Former Whitecaps coach Birarda set to be sentenced –

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VANCOUVER — A Provincial Court judge has sentenced a former soccer coach to nearly 16 months in prison for sexual offenses that “significantly harmed” four teenage athletes.

Judge Deanne Gaffar said Bob Birarda, a former Vancouver Whitecaps and Soccer Canada coach, violated the ‘sexual integrity’ of the four players, three of whom were under 18 at the time of the offences, which occurred between 1988 and 2008.

Gaffar handed Birarda a sentence of two years less a day on Wednesday. He is to spend 15 months and 29 days in jail, while the remaining eight months of his sentence will be served under a series of conditions, including house arrest.

The judge noted that it was possible Birarda could be granted statutory release sooner, after which he would continue to serve his suspended sentence.

Birarda, 55, who has lived with his wife for 29 years, pleaded guilty in February to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching involving teenagers.

His first guilty plea was a mitigating factor in his sentencing, while the underlying “power imbalance” in which Birarda’s victims were forced to deal with his conduct was an aggravating factor, Gaffar told the court. North Vancouver hearing.

Each of the victims were talented and determined athletes who were looking to play football at high levels prior to Birarda’s offences, the judge said on Wednesday.

The ex-coach was in a position of trust with the victims, who feared the rejection of his interest in them would damage their footballing careers, Gaffar said.

Birarda has previously read an apology to the victims and to everyone else he said he let down, including his family, saying there is no excuse or justification for his actions.

He told his sentencing hearing earlier this fall that he was filled with the “deepest shame” for the sex offences, which ranged from having sex with a player while he was his coach in his early twenties, to pursue a 17-year-old player. when he was 40.

In the latter case, Gaffar said the girl attended Birarda football academy between the ages of 11 and 14 and in 2007 the 17-year-old was selected as a prospect for the Whitecaps women’s team. from Vancouver where he coached.

It was during this time that Birarda’s communication with her “evolved”, the judge said, in a pattern similar to her previous offences. He sent messages telling the girl that she had put a ‘spell’ on him and was ‘making’ him fall in love with her.

The woman quit football on her 18th birthday, Gaffar said.

Birarda’s lawyer, Bill Smart, had argued for an eight-month prison sentence, while the Crown had recommended the sentence of two years less a day.

Gaffar followed the Crown’s suggestion for a tougher sentence, saying Birarda’s victims had suffered from anxiety, self-doubt and, in some cases, depression as adults, and that his behavior had affected their ability to trust others.

Birarda briefly put her head in her hands as the judge described the impacts of her behavior on one of the victims, saying the woman indicated “she fears him”.

There were also significant mitigating circumstances, Gaffar said, including Birarda’s early guilty plea, which meant victims did not have to relive their experiences when testifying, and his display of “deep personal guilt”.

Birarda has been given counseling to deal with the ‘disgust and remorse’ he feels for his conduct, Gaffar said, adding that she accepts the findings of two psychological assessments which found he was at low risk of reoffending. .

Growing up, Birarda experienced domestic violence perpetrated by her father and saw her mother and siblings go through the same, Gaffar noted.

Birarda was sexually assaulted by a family member when he was 10 or 11, then by an older swimmer while swimming competitively, she said.

From 2008 to 2019 he had intermittent suicidal thoughts and in 2019 he was hospitalized for several days due to suicidal thoughts.

Gaffar noted that the case has drawn public attention and that stigmatization of offenses can be considered a form of punishment, in addition to jail time.

The judge said Birarda’s lawyer had argued that a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring harsher sentences for sexual offenses against children and youth does not address historical offences, and Birarda faces to stricter consequences today than it would have at the time of the incidents.

But Gaffar did not accept that argument in determining Birarda’s sentence, saying the High Court ruling applies and represents a “clarion call” to properly reflect the gravity of these offenses and the offender’s moral culpability.

There has been a societal shift in the way sexual assault is viewed in the years since the Birarda offenses, she said, and the High Court’s decision reflects a more modern understanding that requires more great attention to the psychological consequences.

Once released from prison, Birarda will spend four months under house arrest, then four months under curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., followed by three years of probation.

Other conditions include no contact with the four victims and he is not allowed to be around a woman under the age of 18, with some exceptions.

The conditions did not include an outright ban on training.

On the contrary, he is not allowed to engage in training or volunteer opportunities involving women under the age of 18 without prior written permission.

Birarda was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom after the judge finished outlining the terms of his sentence.

Gaffar said another date needs to be set for his defense attorney and the Crown to decide whether he will be included in the sex offender information registry.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 2, 2022.

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