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HomeBusinessGuilty ex-coach Birarda apologizes in court for sexually assaulting four players 

Guilty ex-coach Birarda apologizes in court for sexually assaulting four players 

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Bob Mackin

The former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team and the national junior women’s team, who sexually assaulted four of his players, apologized for “selfish, irrational and delusional conduct” during the second day of his sentencing hearing on Sept. 2.

North Vancouver Provincial Court (B.C. Courthouse Libraries)

Over the course of a tearful 10 minutes, Bob Birarda, 55, stood in North Vancouver Provincial Court and read a statement of remorse to the victims, whose names are banned from publication. 

“I’m truly sorry, to each of you for the pain, the upset and the trauma my behavior has caused you,” Birarda said, before Judge Deanna Gaffar. “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. I have read the victim impact statements, and I feel so horrible for how much pain I have caused each of you.”

Birarda was charged in late 2020 and pleaded guilty in February of this year for crimes that occurred between 1988 and 2008 — specifically, three counts of sexual assault and one count of touching a young person for sexual purpose. On June 8, the first day of sentencing, the Crown proposed a two-years less-a-day jail sentence. On Sept. 2, defence proposed a one-year sentence, eight months in custody and four months conditional. The judge’s decision is expected during a half-day hearing to be scheduled Sept. 13.

Birarda admitted he brought disgrace and embarrassment to the sport and conceded that his apology might mean something to the victims in the years to come.

“I’m here today to take responsibility for my actions and the impact I’ve had on you. I also want to apologize to all the people my past behaviour has affected all those who believed in and trusted me, including former players and their families, and mentors and colleagues, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian soccer community as a whole,” Birarda said.

Bob Birarda in 2005 (CSA)

He said he cannot justify his actions, but blamed his immaturity and insecurity on scars of his childhood.

“How could I let down so many people who believed in me? How can I do these things and betray my wife and family I so dearly love?”

He said he “felt like a fraud my entire life” and couldn’t imagine where he was going to fit into the world, until he found coaching soccer could partially fill that void. 

“Despite my perceived success as a coach, my lack of self belief and my lack of self confidence never left me, I am devastated.” 

Despite becoming a national and club coach in 2006, he said his life was in turmoil, traveling 150 days a year, suffering panic attacks and living in isolation from friends and family. He referred specifically to his youngest victim and said he was horrified the impact of his behaviour on her. “I have a daughter, I cannot imagine a man communicating with her in the way that I was communicating with you.”

Birarda said he began therapy after his 2008 firing from the Whitecaps and national team, attempting to come to terms with childhood trauma and to save his marriage. He said he continues to see a therapist and psychiatrist, who taught him “cognitive understanding and shame can be good things, if I use them to change my behaviour and work to ensure that I approach the way I’ve traditionally thought about things differently going forward.

CSA and Whitecaps

Earlier, Birarda’s defence lawyer William Smart asked for a lenient sentence because Birarda has no criminal record, is sincerely remorseful and understands the harm he caused and the wrongfulness of his actions. He said mitigating factors also include pleading guilty to avoid a trial. Although he agreed to the essential facts of the crimes, he said Birarda doesn’t recall the details from so many years ago. 

Smart submitted testimonial letters from former players who said Birarda had their trust and his coaching helped further their careers in soccer, academics and employment. He also said Birarda had been hospitalized when his family feared he was suicidal and he suffered public shaming by international media attention. Smart referenced sentencing of former B.C. Legislature Clerk Craig James, which considered public stigma a mitigating factor to reduce the sentence. The enormous publicity about Birarda, Smart told the court, has had a “profound impact in educating and deterring other coaches, likely in all sports in Canada,” leading to other investigations.  

In her rebuttal, Crown prosecutor Linda Ostry acknowledged the testimonial letters, but argued public criticism and media attention cannot entirely displace the court’s role to denounce conduct and deter others in the sentence it imposes.

Ultimately, she said, Birarda bears moral culpability that must be denounced in sentencing. He was not simply attempting to connect with another individual, but he used his position of power to make sexual overtures. 

“Through his wrongdoing, it also underscores the gravity of the offending behaviour and the depth of betrayal, when the trust that has been placed in him is betrayed,” Ostry said. “It underscores the degree of harm to the victims caused through the betrayal of his trust.”

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