing ease of reporting fraud online could have contributed to the higher numbers.

There was an even more dramatic increase in extortion from 2017 to 2018 — a 44-per-cent leap, Statistics Canada says. The dynamic is the same across the country, and the rate has been increasing since 2012.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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Court dismisses challenge of deal that helps U.S. nab tax cheats in Canada

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Supreme Court

OTTAWA — A Canada-U.S. deal allowing Canadian financial institutions to send customer information to U.S. authorities to help find tax cheats does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a judge has ruled.

Federal Court of Canada Justice Anne Mactavish dismissed an appeal from two American citizens, Gwendolyn Louise Deegan and Kazia Highton, who now live in Canada and have no real ongoing connection with the United States.

The U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, requires banks and other institutions in countries outside the United States to report information about accounts held by U.S. individuals, including Canadians with dual citizenship.

Deegan and Highton challenged the constitutionality of Canadian provisions implementing a 2014 agreement between the countries that makes the information-sharing possible.

They argued the provisions breach charter guarantees that prevent unreasonable seizure and ensure the equality of people under law.

Mactavish concluded in her decision released Monday that although the provisions do result in the seizure of the banking information of Americans in Canada, the affected people have only “a limited expectation of privacy” in their data.

She also ruled that the provisions do not violate the charter guarantee that every person is equal under the law without discrimination based on national origin.

Under the tax arrangements, Canadian financial institutions are legally required to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with data concerning accounts belonging to customers whose information suggests they might have American citizenship. The revenue agency then hands the information to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Nearly all countries levy income taxes based on residency, while the U.S. system is based on citizenship.

The U.S. considers all American citizens to be permanent tax residents in the United States for federal income-tax purposes, taxing the worldwide income of “specified U.S. persons” regardless of whether they live, work, or earn income in the United States.

“The result of this is that every Canadian resident who is an American citizen is subject to U.S. federal taxation on all of their income from all sources, wherever that income may be derived, even if he or she is also a Canadian citizen,” Mactavish says in her decision.

“Canada clearly found itself in an extremely difficult position as a result of the enactment of FATCA by the American government.”

U.S. law requires extensive financial and asset reporting, with the threat of significant penalties for failure to meet the obligations.

However, Mactavish notes, the U.S. government estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of all people who file American tax returns from outside the United States ultimately owe any taxes to Washington.

In addition, a tax treaty between Canada and the United States allows residents of Canada to receive credit for some taxes paid to the federal and provincial governments that would otherwise have been owed to the U.S. revenue service.

Deegan and Highton unsuccessfully argued the provisions require Canadian banks to transfer the information of potentially hundreds of thousands of people annually to the federal revenue agency in Ottawa without judicial authorization or any state oversight.

They said this amounts to “a massive fishing expedition and a seizure that offends every core precept of the citizenry’s … right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Mactavish pointed out that the Supreme Court of Canada has found that taxpayers’ privacy interest in records that may be relevant to the filing of income-tax returns is “relatively low.”

The method used to collect this information is “minimally intrusive” and the data shared with the U.S. revenue service is afforded protection under the tax treaty between the two countries, she added.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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