Former Vancouver Canuck Jake Virtanen takes the stand in own sexual assault trial

Former Vancouver Canucks hockey player Jake Virtanen leaves court on the fourth day of his sexual assault trial in B.C. Supreme Court.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Former Vancouver Canucks hockey player Jake Virtanen leaves court on the fourth day of his sexual assault trial in B.C. Supreme Court. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Former Vancouver Canuck Jake Virtanen testified in his own defence Thursday during his sexual assault trial in B.C. Supreme Court.

The 25-year-old is charged with one count of sexual assault related to an incident in his hotel room at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver on Sept. 26, 2017. He has maintained his innocence.

The name of the complainant, identified as MS, is protected by a publication ban.

Under questioning from his lawyer Colleen Elden, Virtanen broke down when asked to describe how he first heard about the allegation.

"We had just finished the game against the Maple Leafs. My agent Kevin Epp said I need to talk to [you] immediately. So I called him and he said a girl anonymously was going to come out and say I assaulted her," said Virtanen.

"I was in utter disbelief."

Virtanen maintains he and MS had consensual sex in his hotel room. Contrary to her testimony, he said MS never pushed him way or told him no, rather was a willing participant.

"Did she communicate consent?" asked Elden.

"Yes, she was an active and enthusiastic participant. Absolutely it felt like she was totally into it," said Virtanen.

Earlier, the defence led Virtanen in recounting his path to the NHL, being drafted by the Canucks in 2014 and signing a three year contract valued at $925,000 a year, noting the deal was highly publicized on sports TV and social media.

Virtanen said he met MS in July 2017 in the Cowboys tent at the Calgary Stampede, which he described as popular with NHL players. He said MS and her two friends came up to him and his friends and started chatting. He said even though they didn't talk about hockey he felt MS knew who he was because of the interest she showed in him.

MS testified earlier that when she first met Virtanen she didn't know who he was, what he did, or how much money he made.

Counter to testimony from MS, Virtanen said he and one friend went with MS and one friend in a cab back to a house that night. He said he was so drunk he vomited and afterward his friend put him to bed in the basement.

"When I woke up in the morning MS was beside me," he said.

"Do you know how she ended up in bed?" asked Elden?

"No," he replied.

MS testified earlier that it was Virtanen who mysteriously appeared in the bed she was sleeping in.

Virtanen said the two chatted and exchanged numbers. He said while attending the Stampede in the days following MS approached him on a number of occasions, making him think she wanted to get to know him.

Apology from the defence

Earlier in the day, Brock Martland, one of Virtanen's lawyers, apologized to MS for a question he asked the previous day about if she thought to invent a story about having a yeast infection or her period to avoid having sex with Virtanen.

"I was not suggesting that you had an obligation to do those things," said Martland. "That question was insensitive and I apologize."

Martland completed cross-examination of MS Thursday, probing how Virtanen's name appeared in the comments section of the Survivors Story Project (SSP) Instagram page after MS published an account of the alleged assault in April 2021 that did not name him.

Martland then asked MS about a message she sent to SSP, expressing concern about the "harsh" things people were saying about Virtanen because of the fallout.

"I didn't want to see him hurt," she said. "I did want him penalized. I did want him held accountable."

The final line of questioning during cross-examination noted the morning after the alleged assault, MS asked Virtanen for tickets to the Sept. 28, 2017 Canucks preseason game. He told her he didn't have any to share.

MS and a friend did attend the game after buying tickets.

"After this incident…why would you pay money and make your way down to see him again…at his place of work," asked Martland.

"It was to see a professional hockey game," said MS. "I always wanted to go to a professional game."

Virtanen will be back on the stand on Friday.