Liberals cut ties with Toronto candidate over dropped sexual assault charge, military review

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Kevin Vuong, who is running in the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York, is no longer running under the Liberal banner and won't sit with them if elected, the party said Saturday. (CBC - image credit)
Kevin Vuong, who is running in the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York, is no longer running under the Liberal banner and won't sit with them if elected, the party said Saturday. (CBC - image credit)

The Liberal Party said Toronto candidate Kevin Vuong is no longer running under the party banner and won't sit with the Liberal caucus if elected.

Vuong, running in Spadina–Fort York, had been asked by the Liberals to "pause" his campaign after reports of a past sexual assault charge, which was dropped, surfaced in the media. The news of the dropped 2019 charge was first reported by the Toronto Star.

At a campaign event Saturday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party had taken immediate action when they became aware of the situation.

"We followed the processes that are in place in the party to ascertain and look into this, and we've come to the conclusion that this individual can no longer be a Liberal candidate in this election. It is a difficult but important thing to do, because it's the right thing to do," he said.

Trudeau said his party took seriously the importance of protecting people who come forward with allegations, and it is committed to adapting processes around nominations when they fall short.

"We are constantly reviewing and improving the process, because, I'll be honest with you, we don't want to be in situations like this again," he said.

WATCH | Trudeau asked about candidate in Spadina–Fort York

The Star report prompted a review by the Canadian Armed Forces. Based on information available at this time, Vuong, a naval reservist, failed to notify the military of the charges against him in 2019, Defence Department spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier told CBC News.

Military members are required to share criminal charges with their chain of command. Le Bouthillier told CBC News the department is reviewing the next steps, which could be "administrative" in nature.

In a statement issued to CBC News through his campaign manager yesterday, Vuong said he wanted to "unequivocally state that these allegations are false" and that he "vigorously fought" them when they were first brought forward. He questioned why the allegations were resurfacing close to an election.

"Had they not been withdrawn, I would have continued to defend myself against these false allegations," Vuong's statement said.

"This resurfacing three days before the election is deeply troubling to me and my family."

Vuong's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News on Saturday.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

The Conservatives had called Friday for Vuong to be dropped as a candidate.

At a campaign event Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Trudeau of a "pattern of behaviour that has put women at risk.

"He took two days to make a decision about a Toronto candidate, to remove him as a candidate, that shouldn't have taken 20 minutes."

Singh was asked how his approach to the Liberals' actions compared to his position on allegations of domestic violence levelled against Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew in 2017, which Kinew denies. Singh said Kinew had acknowledged past mistakes and changed.

WATCH | Singh defends Kinew, attacks Trudeau over handling of misconduct allegations

Spadina–Fort York a Liberal stronghold

Vuong will remain on the ballot in Spadina–Fort York. Million of Canadians have already voted in advance polls. In addition, 4,014 special ballots attached to the riding, more than 6 per cent of the turnout in 2019, had already been received by Elections Canada as of Sept. 16.

Vuong was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Spadina–Fort York on Aug. 13, shortly after incumbent Adam Vaughan confirmed that he would not run again and just two days before the federal election was called.

The area has long been a good bet for the Liberals. Vaughan won the riding by 35 percentage points in 2019 and 27 in 2015.

The riding was formed out of portions of Toronto Centre, also a Liberal stronghold, and Trinity–Spadina, the seat held for eight years by Olivia Chow.

Kitchener Centre candidate also dropped

Earlier in the campaign, the Liberals also announced that their candidate in Kitchener Centre, Raj Saini, would no longer be running for the party. Saini had been allowed to run by the party despite a series of allegations of unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments over the course of his time as MP, which Saini denies.

After first defending Saini, Trudeau and the party reversed course and said it had received new information that led them to drop him as a candidate. Saini had said he would not run for re-election earlier that day.

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