The Liberal Party said Saturday it would remove a candidate after a dropped sexual assault charge against him was revealed, as leader Justin Trudeau campaigned in the Greater Toronto Area as part of final get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of Monday’s vote.
Mr. Trudeau is trying to make his case to Canadians on issues such as pandemic response, climate change and child care, in hopes he will be granted a third mandate. In recent days, however, he has faced questions about how Kevin Vuong was able to run for the Liberals in the first place.
In a statement, the Liberal Party said Mr. Vuong, running in the riding of Spadina–Fort York, would not be a member of caucus should he be elected Monday. His name remains on the ballot because the deadline to remove candidates has passed.
The Liberals said Friday that Mr. Vuong’s campaign would be put on “pause” as the party was looking into the matter after the Toronto Star reported that he had been charged with sexual assault in 2019. The charge was later dropped. and Mr. Vuong has said the allegations are false and that he vigorously defended them at the time.
While speaking to reporters Saturday, Mr. Trudeau said his party took immediate action when information came out about the past charge.
“We stopped the campaign, the Liberal campaign in Spadina–Fort York,” he said. “We followed the processes that are in place at the party to ascertain and to 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 is the right thing to do.”
When asked why the media needed to bring the information to light and why it wasn’t unearthed in the party’s vetting process, Mr. Trudeau said he was happy to defend the work media does as part of a democracy.
Party rules say the candidate vetting committee should, at minimum, consider criteria including criminal reference checks and “any claim, dispute or litigation” in which the potential nominee is or has been involved.
The rules also say potential Liberal candidates must not be “engaged in any claim, litigation or dispute of any sort which is liable to bring controversy or disrepute” upon them or the party. The national campaign chairs can waive that rule, according to the party’s candidate selection document.
Mr. Vuong also faces a $1.5-million lawsuit from a former business associate in a pandemic mask-making business, first reported on by The Globe and Mail. He is also a reservist in the navy. Daniel Le Bouthillier, a spokesman for the Department of National Defence, said late Friday that given currently available information, Mr. Vuong did not inform his chain of command about the matter, even though there was an expectation that he do so. He added that the Canadian Armed Forces “are looking into the matter further.”
Mr. Vuong was acclaimed the Liberal candidate for Spadina–Fort York on Aug. 13. The riding was represented in the last Parliament by Liberal Adam Vaughan, who decided not to run again.
At a campaign stop in Saskatoon on Saturday morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh directly addressed the situation with Mr. Vuong in his remarks.
“It took them two days to do something that shouldn’t have taken twenty minutes,” he said, referring to the Liberals’ decision to have him not represent the party. “That is an insult.” He added that there’s a “pattern of behaviour” of Mr. Trudeau not listening to women who come forward.
Mr. Trudeau initially stood by Kitchener-Centre candidate Raj Saini, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct stretching back more than a year. Mr. Saini denies the allegations. In early September, after unspecified “new allegations” emerged, the Liberals said they would not allow Mr. Saini to join the party’s caucus if he wins the riding.
Over the course of the weekend, Mr. Trudeau is making several election stops. In the final hours of the campaign, he is attempting to contrast himself and his party from the Conservatives and leader Erin O’Toole. The Liberal Leader has taken aim at Mr. O’Toole throughout the campaign, including on what he describes as the Conservative leader’s lack of support for vaccine mandates and for not stipulating that candidates need to be vaccinated.
The Globe and Mail reported that a vast majority of Conservative candidates are not disclosing their vaccination status, even though their leader has championed vaccinations as being key to getting through the pandemic. Mr. O’Toole is the only leader of a major federal party not to disclose the vaccination status of his candidates.
Mr. Trudeau said Saturday that Mr. O’Toole is trying to protect “anti-vaxxers in his own party” and said this a “fundamental breach of trust for Canadians” that is inexcusable during the pandemic.
For their part, other parties have taken aim at Mr. Trudeau on issues including his own credibility. They do not agree with his decision to trigger a $600-million election during a pandemic when he previously said he would not do so.
Mr. Trudeau has said that the election is an opportunity to get a mandate from Canadians who will be making decisions not just for the coming months but for decades to come. On Saturday, he asked supporters to help with his efforts and to encourage those around them to vote Liberal.
“I need you to go flat out, just like I will,” Mr. Trudeau said at an event in Aurora, Ont.
With files from Marieke Walsh, Laura Stone and Menaka Raman-Wilms.
Follow the party leaders and where they stand on the issues this election campaign by signing up for our Morning or Evening Update newsletters.
For subscribers only: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.
Follow Kristy Kirkup on Twitter @kkirkup