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LU professor pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges

Han Chen was charged with two counts of sexual assault for two alleged separate incidents involving a student at Lakehead University in January 2021
Han Chen
Han Chen was charged with two counts of sexual assault in March 2021. (File).

Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing

THUNDER BAY — A Lakehead University professor has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges for two alleged incidents involving a student in January 2021.

The trial for Han Chen opened before Justice Frank Valente in a Thunder Bay courtroom on Wednesday. Chen, a Lakehead University professor in the department of natural resources management at the time of his arrest in March 2021, pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault.

Crown attorney Danielle Wood called the complainant to testify on Wednesday. There is a publication ban in place protecting her identity.

The complainant told the court that she was a student in January 2021 working on completing her thesis.

According to the complainant, the first incident involving Chen occurred on Jan. 28, 2021 when in her office on the Lakehead University campus. As he was helping her analyze data on her computer, he placed a hand on her leg and back, before moving his hand under her shirt and touching her skin.

The complainant testified that out of respect for Chen’s academic status and his position in relation to her, she did not say anything at first, but added she felt confused and “quite uncomfortable.” She then expressed her discomfort and backed away.

“I did not know who I should talk to,” the complainant said of the incident.

The second incident occurred on Jan. 29, 2021, with the complainant testifying that she returned to campus and had questions about her thesis.

The complainant said she approached Chen to ask him some questions about her research and he suggested they go to a new sample field off campus.

“I was a little confused because I did not know what the new field had to do with my data processing,” the complainant testified. “I was a little concerned and afraid.”

On the drive to the field in Chen’s vehicle, the complainant said he asked her about her boyfriend and if she lived alone or with roommates.

The field was an approximately 20-minute drive from campus, the complainant said, though she did not recall its exact location. She also described it as remote and sparse.

After arriving, the complainant said Chen got out of the vehicle and told her to get out as well. Chen then told her to get into the back seat of the vehicle and he then pushed in and down on the seat.

The complainant testified that while in the backseat, Chen held her down and sexually assaulted her by touching her body her while also saying vulgar things.

“I told him not to do that,” the complainant testified. “I said: ‘you have your own family and children and your own wife. Do not treat me like this.’”

According to the complainant, Chen said he would not let his wife or anyone else find out.

The complainant said she kept asking Chen to stop and to drive her home. She then told him her boyfriend was planning to pick her up at 1 p.m. that day and if she was not there, he would know something was wrong.

Chen then stopped and drove her back to campus.

“I did not struggle very hard with him because I was afraid that if I did anything that enraged him he would not drive me home or take me an even more remote place,” the complainant testified.

After returning to campus, the complainant told her boyfriend what had happened, and they went to campus security to report the incident.

On Jan. 30, 2021, the complainant said she received an email from Chen saying he would transfer $3,000 from his account to her for her research.

She also received text messages from Chen in February saying she could potentially graduate by April, though before the incidents, he told her that was not possible.

The complainant said her remaining time at school was very difficult and she was in a bad mental state.

Wood also presented video surveillance evidence from the Lakehead University campus showing Chen and the complainant leaving together and then returning at the time the complainant said the incident on Jan. 29 occurred.

The trial is scheduled for three days and is set to resume on Thursday with defense counsel Kate Brindley’s cross-examination of the complainant.

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