Warning: this story contains details of a sexual assault.
The sexual assault of a hockey prospect in August 1988 ruined the teenager’s health, relationships and ended his dream of becoming a professional hockey player, a judge at the Court of King’s Bench in Regina was told Thursday.
The lasting impacts on Bernard “Bernie” Lynch’s victim were serious enough that the former junior hockey coach should be sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary, Crown prosecutor Chris White argued before Justice Peter Bergbusch during the sentencing hearing.
“He used his position as a coach, and the bonafides that came with it, to coerce [the complainant] into doing something he would not have done otherwise,” White said.
Defence lawyer Andrew Hitchcock argued that his client should receive a sentence between 18 months and two years in the provincial system.
Lynch was found guilty of sexual assault and assault in December for inappropriately touching and then hitting the player, 17, while working as an assistant coach for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats.
Lynch had pleaded not guilty to both charges and testified in his own defence that the events described by the complaint never happened.
Any information identifying the two Crown witnesses called during the trial — the complainant and his then-girlfriend — is protected under a publication ban.
The complainant delivered an emotional victim impact statement Thursday, describing a life where “he lived on the rink” and where he dreamed of playing hockey professionally.
“Hockey was my life, [but] two days in August changed all that. Bernie Lynch changed all that,” the complainant said.
The complainant described feeling a tremendous amount of guilt after the assault, as well as a sense of guilt for not coming forward earlier. However, he added, a weight was lifted from his shoulders after the guilty verdict was handed down in December.
“Accountability is a word you hear a lot in hockey. Bernie Lynch, you needed to be held accountable,” the complainant said.
WATCH | Crown applauds verdict; too early to comment on appeal, says defence:
Lynch continues to maintain his innocence, and Hitchock said that as a result of the accusations and guilty verdict his client is now unemployed and unemployable.
With Lynch set to turn 70 in June, Hitchcock said, his client relies on his pension for housing and that any sentence in the federal system will mean he will have no home to return to.
Hithcock added that the sentencing is unlikely to be the final step in this court case.
“So I’m sure he will file an appeal and go through the normal channels, but until then we have to show the respect for what the judge is doing,” Hitchcock said.
“The judge found the verdict and now it’s my job to try and persuade the judge to give him the best sentence I can.”
The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association also submitted a victim impact statement, saying that all hockey organizations in the province are victims of Lynch’s actions.
While Lynch never coached with the association, the organization said that Lynch’s assault “undermines the efforts of so many good coaches in hockey and in sport in Saskatchewan.”
“High profile predatory assaults on youth in sports can also have a negative effect with parents when considering whether to place their children into sports where coaches are in place. There are enough barriers already for families to get their children into sport; the actions of people like Bernie Lynch creates another.”
Defence and Crown attorneys agreed to the statement from the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association being admitted into the record, but said it should not be a significant factor in the judge’s sentencing decision.
During the trial, the complainant testified that he arrived in Regina on Aug. 7 for a hockey school offered by the Pats. He was expecting to stay with Lynch that night before moving into a hotel the following evening.
He said Lynch offered him two sleeping arrangements either in the bed with Lynch or on the couch.
The teen told the court he was pressured into drinking beer by the coach and encouraged to walk naked in front of the apartment’s patio door, which he ultimately did.
He testified that he showered in an attempt to sober up, and an uninvited Lynch joined him in the shower where he inappropriately touched the teenager and Lynch grabbed his hand and placed it on Lynch’s genitals.
The complainant said he agreed to masturbate Lynch after being told that if he did so, that would be the end of it.
He also said Lynch smacked the complainant on the rear, hit him in the genitals with his key ring and punched his shoulder at the hockey camp the next day.
In his decision, Bergbusch said he found Lynch’s testimony to be “inconsistent,” while finding Lynch “evasive and combative at times”
In comparison, Bergbusch described the complainant’s testimony as straightforward and truthful.
“[The complainant] acknowledged that he did not have a clear memory of all of the events.… However, he remembered many details of his trip to Regina and the events involving Mr. Lynch,” Bergbusch said.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.