VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen has been charged with sexual assault following an investigation by authorities.
Vancouver police said Thursday the B.C. Prosecution Service approved one count of sexual assault against Virtanen in relation to an incident that occurred on Sept. 26, 2017, when he 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.
"Any time 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."
Virtanen, who is not currently in custody, is scheduled to make an appearance in Vancouver provincial court on Feb. 10.
His agent, Kevin Epps, issued a statement Thursday evening that said Virtanen continued to deny the allegations of non-consensual sexual contact.
"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," wrote Epps. "Mr. Virtanen continues to maintain his innocence and looks forward to defending himself at trial."
Virtanen, from Abbotsford, B.C., has been playing hockey this season for Spartak Moscow of the Russian-based KHL. The team, however, has been inactive since Jan. 10, when the league suspended its season due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Spartak's next scheduled game isn't until Feb. 22.
"Crown is in contact with his lawyer, so I presume they will have conversations surrounding how to compel (Virtanen) to court," said Visintin.
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.
Virtanen 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.
In a statement Thursday, the Canucks said the team was contact with Vancouver police throughout the investigation and will continue to provide support as needed.
"Our organization is committed to fostering a safe and welcoming environment and will not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind," the team said.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press