Downtown Toronto candidate Kevin Vuong will no longer be affiliated with the Liberals following an investigation into a past sexual assault allegation, the party’s spokesperson said Saturday.
On Friday, the federal party had asked Vuong to “pause” his election campaign as officials reviewed the circumstances surrounding the Crown’s decision to drop a sexual assault charge against him in 2019.
“We take any allegation extremely seriously,” a Liberal Party spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Global News.
Since it is too late to remove him from the ballot, the party added that “should he be elected, he will not be a member of the Liberal caucus.”
Vuong, who has been in the Naval Reserves since 2015, is also under review by the Canadian Armed Forces.
In an emailed statement to Global News, a military spokesperson said Vuong neglected to inform his Chain of Command that he had been charged with sexual assault in 2019, despite an “expectation that members in such situations do so.”
“We are looking into the matter further but there is no additional information to provide at this time,” the statement read.
Pressure has been mounting for the Liberals to take action and have the Spadina–Fort York candidate removed from the party since the news of the assault charge was first reported by the Toronto Star on Thursday. The party’s move to cut ties with Vuong comes days before voters head to the polls on Sept. 20.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who is currently seeking re-election, told reporters in Aurora, Ont., on Saturday that cutting ties with Vuong is “the right thing to do.”
“We followed the processes that are in place for 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,” he said.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh called the Liberals’ slow move to remove Vuong “an insult,” and accused Trudeau of not doing enough to protect women.
“It took them two days to do something that shouldn’t have taken them 20 minutes,” he said, speaking from a campaign stop in Saskatoon.
“Mr. Trudeau does not believe women. He does not have the courage to take on powerful men. He protects powerful men instead of protecting women, instead of standing up for women. That is wrong.”
The Conservatives, meanwhile, demanded Trudeau “immediately fire” Vuong and insisted the Liberals “hid” the truth from Canadians in an emailed release on Friday.
“Once again Canadians are left wondering how they can trust the Liberals,” the release read.
The woman involved in the sexual assault allegation previously confirmed with Global News that she had gone on several dates with Vuong in 2019 after meeting through a dating app in February. She claimed the alleged assault happened on April 8, when he came over to watch a movie with her.
Global News has agreed not to disclose the complainant’s identity.
Shortly after falling asleep, the woman said she woke up to what felt like “somebody touching me, and I felt something tickling my neck.”
“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,” she said.
After the alleged groping, the woman said she went to her bathroom and locked the door before going on to call a friend for help, eventually hiding in her parking garage and 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.
The Liberals have been dogged by sexual misconduct and harassment allegations throughout this year’s election campaign.
Earlier this month, Raj Saini, a former Liberal MP seeking re-election in Kitchener Centre, stepped down over allegations that he harassed a female staff member. In his final speech, Saini said he would devote his efforts to challenging what he called “defamatory, false accusations” and reviewing his legal options.
The Liberals have also taken heat for the party’s handling of a series of sexual misconduct allegations within the Canadian Armed Forces involving senior military commanders, deemed a “crisis” by experts. Few concrete, systemic changes have been made.
Trudeau defended his government’s record during the English-language election debate — eight months after Global News broke the first of multiple high-level allegations against senior members of Canada’s military.
“We recognize that there are systems and institutions that need to change across the country,” Trudeau said, calling the problem “unacceptable.”
“It’s unsatisfactory to have to say we are relying on process on this. We want to just be able to have easy answers. This is not an issue with easy answers — we have to fall back on process.”
— With files from Global News’ Abigail Bimman, Nick Westoll, Ahmar Khan, Ryan Rocca and Amanda Connolly, and the Canadian Press