'I did not sexually assault her': Former Canuck Virtanen denies charge in testimony

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VANCOUVER — Testimony has ended in the trial of a former Vancouver Canucks forward charged with sexual assault.

Jake Virtanen told a B.C. Supreme Court on Friday that a woman who has accused him of sexual assault was a willing participant in a sexual encounter nearly five years ago.

Defence lawyer Colleen Elden asked the former NHL player whether he sexually assaulted the woman, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, at his hotel room in downtown Vancouver in September 2017.

"No, I did not sexually assault her," he replied. "She was an active, equal and enthusiastic participant.”

Virtanen, 25, was charged with one count of sexual assault in January following an investigation by Vancouver police.

The 23-year-old woman has testified that she repeatedly said no before the alleged assault.

The court has heard Virtanen and the woman met at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. They exchanged numbers and kept in touch via text and direct messages on Instagram.

The woman was 18 years old when she drove to Vancouver that September to visit family and friends, and do a photo shoot. She and Virtanen, then 21, made plans to meet. He picked her up from her friend's house and took her to his hotel room.

Under cross-examination on Friday, Crown counsel Alan Ip said Virtanen only took the woman to the hotel to have sex with her.

“That was your intention all along — asking her to hang out, picking her up, going to your hotel room — it was for sex,” Ip said.

"No," Virtanen replied.

Ip asked whether the pair talked about sex, condoms, birth control or sexually transmitted infections before getting to the hotel room. Virtanen said they did not.

“You had no idea what she wanted that night," Ip said.

"She wanted to hook up with me," Virtanen replied. "Feeling my body, rubbing my penis. I feel like that’s very obvious that she wants to hook up.”

Ip asked whether the woman ever verbally consented to having sex.

“She showed me through her actions," Virtanen said.

The woman has testified that she repeatedly said "no" and told Virtanen she did not want to have sex with him before he allegedly pinned her to the bed with his body weight and assaulted her.

"You used (her) for your sexual gratification despite her repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly telling you she did not want to have sex with you," Ip said as he finished his questioning.

"No," Virtanen replied.

The woman did not go to police at the time.

In April 2021, she posted her story to an Instagram page for survivors of sexual assault, then spoke with a reporter from Glacier Media for a newspaper story, naming Virtanen as the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her.

He was playing right wing for the Canucks at the time and first learned of the allegations when his agent called after a game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

“I was still in my gym stuff," he said on the stand Friday. "I just sat there and I just tried to collect my thoughts. I didn’t say anything really.”

Virtanen said after the allegations surfaced, then-Canucks general manager Jim Benning told him to stay in his Toronto hotel room and not come out. Over the next two days, he was in contact with Benning, then-head coach Travis Green and a couple of teammates, but didn't play or practice with the team.

"What was going through your mind as you sat in that hotel room for two days?" Elden asked.

“I just didn’t really know what to think. And stared out the window," he replied, growing emotional and wiping his eyes with a tissue.

The Canucks placed Virtanen on leave in May 2021 after the assault allegation, then bought out his contract the following month.

He last played in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.

The defence and Crown are expected to submit their closing submissions on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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