The federal Liberals have asked one of their election candidates in downtown Toronto to “pause” his campaign after the Star revealed he was charged with sexual assault in 2019 and that the charge was dropped later that year.
In a statement to the Star on Thursday night, Spadina—Fort York Liberal candidate Kevin Vuong said he wanted to “unequivocally state that these allegations are false” and that he “vigorously fought” them until the sexual assault charge was dropped in November 2019.
He said he would have continued that fight if the charge had not been withdrawn and stated it is “deeply troubling” that the allegations re-surfaced just days before the election.
“I will be taking some time with my family,” Vuong’s statement said.
In a separate statement, Liberal party spokesperson Alex Lawrence said the party first learned of the situation on Thursday and that they asked Vuong “to pause campaigning while we look into this.”
Vuong became the Liberal candidate for the riding of Spadina—Fort York this summer, shortly after incumbent Liberal MP Adam Vaughan announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.
The woman whose accusation prompted the sexual assault charge told the Star she was not aware Vuong was running for the Liberals until she returned to Toronto recently to see his face on election signs in the King Street West area.
It is the Star’s policy to grant anonymity to people who allege they are victims of sexual assault.
Court documents show the Crown prosecutor withdrew the charge against Vuong on Nov. 27, 2019, seven months after he was charged and before the case had proceeded to trial.
“I met with the complainant in this matter for some time, and the officer in charge. (The complainant) had a number of personal issues happening right now,” Crown prosecutor Louise Collins told the court, according to a transcript. “I have reviewed this case again and decided it would not be in the public interest to proceed any further.”
In an interview with the Star, the complainant said she went on several dates with Vuong after they meeting on a dating app in early 2019.
On April 8, 2019, she said, Vuong came over to her home and the two watched a movie, went to bed and fell asleep. Not long after, she said she was woken up by Vuong touching her.
“At first he’s touching my breasts and then he’s trying to slobber all over my neck, and then his hands go lower,” she said.
She said she was confused for a few seconds and then told Vuong she had to go to the bathroom, where she said she locked the door and contacted a friend. The friend came to the apartment, told Vuong to leave and he left without confrontation, said the complainant, who also provided screenshots of text messages with the friend from that night.
The friend corroborated her recollection of that night’s events.
Vuong did not address the details of the allegation against him in his statement to the Star.
The complainant said she told the Crown lawyer she “didn’t have the energy” to go to trial, as she had already been through the trauma of going through a criminal case after she was sexually assaulted as a child.
“At the same time (I told her that), he has to say something … or (face) some sort of consequences for his actions,” she said, adding that she told the Crown that she wanted Vuong to go to therapy or counselling.
The complainant said that was the only time she spoke with Collins. She also said she was not aware the charge against Vuong had been dropped until the Star informed her this week.
Brian Gray, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, did not say why the charge against Vuong was dropped.
However, Gray said that, “in general,” Crown lawyers are “duty bound to withdraw charges if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, or if it is not in the public interest to proceed.”
Vuong’s biography on the Liberal party’s website describes him as an “entrepreneur, lecturer and military officer” who started a company to make reusable face masks when the pandemic hit last year.
He was also named one of Canada’s “Top 30 under 30” in 2016 by the magazine “Corporate Knights,” which described his service in the Canadian Navy and Toronto initiatives.
Controversies involving allegations of inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct have dogged the Liberals through the campaign.
Raj Saini, the Liberal candidate and incumbent MP in Kitchener Centre, ended his campaign on Sept. 4 after the CBC reported allegations that he had made unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments toward Liberal staffers.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who says his party has a zero-tolerance policy and rigorous standards to deal with such behaviour, had initially defended his party’s decision to let Saini continue as the Liberal candidate.
Saini has denied the allegations against him, calling them “unequivocally false” and “defamatory.”
The Liberal government has been criticized for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations that reached the top ranks of the Canadian military. Among those facing accusations of inappropriate conduct are Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defence staff who retired as the country’s top military officer in January, and Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who was removed as leader of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and charged with sexual assault.
Both men deny the allegations against them.