Saskatchewan

Former Regina junior hockey coach Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch found guilty of sexual assault, assault

A former coach of the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats has been found guilty of a historical sexual assault and assault. Defence has not made a decision on whether to appeal the verdict.

'Now, I think I can really begin to heal and put things behind me,' complainant says after decision

A man in a speckled shirt walks down the stairs of a courthouse.
Former junior hockey coach Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch leaves Court of King's Bench in Regina while on trial in September. Lynch has been found guilty of assaulting and sexual assaulting a 17-year-old in 1988. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

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.

A judge wearing black robes and a red sash sits at a bench. A clerk in black and white robes sits to his left.
An artist's sketch of Regina Court of King's Bench Justice Peter T. Bergbusch delivering his ruling in the trial of Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch. (Joel Hustak/CBC)

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.

A drawing of a man with grey hair, hanging his head with his eyes closed.
A courtroom sketch showing Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch listening as Justice Peter T. Bergbusch delivers his ruling finding Lynch guilty of assault and sexual assault on Dec. 1. (Joel Hustak/CBC)

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."

WATCH | Lawyers react to guilty verdict: 

Crown prosecutor applauds Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch guilty verdict, defence lawyer says too soon to say if Lynch will appeal

3 months ago
Duration 5:42
On the steps of a Regina courthouse, Crown prosecutor Chris White is applauding a judge's decision to find Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch guilty of a historical sexual assault and assault. Defence lawyer Andrew Hitchcock said he was not surprised by the verdict but said Lynch was upset about the decision.

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.

What happened

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.

A court exhibit shows an advertisement printed in the Leader Post for a Regina Pats hockey school in August 1988.
A court exhibit shows an advertisement printed in the Leader Post for a Regina Pats hockey school in August 1988. It was one of the few pieces exhibits entered in the trial. (Regina Court of King's Bench exhibit)

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.

WATCH | Former coach found guilty: 

Former hockey coach Bernie Lynch found guilty of sexual assault

3 months ago
Duration 1:47
Former Regina junior hockey coach Bernie Lynch has been found guilty of assault and sexual assault against a 17-year-old player in 1988.

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.

An artist's sketch showing the anonymized complainant testifying during the trial of Bernard "Bernie" Lynch.
An artist's sketch showing the anonymized complainant testifying during the trial of Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch in September 2023. (Joel Hustak/CBC)

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.

An artist's sketch of Bernard "Bernie" Lynch sitting in the prisoner's docket at the Court of King's Bench in Regina.
Former junior hockey coach Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch has been found guilty of assault and sexual assault against a 17-year-old in 1988. (Joel Hustak/CBC)

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.

A team photo shows Team Western during the 1988 National Under 17 Hockey Festival
A court exhibit shows a team photo from the 1988 National Under 17 Hockey Festival in Calgary. Bernard 'Bernie' Lynch is show in the middle of the first row. (Regina Court of King's Bench exhibit)

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.

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. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.

With files from Jonathon Gatehouse

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