A downtown Toronto Liberal candidate has been asked by the federal party to “pause” his election campaign as officials review the circumstances surrounding the Crown’s decision to drop a sexual assault charge in 2019.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was pressed by reporters about the matter Friday morning after news surfaced Spadina–Fort York candidate Kevin Vuong was charged in connection with an alleged sexual assault on April 8, 2019.
“This is a situation that we are taking very seriously and looking into,” he said while campaigning in Windsor, Ont., when asked how the party was not aware of the incident and why Vuong wasn’t kicked out from the party.
“We have questions about that, we have questions about exactly what happened, we’re looking into that very rapidly, and in the meanwhile we have asked the candidate to pause his campaign.”
Trudeau told reporters party officials weren’t aware of the dropped charge until Thursday when they were contacted by The Toronto Star, which was the first news outlet to report on the incident.
The Department of Defence also confirmed that it is “looking into the matter further” after learning about the charge from the Star’s reporting. Vuong, who is also a naval reservist, did not disclose the charge to his chain of command in 2019 as required under military policy, a spokesperson confirmed.
The spokesperson said it was too soon to say what could result from the review, but said any subsequent action could be “administrative in nature.”
Global News spoke with the complainant Friday afternoon after this story was initially published.
The woman, who Global News agreed not to identify, confirmed the details outlined in the Star’s report.
She said she met Vuong through a dating app in February 2019 and that they went on several dates. It was around April 8 when he came over to watch a movie before agreeing to turn everything off. She said they went to bed and fell asleep soon after laying down.
“I woke up because I felt somebody touching me and I felt something tickling my neck, and I kept my eyes closed from the moment I woke up just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating and I wanted to be sure what was going on,” the woman said, recalling how she was allegedly groped.
She said she went to her bathroom and locked the door before going on to call a friend for help. The woman said she arranged for the friend to make an emergency call to her so she could leave, adding she went down to her parking garage to hide as she was suffering a panic attack.
“When it happened, I was taken back because I think it was one thing if I was awake and he tried to make advancements, I would have shut it down. We wouldn’t even be here. But the fact of the matter is that I was asleep, I was unconscious, and I couldn’t consent to something,” she said.
In speaking with the Crown, the woman said she didn’t expect Vuong to go to jail over the alleged incident.
“I just didn’t want this to happen again to somebody else, for him to think that because he’s so important that he could just get away with this,” she said.
She said she spoke to the Crown and understood that they would still pursue the matter.
The woman said she tried to keep up to date on the court proceedings and one of the last court dates she attended was in Sept. 2019.
She said she didn’t know charges were dropped until speaking to the Star.
The alleged victim said she was in the United States for two months and only upon returning to Canada realized that Vuong was the Liberal candidate in her riding.
“I didn’t even know he was involved with politics anymore at all,” she said.
The woman said she saw his name on an election sign and immediately paused.
“I started having a meltdown because I realized I hadn’t heard anything and all of a sudden … he’s allowed to run for office?” she said.
“It makes me afraid. It makes me fearful. I don’t even want to go walk my dog outside my house because I just don’t want to see his signs …
“I definitely don’t want to be represented by somebody who essentially abused me and I don’t want to see his name everywhere.”
The woman said she feels the system failed her and said she shouldn’t have had to wait two years to find out — especially in this way — that the charges were dropped.
She said the experience left her struggling, adding that she had to drop courses in university after the alleged assault.
Global News asked her what she thought about the Liberals asking Vuong to “pause” his campaign.
“I don’t even know what that means. If anything, that strikes me as very passive. It’s almost like saying, ‘We’re going to put off the problem as long as we can until Monday,'” she said.
She said she wants a “straight-forward” answer regarding plans for Vuong’s candidacy and called for the party to review its vetting process for candidates.
“I think there is a fundamental issue in the way the vetting process is conducted,” she said.
Global News contacted Vuong and his representatives multiple times for comment on this story Thursday evening and Friday morning, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.
However, the Star reported receiving a statement from Vuong where he “unequivocally state(d) that these allegations are false” and that he “vigorously fought” the matter in court. The case was dropped at the end of November 2019. He also was reported to have not addressed the allegations in that statement.
Citing court transcripts, the newspaper quoted Crown prosecutor Louise Collins, who said the complainant “had a number of personal issues happening right now” and that after the case was reviewed again it was “decided it would not be in the public interest to proceed any further.”
The woman told the Star she “didn’t have the energy” to go through a trial after having gone through court proceedings as a child following a sexual assault, calling for Vuong to go seek counselling or therapy. She added she wasn’t aware the charge against Vuong was dropped.
Vuong, who describes himself as an entrepreneur, lecturer and naval reservist, previously mounted an unsuccessful bid for Toronto city council in 2018. He was nominated to run for the Liberals after Adam Vaughan announced he wasn’t seeking re-election.
The news came days after advance voting ended and more than two weeks after Elections Canada’s deadline to get on or off the ballot.
Throughout the election campaign, the Liberals have been facing questions over alleged sexual misconduct, such as the party’s former candidate Raj Saini in Kitchener Centre. The MP ended his re-election campaign after there were accusations he harassed a former staff member, something Saini previously called “defamatory” and “false.”
During a campaign stop in Sherbrooke, Que., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh began his remarks addressing the allegations involving Vuong before calling for increased actions to protect women and survivors of sexual assault.
“It’s so painful when we see a pattern of behaviour with the Liberal Party, that they do not have the courage to take on men in positions of power, that they allow candidates to come forward and don’t act,” he said while also referencing instances of sexual assault and misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“There’s a question Canadians want to know: Either this candidate in Toronto lied to the Liberal Party and the Liberal Party is OK with that or the Liberal Party knew all along and Mr. Trudeau is OK with that. Either way, it’s horrible.”
–With files from Global’s Sean Boynton