Vanderzwaag tells court sexual contact with older complainant was consensual

John (Jan) Vanderzwaag testified at his sexual assault trial Tuesday, telling the court he had no sexual contact with one of the complainants, but was in love with the other and believed what happened two decades ago in Charlottetown was consensual.

A publication ban is in place to shield the identities of the two male complainants.

The complainants have testified they were assaulted at Vanderzwaag’s parents’ home the night of a sleepover involving young people who attended the Charlottetown Christian Reformed Church. Vanderzwaag was a church youth group helper at the time, aged 22.

“In the church’s eyes, I knew it was inappropriate, but what happened between us was appropriate from a non-church opinion,” Vanderzwaag said of his relationship with the older of the two complainants, who was a young adult at the time of the alleged offence. 

“I felt angry that it was spun this way … but at the same time, I understood why it would be spun this way.” 

The jury trial is taking place at the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, and is expected to last about two weeks. (Laura Meader/CBC)

On the first day of Vanderzwaag’s testimony, his lawyer Brian Ross drew him out about his relationship with the older complainant.  

“We were unusually close as friends,” he said, saying they would spend entire weekends together, and he believed the complainant consented to him touching him on the night in question.

Talking about it scared me,becauseI didn’t want anyone to find out about it.— John Vanderzwaag, who also goes by the first name Jan

The defendant testified there had been a few other sexual experiences between the two men.

Asked by Ross if they had ever discussed what was happening, Vanderzwaag said: “Talking about it scared me, because I didn’t want anyone to find out about it.”

Vanderzwaag said his family was very religious, so it took him many years to come out as a gay man. He testified that his church taught that “any pre-marital sexual activity was a sin and anything to do with homosexuality was a sin.” 

‘I hoped it would become public’

Ross had earlier challenged the older complainant, saying he hesitated to go to police initially because he had had other sexual encounters with Vanderzwaag before the one involved in this trial.

“You knew prior sexual occurrences would come out… you knew this was going to become public,” Ross said to the complainant on Friday.

The complainant responded: “I hoped it would become public.”

Insisting he “gave no consent to Mr. Vanderzwaag,” he added: “I know what happened to me. I feel like I’m being shamed as a victim.”

The Crown attorney in the case, Lisa Goulden, pointed out during cross-examination that there was no conversation before the sexual activity with the older complainant, and that Vanderzwaag never talked to the man about their relationship.

She also suggested that on the night in question. Vanderzwaag knew he had gone too far. 

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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