Expelled Liberal candidate says he'll sit as an Independent as angry voters call for byelection
Anger is mounting online over Spadina-Fort York candidate Kevin Vuong's decision to stay in
Former Liberal candidate Kevin Vuong — who won his Toronto riding in a close-fought race — says he plans to sit as an Independent after the Liberals cut ties with him just days before the election over a sexual assault charge that was later dropped.
Vuong failed to disclose to the Liberal Party that he had been charged in 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his party learned about the charge from a Toronto Star article during the final week of the election campaign and asked Vuong to pause his local campaign.
Trudeau dropped Vuong as a candidate two days before the election — too late to remove his name from the ballot. The party said Vuong would not be part of the Liberal caucus. He won his seat by a margin of 2,094 votes over the NDP candidate.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Vuong maintained his innocence and said he understands that "not everyone is happy with my election."
"For those who feel this way, I understand the source of your doubts and I will work hard to earn your trust," he wrote.
Vuong also wrote that he supports efforts to crack down on sexual misconduct and promised to talk about the allegations once the campaign is out of the way.
"Allegations of sexual assault are a serious matter, deserving of more discussion than this statement can provide," he said. "For these reasons, I intend to address them at a later date more wholly in a dedicated forum."
But outrage is mounting online over his decision to join the House of Commons.
Calls for Vuong's resignation
On Thursday, the Spadina-Fort York Federal Liberal Association issued a statement saying it was "deeply disappointed" a Liberal Party candidate could not stand in the election and asked for Vuong to step aside.
"The residents of Spadina-Fort York deserve a member of Parliament they can trust and rely on," the statement said.
"Mr. Vuong's past actions and recent statements have clearly not met that threshold. We call on him to resign and allow the constituents of Spadina-Fort York to select a representative they can stand behind."
Vuong said those who voted for him are counting on him to serve. But some Spadina-Fort York constituents wrote online that they cast their ballots for Vuong in the advance polls before learning about the sexual assault charge and now want to take their votes back.
One earns trust by acting with integrity. In this case, that means stepping down. <a href="https://t.co/BmXejthrp6">https://t.co/BmXejthrp6</a>—@beynate
One person suggested online that constituents protest outside Vuong's office.
Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith, who was re-elected in the riding of Beaches-East York, also called on Vuong to resign.
"One earns trust by acting with integrity," Erskine-Smith tweeted. "In this case, that means stepping down."
But some other voters who are not in Vuong's riding contacted CBC News to say he should be allowed to serve as an Independent MP because the charge against him was dropped.
Petition calls for byelection
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 2,774 people had signed an online petition calling on Vuong to resign, and for a byelection to choose a new representative.
One constituent wrote on a riding residents association Facebook group that they voted for Vuong thinking he was a Liberal candidate in good standing. Another wrote that those who voted early did not have all the information they needed to make their choice.
Constituent Laura Reinholz said she's angry over having voted for Vuong by mail before the controversy made headlines.
"I don't want an independent representing me, especially this one," she said. "This is where our electoral process fails us."
Some are emailing Vuong's office and Elections Canada to report their frustration.
"Spadina-Fort York deserves a byelection," wrote Eduardo Rodriguez on Facebook.
WATCH : Kevin Vuong says he will sit as an Independent:
Vuong facing military review and unrelated lawsuit
Vuong's case is also under review by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The Department of National Defence says Vuong — a naval reservist — failed to notify the military about the 2019 arrest.
Military members are required to report criminal charges to their commanding officer, according to military regulations. The CAF is considering next steps, which could be administrative in nature, the Defence Department said.
"To be clear, the CAF is not looking into the incident itself, but rather ... why the member did not inform the necessary chain of command in 2019," the department said in a media statement.
The petition calling on Vuong to resign also points to a lawsuit against him. The Globe and Mail reported that Vuong was named in a $1.5-million lawsuit over claims he cut his former business partner out of a mask-making business during the pandemic.
The Globe reported that the Liberal Party's own screening process says that those running for office should not be involved in controversial litigation.
CBC News asked Trudeau on the campaign trail why journalists are doing the party's job by vetting its candidates — and whether Canadians can trust that the party did its due diligence with the rest of its candidates.
"We are constantly reviewing and improving the process because, I'll be honest, we don't want to be in situations like this again," Trudeau said.
Trudeau also said he takes these cases "extremely seriously" and has introduced stronger processes for reporting and responding to sexual misconduct for both the party and government institutions.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau on Kevin Vuong's campaign:
With files from Lisa Mayor