Former Regina junior hockey coach Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch found guilty of sexual assault, assault
'Now, I think I can really begin to heal and put things behind me,' complainant says after decision
Warning: this story contains details of a sexual assault.
A former coach of the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats has been found guilty of a historical sexual assault and assault.
Justice Peter T. Bergbusch ruled that Bernard "Bernie" Lynch inappropriately touched and then hit a 17-year-old while working as an assistant coach for the Pats in August 1988. Lynch had pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Lynch silently looked at his feet with his hands resting in his lap as the decision was delivered at Regina Court of King's Bench on Friday.
Bergbusch said he found Lynch's testimony to be inconsistent and the complainant's testimony to be straightforward and truthful.
As a result, Bergbusch said he was left with no reasonable doubt about Lynch's actions.
Any information that could identify the complainant or his then-girlfriend — the two witnesses called by the Crown during the trial — is under a publication ban.
The complainant spoke with reporters after the verdict, saying it brought relief.
"Now, I think I can really begin to heal and put things behind me," he told CBC.
"I think I always kept it in the back shelf in my mind for years and years, and now I think that I can start to move forward."
The complainant said he felt obligated to tell police about his assault after hearing that Lynch was being investigated by RCMP over other allegations.
The former hockey player said that he knew Lynch should not be around — and especially coaching — teenage boys.
"I just felt like I needed to to speak up for those who who couldn't and and didn't have the courage to do so," he said.
Crown prosecutor Chris White applauded the verdict on the steps of the courthouse Friday afternoon.
"The Crown, all along, has felt that we had a pretty compelling case and we felt that we had a complainant in this matter who would do a good job of of telling the court what happened," White said.
"I hope this is vindication for him."
The prosecutor said he hopes the verdict helps other people come forward if they need to.
"I'd like to think that if there is someone, that they may see this as maybe the push they need. Not saying there is, but if there is, hopefully they'll see this as as some motivation to tell their story too," said White.
The complainant agreed. He said that anybody who can find the courage to come forward and tell their story should, and that holding someone accountable can be part of the healing process.
He thanked his family and friends who've supported him through the process.
Defence lawyer Andrew Hitchcock said he was not surprised by the verdict, adding that he knew there was a possibility that Bergbusch could rule against his client.
"I stand by what I said earlier that they're the only two people that will ever really know," said Hitchcock.
Hitchcock said Lynch was upset about the decision.
"As I'm sure you all can appreciate, he is concerned about his future. He had a lot of questions about his future. This is exactly what you'd expect from anyone in this situation," Hitchcock said.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2024.
Hitchcock said it was too soon to say whether his client would appeal the verdict. He wanted to review the written decision — which is set to be released Monday — before making that decision.
In the summer of 1988, Lynch was starting his first season as an assistant coach with the Regina Pats.
Lynch's first act, he told the court, was to attempt to recruit a 17-year-old prospect from a small town in Saskatchewan.
The teen player was invited to take part in a hockey school offered by the Regina Pats that ran between Aug. 7, 1988, and Aug. 13, 1988.
Over the course of the four-day trial this September, Bergbusch heard two very different accounts of what happened next.
The complainant testified that he arrived in Regina on Aug. 7 and was expecting to stay with Lynch that night before moving into a hotel on the following evening.
The complainant said Lynch told him there were two options for sleeping arrangements: in the bed with Lynch or out on the couch.
The then-teenager was then pressured into drinking beer by the junior hockey coach, despite declining multiple times, the complainant said.
The complainant said Lynch encouraged him to get naked and walk in front of the apartment's patio door, which he ultimately did.
Under questioning from senior Crown prosecutor Chris White, the complainant testified he tried to sober up by taking a shower. He had believed the bathroom door was shut and locked but Lynch eventually joined him in the shower, he said.
The complainant testified he did not want any romantic or sexual relationship with Lynch and had not invited Lynch to join him in the shower.
The junior hockey coach then touched the teen inappropriately, the complainant said. He testified that he repeatedly said no, but that Lynch continued to touch him. He also said Lynch grabbed the complainant's 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.
The then-teenager said he chose to sleep on the couch that night in an effort to get away from Lynch.
The next day, at the hockey camp, Lynch teased and physically touched the teen, the complainant testified. That included smacking the complainant on the rear, hitting him in the genitals with his key ring and punching the complainant's shoulder.
Lynch testified in his own defence during the trial. He denied the events described by the complainant.
The former coach said the complainant actually arrived in Regina on Aug. 5, 1988, and was dropped off at a hotel rather than staying at Lynch's house.
Lynch testified that he did not actually coach at the hockey school, even though he was advertised as being an instructor in a flyer earlier that summer.
Instead, Lynch said he flew to Calgary on Aug. 6, 1988, to take part in a clinic — before he began coaching — at a Hockey Canada festival in Calgary between Aug. 12 and Aug. 20.
As evidence, the defence provided a photograph of the team Lynch was coaching. Lynch identified himself in the photo.
The Crown prosecutor told the court during closing arguments that the testimony Lynch offered was illogical and inconsistent.
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White said it made no sense that Lynch would travel a full week before the festival to take part in a clinic that was a full nine days before the team he coached played its first game.
In his decision, Bergbusch agreed, saying the testimony was inconsistent and illogical.
Hitchcock argued Lynch is innocent until proven guilty and that the legal bar of a criminal trial of "beyond a reasonable doubt" had not been met by the Crown.
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.
With files from Jonathon Gatehouse