Justin Trudeau says one of his Toronto candidates has “paused” his election campaign after a past allegation of sexual assault was revealed, but the Liberal Leader would not commit to removing him from the party before Monday’s vote.
The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that Kevin Vuong, who is running for the Liberals in Spadina–Fort York, was charged in 2019 with sexual assault, but the charge was dropped later that year. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Vuong said the allegations are false and that he “vigorously fought” them at the time.
“The allegations were withdrawn,” he said in a statement. “Had they not been withdrawn, I would have continued to defend myself against these false allegations. This re-surfacing three days before the election is deeply troubling to me and my family. I will be taking some time with my family.”
At a campaign stop in Windsor, Ont., on Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal Party was unaware of the dropped charge until this week’s report. He said the party is looking into it.
“We are a party that always takes seriously any allegations or reports of sexual harassment, or intimidation or assault,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“We only learned about these serious allegations yesterday through the work of the Toronto Star. We are looking into it very carefully and we have asked the candidate to pause his campaign.”
Mr. Trudeau did not explain what pausing a campaign entails, or answer questions about why he did not immediately declare that Mr. Vuong would not be a Liberal caucus member if he is elected. He was also asked how his party could not have known about the charge during the vetting process.
“We have questions about that, we have questions about what exactly happened, we are looking into that very rapidly, and in the meanwhile we have asked that candidate to pause his campaign,” he said.
Mr. Vuong 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 is an expectation that they do so. He added that the Canadian Armed Forces “are looking into the matter further.”
Mr. Vuong will remain on the ballot as a Liberal because the deadline for removing the names of candidates has passed.
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.
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. The claimant is Toronto accessories designer Anna-Maria Mountfort. She alleges she, Mr. Vuong and entrepreneur Larry Lau had a “handshake deal” that she would be a founder or partner of a company that produced face masks, but was cut out of the business. Mr. Vuong and Mr. Lau deny the accusations, which have not been proved in court.
Mr. Vuong was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Spadina–Fort York on Aug. 13. The riding is a stronghold for the party and was previously held by Adam Vaughan, who decided not to run again.
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 state that 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.
The Conservative Party on Friday called for the Liberals to remove Mr. Vuong as a candidate.
“This pattern of cover-ups by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party must stop,” said a statement attributed to the Conservative Party’s national campaign. “Once again Canadians are left wondering how they can trust the Liberals.
“Justin Trudeau must do the right thing and immediately fire this candidate and confirm that if elected, this candidate will not sit in the Liberal caucus.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh addressed the situation in remarks on Friday in Sherbrooke, Que.
“This is a story that women know all too well,” he said. “It’s so painful when we see the pattern of behaviour with the Liberal Party. They do not have the courage to take on men in positions of power,” Mr. Singh said, adding that he sees parallels with how the party handled allegations of sexual misconduct in the military. He also raised questions of what the Liberal Party knew about this candidate when allowing him to run.
“What has Mr. Trudeau done? He’s still the candidate,” Mr. Singh said, adding that “silence in the face of injustice is acceptance.”
With a report from Menaka Raman-Wilms in Sherbrooke, Que.
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