Where's Kevin Vuong? Embattled MP still silent on dropped sex assault charge following election
Voters seek answers from Independent MP who ran as a Liberal and promised to address past sexual assault case
A full month after pledging to address a sexual assault charge levelled against him in 2019 and since withdrawn, newly elected Toronto MP Kevin Vuong has remained silent on the topic and out of sight.
Still active on social media — reposting messages from the prime minister and other Liberals — Vuong has not publicly responded to questions from constituents about why he failed to disclose details about his past to the party or the public.
Vuong ran as Liberal candidate to replace retiring MP Adam Vaughan in the downtown riding of Spadina—Fort York. After it emerged late in the campaign that Vuong had been charged previously with sexual assault — a charge that was later dropped — the party disavowed Vuong as a candidate and said that if he were elected, he would not serve as a Liberal MP.
That change came too late. All ballots in the riding still listed Vuong, a naval reservist and law school graduate, as the Liberal candidate.
On Sep. 22, two days after the vote, Vuong said he would "work hard to earn [voters'] trust" and later confirmed in a separate statement that he would sit as an MP without party affiliation. As for the past sexual assault allegation, he wrote: "I intend to address them at a later date more wholly in a dedicated forum."
Since then, both statements have been removed from his Twitter page and Vuong has not returned texts, calls, emails and Twitter direct messages from CBC News.
On Thursday, a journalist visited the Spadina Avenue address listed on Vuong's new House of Commons webpage. A building directory suggested the office still belonged to "Adam Vaughan, MP" and a message posted on the door directed constituency matters to Vaughan, the previous occupant.
Vuong tweeted this week about setting up his new constituency office: "What is within our control, we have been diligent to quickly action."
Some other new MPs arrived in Ottawa for orientation on Sep. 27 but CBC was unable to confirm whether Vuong appeared, in person or virtually.
A former campaign staffer said they did not know whether Vuong had been sworn in as an MP yet; some swearing-in ceremonies are being held in private due to pandemic protocols.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons said they could not confirm whether Vuong had been sworn in but said all MPs would need to be before taking their seats.
Some of Vuong's constituents said they received no answers to their questions after reaching out to his office.
Nataliya Gurba emailed and tweeted at Vuong asking why he hasn't resigned after running as a Liberal and being forced to sit as an Independent. Gurba received a standard, automatic email response.
"As we are currently in the process of establishing our constituency procedures and protocols, please note that there may be longer than usual response times," the email reads.
"I'm very concerned that he has not addressed the allegations from his past," Gurba told CBC News. "He has mentioned rebuilding trust with the community, but to me, building trust starts with taking accountability."
An online petition calling on Vuong to resign received more than 5,000 signatures.
Sexual assault charge dropped in 2019
Court documents confirm Vuong, now 32, was charged in Toronto in April 2019 with one count of sexual assault. The charge was withdrawn the following November, said a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General. The charge was first reported by the Toronto Star.
The Crown "is duty bound to withdraw charges if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, or if it is not in the public interest to proceed," ministry spokesperson Miranda Prescott said in an email.
In a statement that was tweeted and later deleted, Vuong said the case centred on "a casual but intimate relationship" and that he "understood everything to be consensual."
Officials involved in Vuong's Liberal campaign said he was formally asked at least two questions during the party's vetting process that should have prompted him to disclose the 2019 sexual assault charge. They said Vuong was asked whether he'd ever been criminally charged and whether anything in his past could, if revealed, embarrass him or the party.
The Canadian Armed Forces also said it was reviewing Vuong's file after the military learned of the 2019 case in September. Members — including reservists like Vuong — are required to share criminal charges with their chain of command.
"It's very hard in the vetting process to uncover secrets if the person that you're relying on to be honest doesn't tell the truth," Vaughan, the former Liberal MP, recently told CBC.
Vaughan said he told Vuong on election night that he would have to resign if he won because "to claim victory on these pretences, with this kind of a cloud over his head, was wrong."
Vuong was also named in a $1.5 million lawsuit filed by a former associate over a pandemic mask-making business. Vuong denied the accusations made in the lawsuit. They have not been proven in court. Vaughan said he hadn't been made aware of that case either before it was reported in the media.
On social media on Sep. 25, Vuong said he wanted to "apologize for the lack of disclosure." He later removed the post.
Vuong vowed in that same deleted message to serve as an Independent MP. But constituents could be forgiven for not being aware of his split with the Liberals.
His Twitter page, official website and LinkedIn profile list him as an elected MP — but all avoid adding the "Independent" designation. Elections Canada still lists him as the Liberal candidate who won Spadina—Fort York. And as of Thursday afternoon, Vuong had retweeted at least 21 posts by former or current Liberal MPs and federal ministries in the previous week.
Parliament is set to return on Nov. 22. MPs have the power to expel a member from the Commons but that hasn't been done since 1947.
"This isn't the only candidate this has happened to," Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor, told CBC after the election. "We've had NDP, Conservative and Liberal candidates who've been disowned by their party after the ballots have been printed.
"The difference here is he's the only one who got elected."
With files from CBC's Victoria Stunt, Laura Clementson, Chris Rands, Jamie Strashin, Nicole Brockbank, Ashley Burke, Jessica Ng, Megan McCleister and Michelle Song