Former Whitecaps women’s coach gets 16 months in jail
Posted November 2, 2022 8:53 am.
Last Updated November 3, 2022 10:53 am.
Content Warning: This story deals with sexual assault and may be distressing to some readers.
Former Vancouver Whitecaps women’s coach Bob Birarda has been sentenced to 16 months in jail. After that, he will serve four months of house arrest, then be under a curfew for four months, along with three years of probation.
This comes after Birarda, who is also a former coach of the Canadian women’s U-20 team, pleaded guilty in February to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching involving four female players between 1988 and 2008.
Judge Deanne Gaffar is set to formally deliver Birarda’s sentence Wednesday afternoon.
The former coach was charged in December 2020 of six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of child luring for offences that were said to have taken place in North Vancouver, Burnaby, and West Vancouver between January 1988 and March 25, 2008.
While he was a coach with both the Whitecaps women’s squad and Canada’s women’s under-20 team for the tail end of that period, some of the charges against him pre-date that timeframe.
Allegations against Birarda were first brought forward by retired player Ciara McCormack in a 2019 blog post. She later detailed the allegations to CityNews, saying she witnessed a number of problematic situations during her second and third periods with the squad.
Since that time, more than a dozen women involved in the teams have come forward to accuse Birarda of acting inappropriately.
In September of this year, the former coach issued an apology to his victims, saying he was “truly sorry to each of you for the pain, the upset and the trauma my behaviour has caused you.”
“I cannot find the words to adequately express the depth of my regret, sorrow, shame and even self-loathing I have been filled with for all these years,” his statement, read in court, added.
He went on to add that after reading victim impact statements, he felt “so horrible.”
Birarda’s lawyer has asked that his client receive eight months in jail, along with four months of house arrest. That’s shorter than the roughly two-year jail sentence the Crown has pushing for.
His sentencing hearing began in June.
Whistleblower reacts to sentencing
Meanwhile, the woman who first went public with allegations against Birarda hopes the conclusion of this case brings healing for those hurt by her former coach.
“Anybody dealing with the justice system has very low expectations, especially in Canada for these sorts of crimes,” Ciara McCormack, a former Whitecaps women’s player told CityNews in an interview when asked about her thoughts on Birarda’s sentence.”I think it’s probably a better-case scenario than could have been expected. At the end of the day, I’m just grateful that the former players who came forward hopefully feel very validated by putting themselves through this experience.”
McCormack drew attention to Birarda when she wrote a detailed blog in 2019 outlining various accusations against her former coach.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s consequences for actions,” McCormack said. “I don’t think any of us will ever get back the last 14 years we had to go through this. We had to watch him on a soccer field after knowing what he’d been accused of. At the end of the day, the truth came out, and I think there’s healing in that.
“For me, I’m not really a person who looks towards retribution. I think I hope everybody, including him, gets healing and can move on in a positive way from this. I think there’s consequences and there’s truth, and in these situations that’s all you can ask for.”
McCormack is now putting her focus on making sports safe for young athletes and ensuring more opportunities for female soccer players.
Meanwhile, in a statement to CityNews, the Vancouver Whitecaps says it commends the “brave women” who came forward and shared their experiences they had with Birarda.
“These women, along with all the powerful advocates for change, have a voice and we have heard them. At the same time, we remain available to hear from anyone who will help us progress,” it said. “We acknowledge and understand the deep hurt felt across our soccer community. We are truly sorry to everyone who has been impacted and I hope that today is a step forward in the healing process for all the victims affected.”
The club says it is “taking actions beyond our words” and has made changes to its Safe Sport policies and practices.
“We stand together in being a leader in Safe Sport across our country. We are committed to the process and will continue to ensure we provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in our club.”
-With files from The Canadian Press