More than a year after a Coastal FC soccer coach was suspended by the club amid allegations of past abuse, charges have been filed.
On Thursday, the BC Prosecution Service confirmed that Robert Steven Birarda has been charged with “several sexual offenses against four separate individuals.”
The charges include six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring, BCPS communications counsel Dan McLaughlin confirmed.
The offences are alleged to have “generally occurred” between Jan. 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008 at or near North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver.
Birarda appeared in North Vancouver Provincial Court yesterday (Dec. 9), and is next scheduled to appear on Jan. 28, 2021.
Birarda is a former coach with the Vancouver Whitecaps organization – he coached the women’s team from 2006 until 2008 – and also coached with Canada Soccer’s U-20 women’s team.
The alleged offences pre-date his time coaching in South Surrey with Coastal FC. Coastal FC suspended Birarda in February of 2019 after allegations were brought to light by a former high-level soccer player.
At that time – and multiple times since – Coastal FC executive director Chris Murphy told Peace Arch News that the club had no knowledge of the allegations prior to Birarda joining the club.
In April 2019, the Whitecaps released a statement saying that members of the organization were made aware of complaints in 2008 and “the Club immediately engaged an independent Ombudsperson, a leading expert in workplace safety and respected lawyer who specializes in this field, to do a thorough and impartial investigation into the complaints.”
However, the organization went on to say that “we are concerned there may be new information related to this matter that did not come forward in 2008 or since.”
Also at the time, the Whitecaps contacted the Vancouver Police Department about the matter, and the VPD confirmed to PAN that they had “been made aware.”
In May 2019, following a fan walkout of a Whitecaps’ Major League Soccer game at BC Place – an event organized by the Southsiders, one of the team’s supporter groups – team ownership issued another statement, this time an apology.
“As we reflect on what happened in 2008… we express sincere regret and empathy for the harm that has clearly come to many women who participated in our program at that time,” read the statement, which was signed by Whitecaps co-owners Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett.
“The pain and suffering these women feel is real and something we care deeply about. And while we sought and acted on the advice of the best available counsel at the time, it is clear that people were deeply affected. For that we are sorry.”