Former Vancouver Canuck Jake Virtanen has taken the stand in British Columbia Supreme Court to deny that he sexually assaulted a woman nearly five years ago.
Virtanen told the jury trial that the woman, who has testified she repeatedly told him “no” before the alleged assault, had been an “enthusiastic participant.”
Questioned Thursday by one of his defence lawyers, Colleen Elden, Virtanen disputed the woman’s testimony and denied that he used his body weight to pin her down on the bed in his Vancouver hotel room in September 2017.
Virtanen appeared to take time to compose himself and briefly put his head in his hands before describing the moment he first heard about the allegation.
He said through tears that he was in “utter disbelief” when his agent told him in April 2021 that a woman was going to publicly accuse him of sexual misconduct.
Virtanen, who is now 25, was charged with one count of sexual assault in January following an investigation by Vancouver police.
His testimony is set to continue Friday.
The Crown has finished calling evidence in the trial.
Virtanen told the court he met the woman when he was 20 years old and she was 18 at the Calgary Stampede in 2017, and they stayed in touch over Instagram and text messages throughout that summer when they both returned to B.C.
They exchanged “flirtatious messages” and small talk, and discussed getting together when she came to Vancouver, he said.
Elden asked Virtanen if he thought they would have sex before he took her to his hotel room after picking her up from a friend’s house where she was staying.
“I wasn’t sure, but that would be up to her,” he said.
“It would have been her choice.”
The woman, whose name is protected by a publication ban, testified earlier this week that she had a “sinking feeling” in her stomach upon arriving at the hotel, but she trusted Virtanen, so she went up to his room. She told the court he was kissing and touching her, and she tried to push him off, saying she didn’t want to have sex.
Virtanen testified the woman didn’t seem upset at any point.
They mutually began kissing and touching each other while lying on the bed, and they helped each other take their clothes off before having sex, he said.
The Canucks placed Virtanen on leave in May 2021 after the assault allegation was made public, and then bought out his contract the following month. He last played in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.
During cross-examination earlier Thursday, Virtanen’s lawyer Brock Martland asked the 23-year-old woman why she attended a pre-season game between the Canucks and Calgary Flames two days after the night of the alleged assault.
She told the jury trial she went to the game with her friend because she had always wanted to attend a professional game, having played sports throughout her life.
The woman testified she hadn’t fully processed what had happened, and she was behaving as if everything was normal because she wanted to pretend the alleged assault hadn’t occurred.
She had agreed that the incident she had described in court was an “aggressive rape,” which was traumatic for her, and that she didn’t want to see Virtanen afterwards.
The woman did not go to police in September 2017, the time of the alleged assault.
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.
Martland homed in on messages she exchanged with that page.
He showed her a screenshot image of a message where she referred to “rumours” about what had happened, saying “It was just looked at as, ‘Oh, (she) slept with an NHL player,’ like it was a good thing that I should feel proud of, and I was left questioning if it was even considered an assault because of his position in hockey.”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Over the years, I did say that I doubted myself because of people not believing me.”
Martland showed the woman another message where she said people were making “harsh” comments about Virtanen online after his name was associated with her allegation, and she was concerned it could lead to violence toward him.
“I obviously don’t like him for what he did, but I wouldn’t want to wish violence upon him,” she testified in response.
“I did want him penalized, I did want him held accountable, and even when I went to the police initially, I felt a little bit uncomfortable about, you know, having someone charged and essentially ruining their life,” she said.
“But at the same time, he didn’t even skip a beat when he violated me.”
During an earlier cross-examination, Martland suggested the woman could have offered an excuse for why she couldn’t have sex, like saying she was menstruating.
“I thought saying ‘No, I don’t want to do this. I seriously don’t want to do this,’ holding my hands on his hips, pushing him off me, was enough,” she replied.
Before wrapping up his cross-examination on Thursday, Martland apologized for the question about why she had not offered an excuse, calling it insensitive.
—The Canadian Press