Former Sask. hockey coach Bernie Lynch testifies in his own sexual assault trial
Bernard “Bernie” Lynch claims he was out of province at the time he’s alleged to have sexually assaulted a 17-year-old hockey player in his Regina apartment.
The former Saskatchewan junior hockey coach took the stand as the defense’s only witness in the trial at the Court of King’s Bench Thursday afternoon.
Lynch, 69, is charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of assault against a teen that are alleged to have happened on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, 1988.
The incidents allegedly took place while the player was in town to help instruct a hockey school with Lynch, who was the Regina Pats assistant coach at the time.
The complainant previously testified that he stayed at Lynch’s apartment the first night as part of his prearranged accommodations. He told court the coach bought beer for them, suggested they rent an adult film and sexually assaulted him in the shower.
On the stand, Lynch refuted all allegations and contradicted the complainant’s version of events.
“This is all baffling to me,” Lynch testified. “This is not an accurate case or picture of Bernie Lynch. I would not do this.”
Under oath, Lynch testified he was in Alberta at a coaches’ conference leading up to the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence tournament scheduled for Aug. 12-20.
He claimed he went six days early to attend the conference, telling court he flew out of Regina on Aug. 6. As a result, he did not participate in the hockey school.
The Crown questioned why he would fly out six days in advance, and nine days before his team’s first game, suggesting that Lynch actually attended the hockey school and was in the city at the time of the alleged assaults. Lynch denied the Crown’s submissions.
According to Lynch’s recollection, he met up with the complainant to help him check into his hotel room the Friday before the camp. The two drove separately to the rink that night for a scrimmage with other players and Lynch left early to go pack. He claimed he flew out to Calgary the next morning and never saw the complainant again.
The defense asked Lynch if it was possible he took the complainant to his apartment and just forgot given the alleged incident happened 35 years ago. He admitted it was possible, but later denied the possibility during the Crown’s cross-examination.
The defense focused on Lynch’s 47-year career as a coach for various levels of hockey teams in Canada and abroad, and the expected roles and behaviour of a coach.
Lynch said he has never stayed in the same room as any of his players.
“That’s just inappropriate. They’re teenagers and you’re an adult,” he told court.
Lynch testified to coaching several thousands of players in his career, to which the Crown questioned how the man could recognize the complainant’s name when he was charged more than 30 years later. He told court that rumors of the alleged assault have followed him since 1989, and, at times, cost him job opportunities.
Lynch also told court he had a wife and two young kids at the time of the allegations.
“Why would I risk all of that for a five dollar porno and a case of beer?” he said.
During cross-examination, Lynch admitted there is a “culture of silence” within hockey and in the 1980s it was not safe for people to come forward with complaints. He said it could have cost players their careers if they did complain.
‘HE WAS DIFFERENT’
The complainant’s then-girlfriend took the stand as the Crown’s second and final witness in the trial Thursday morning.
She was not asked about the allegations, but rather how the complainant’s demeanor changed after he returned home from the hockey school.
“I remember at the time, he was different. He was very clingy and needing reinforcement,” said the witness, whose identity is protected under a publication ban.
“His demeanor changed. I remember it because I was surprised by it and surprised that he wasn’t the same kind of light-hearted, uplifting kind of person. There was like a cloud about him.”
Prior to the alleged assaults, the woman testified that her former high school boyfriend was fun loving, gentle natured, and liked to spend as much time with her as he did with his friends.
The complainant was excited to attend the hockey school, the witness recalled, and viewed it as a stepping-stone into the WHL.
But when the complainant came back from the school, he told his girlfriend he didn’t want to pursue that dream anymore, she testified.
“I’m good where I’m at,” the witness recalled the complainant saying.
After enough prying, the witness said her then-boyfriend confided in her about the alleged assaults. She told court she encouraged him to tell his parents, and eventually she was the one who brought it up to them with his permission.
The Crown and defense are expected to give their closing arguments on Friday.
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