Kevin Vuong says he was 'naive' not to disclose withdrawn sex assault charge, but will continue as MP
Independent MP broke his silence in Friday interview with Toronto radio station
Independent MP Kevin Vuong told a Toronto radio station Friday that he was "naive" not to disclose a withdrawn sexual assault charge in the prelude to the September federal election, but offered no suggestion he would resign in the face of continued criticism from some constituents.
Speaking to Newstalk 1010, Vuong apologized but also said that he is in the process of hiring more staff for his constituency office in the riding of Spadina–Fort York, with the hope of eventually hiring staff in Ottawa as well.
It was the first time Vuong has publicly taken questions about his controversial election to federal office since the Sept. 20 vote.
"I want to apologize to the people of Spadina–Fort York. I want to apologize to the prime minister and my former Liberal colleagues," Vuong said.
"I regret not disclosing the charge that was withdrawn. I want to apologize also to the people who supported me, for embarrassing them. I had let them down, and I was naive."
Vuong declined an interview request from CBC News Friday, saying by email that he would "prefer that the [Newstalk] interview speak for itself."
CBC News had sent multiple interview requests to Vuong and his staff over several weeks and until Friday received no response. Some constituents have told CBC News their calls and emails have also gone unanswered.
Vuong, 32, won the seat for Spadina-Fort York under unusual circumstances, with many constituents saying they voted for him under false pretences.
The Liberals appointed Vuong earlier this year as their candidate to replace retiring MP Adam Vaughan. After the Toronto Star reported Vuong had been charged with sexual assault in 2019 — a single count that the Crown withdrew later that year — the Liberals first told him to pause his campaign, then ejected him from the party.
Ballots listed him as the Liberal candidate, even though the party ditched him two days before the election. After his win, Vuong pledged to serve as an Independent MP.
He said Friday he has had no contact with the Prime Minister's Office or the Liberal party apparatus.
"I made a tremendous error in judgment for not disclosing [the withdrawn charge]," he said. "I don't blame the party for making the decision that they did."
The Liberals said Vuong failed to disclose the past accusation during the party's vetting process, despite being asked questions that Liberal officials said should have prompted him to do so. Vuong previously called the allegations "false" and said he "vigorously fought" them when they were first levelled against him.
A petition demanding his resignation received more than 5,000 signatures. Voters said they complained to Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections about the circumstances of his win.
Vuong, a naval reservist since 2015, is also facing a military investigation. The Department of National Defence said he failed to notify the military about the 2019 arrest. Armed Forces members like him are required to disclose criminal charges to their chain of command.
A self-described "social entrepreneur," Vuong is also named in a $1.5-million lawsuit filed by a former business associate, who alleged she was cut out of a lucrative pandemic mask-making firm. Vuong denied the accusations, which have not been proven in court.
Vuong took no questions at community meeting
Vuong appeared over Zoom Tuesday night at a community meeting organized by the York Quay Neighbourhood Association in his Toronto riding. "The elephant in the room," he told constituents, "is that when I first started, I was a candidate of a party and I am now an Independent member of Parliament."
He left without taking questions. Constituents reacted angrily.
The meeting "was merely a publicity stunt in my opinion, to show that he is 'engaged' with the community," Melody Roche told CBC News after attending. "The reality is that he does not care what his constituents want."
In a statement on Sep. 22, Vuong said he would address the past sexual assault allegations "at a later date more wholly in a dedicated forum," but the message was later removed from his Twitter page.
Vuong is expected to take his seat as the only Independent MP in the House of Commons when Parliament resumes on Monday.
With files from Thomas Daigle