Former Canucks forward Virtanen charged with sexual assault

Former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

VANCOUVER -- Former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen has been charged with sexual assault following a police investigation.

Vancouver police said Thursday the B.C. Prosecution Service approved one count of sexual assault against Virtanen, 25, in relation to an incident that occurred on Sept. 26, 2017, when Virtanen was playing for the Canucks.

Police launched an investigation in May 2021 after a 23-year-old woman filed a complaint.

Vancouver police spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin commended the woman for coming forward.

``Anytime there is a personal crime, especially one of sexual nature, I can imagine how difficult that could be,'' Visintin said. ``Especially when there is a suspect that has a high profile in the community.''

Police say Virtanen, who is playing in the Russian-based KHL this season with Spartak Moscow, is not currently in custody.

Virtanen released the following statement through his agents to Sportsnet:

"As we have previously stated, Mr. Virtanen denies the allegations of non-consensual sexual contact with the complainant. He has filed a response to the complainant’s civil lawsuit. He has sent police a statement, denying the allegations. He took a polygraph examination and provided that report to the police. Mr. Virtanen continues to maintain his innocence and looks forward to defending himself at trial. Until such time, we do not intend to make any further public statements."

Selected sixth overall by the Canucks at the 2014 NHL draft, Virtanen registered 55 goals and 100 points in 317 regular-season games with Vancouver.

"When the allegations first came to our attention, we immediately placed Jake Virtanen on leave. He is no longer a member of the organization." said the Canucks in a press release. "We have been in contact with the Vancouver Police Department throughout their investigation and will continue to provide support as needed."

The native of Abbotsford, B.C., was placed on leave in May 2021 by the Canucks after the allegations came to light, and had his contract bought out the following month.

Court documents filed in June 2021 show Virtanen denied allegations he sexually assaulted the young woman.

A civil lawsuit filed in Kelowna, B.C., the previous month alleged Virtanen took the woman to a hotel in West Vancouver in September 2017 and assaulted her as she repeatedly said no and pleaded with him to stop.

Virtanen denied the allegation in a response filed June 1, 2021, saying the pair had consensual sex, and denied that the woman ``expressed any indication, verbal or physical, that she did not want to engage in physical activity.''

The allegations have not been tested in court.

Virtanen asked at the time for the lawsuit to be dismissed and for the court to award him special costs, due to the nature of the allegations.

**With files from the Canadian Press

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