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 entered pleas of not guilty to both charges.
Bergbusch read out his decision during an hour and a half hearing at the Regina Court of King’s Bench on Friday.
Bergbusch said he found the testimony provided by Lynch to be inconsistent and the testimony of the complainant to be straightforward and truthful.
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.
Any information that could identify the complainant or his then-girlfriend — the two witnesses called by the Crown during the trial — is protected by a publication ban.
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.
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.
Defence lawyer Andrew 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.
Hitchcock said there is no corroboration on the complainant’s testimony that he stayed with Lynch in his home or a hotel room, and no corroboration that Lynch took part in the hockey school.
He pointed to how the complainant could not even recall who else was at the alleged hockey school.
White countered by saying this event happened 35 years ago and the complainant was not memorizing faces because he was dealing with the aftermath of the alleged assault.
A woman who was the complainant’s girlfriend at the time of the alleged assault testified that he told her about the incident a few weeks after it happened.
The complainant testified he finally went to police about the alleged assault decades later because he had begun to see news stories about similar accusations against Lynch by other alleged victims.
He said he felt an obligation to speak out and ensure that Lynch did not hurt anyone else under his care.
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.