A former head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team and assistant coach with Canada’s Olympic team has pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and one count of touching a young person for sexual purpose.
Robert Steven (Bob) Birarda appeared in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Feb. 8 via web conference. He answered “guilty” to each of the four charges as they were read, while sitting motionless to the left of his lawyer, Bill Smart, in a downtown Vancouver boardroom. Smart had waived reading of the charges, but the judge agreed with the Crown prosecutor that they should be read.
Birarda was formally charged Dec. 9, 2020 with nine offences and released on bail. A tenth charge was added, but six will be dropped under a plea bargain. This was the first time Birarda appeared since being charged. The court dates were repeatedly postponed over the last year due to the pandemic, lawyers’ scheduling conflicts and due to their negotiations.
Specifically, Birarda pleaded guilty to the following:
- Between Dec. 12, 1988 and Feb. 25, 1990, touching a young person for a sexual purpose in North Vancouver;
- Between Jan. 1, 1990 and Aug. 31, 1990, sexual assault in Burnaby;
- Between Jan. 1, 1995 and July 1, 1995, sexual assault in North Vancouver;
- Between June 1, 2006 and March 25, 2008, sexual assault in West Vancouver and Burnaby.
Names of the victims and evidence remain under a publication ban. The judge heard that Crown and defence have reached an agreed statement of facts, which will eventually be read in court. The case was adjourned to Feb. 15 for a scheduling hearing. The judge ordered ordered pre-sentencing and psychiatric assessment reports, which are both expected in early April. A one-day sentencing hearing will be set after that. The maximum sentence for sexual assault is 10 years imprisonment.
Both the Whitecaps and Canadian Soccer Association announced in October 2008 that they mutually split with Birarda “in the best interest of both parties.” Neither the Whitecaps nor CSA mentioned any alleged misconduct in that announcement.
In February 2019, former Whitecap and national team player Ciara McCormack blew the whistle on Birarda’s return to youth coaching with Coastal FC in South Surrey. McCormack is not among the four alleged victims.
McCormack’s blog post went viral. A dozen players from the 2008 Whitecaps and national team issued a public statement, alleging “incidents of abuse, manipulation, or inappropriate behaviour” by Birarda in 2007 and 2008.
In the late 1980s, Birarda worked for late-Whitecaps and Canadian World Cup team coach Tony Waiters at his coaching education company in West Vancouver. Birarda coached in the 1990s with Capilano College in North Vancouver.
Birarda coached the Whitecaps women’s team to the 2006 W-League championship, missed the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the conference finals in 2008. He headed the under-20 national women’s team and assisted on Canada’s team that lost on penalty kicks to the U.S. in the quarter-finals of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.
Early in the 2019 season, Whitecaps supporters grew unhappy with the team’s response and organized match boycotts and first half walkouts at Major League Soccer games in B.C. Place. Owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett eventually apologized to the players and admitted that Birarda’s contract was cancelled in 2008 due to sexually inappropriate text messages with a player.
They ordered an internal review by a Toronto law firm and forwarded the players’ complaints to the Vancouver Police Department. VPD, in turn, forwarded the file to the North Vancouver RCMP. In August 2019, Bob Lenarduzzi was demoted from president to club liaison.
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