After an investigation lasting more than five months, the Royal Canadian Navy has charged Sub-Lt. Kevin Vuong — a naval reservist and member of Parliament — for failing to disclose that he was criminally charged with sexual assault in 2019.
The sex assault charge was later dropped and Vuong has denied any wrongdoing.
The military requires all members to notify their chain of command if they’ve been arrested by civilian police. The Department of National Defence said it learned about Vuong’s case from news reports.
The navy confirmed to CBC News that it laid a service offence charge against Vuong on Feb. 25 under a section of the National Defence Act that deals with conduct undermining good order and discipline.
“If found guilty at trial, the scale of punishment could be from a fine to a reprimand (or a combination of both) or dismissal with disgrace,” wrote navy spokesperson Jennifer St. Germain in a media statement.
Vuong, 32, is still a member of the reserve force at HMCS York in addition to his duties as an Independent MP for the downtown Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York. MPs are allowed to serve as reservists under House of Commons rules.
In an email to CBC News, Vuong said he has been “long aware of the possibility of a charge” and will continue to cooperate fully with navy officials through his lawyer. He declined CBC’s request for an interview.
“Given that this matter is now proceeding through the military justice system, I will refrain from making public comments,” Vuong wrote. “I also hope this case will be resolved soon to the satisfaction of all parties involved. In the meantime, I wish to assure you that I will continue to serve my constituents of Spadina—Fort York to the best of my ability.”
Vuong has held prestigious appointments during his time in the military. NATO’s Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg appointed Vuong last year as Canada’s first and only young leader to give advice to the alliance for its 2030 initiative. Vuong also wore his white naval uniform when he received a leadership award from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2017.
The navy said Vuong hasn’t decided yet how he’ll have his case dealt with by the military justice system.
Vuong can choose to proceed with a summary trial, which is reserved for less serious offences and is a less formal process handled at the unit level without legal representation. Vuong could also opt for a court martial process which would involve a public trial, the navy said.
The office for the Speaker of the House of Commons said “there is no immunity from criminal or military charges” for members of Parliament. CBC News has also asked if Vuong notified the House of Commons about the military charge and if the matter is under review.
“The House has the authority over the discipline of its Members,” said the Speaker’s office director of communications Heather Bradley in a statement.
Vuong said alleged incident was ‘consensual’
The Toronto Star first reported in Sept. 2021 that Vuong failed to disclose the dropped sexual assault charge to the Liberal Party when he was vetted to run as an MP. When the story broke, Vuong was on a pause from service with the navy from mid Aug. to Oct, 2021 while he campaigned in the federal election.
In his only public statement about the matter, Vuong said the alleged incident was “consensual” and involved “a casual but intimate relationship.”
The Liberals’ vetting process came in for criticism and the party cut ties with Vuong in September, just days before the election. At that point, it was too late to remove Vuong’s name from the ballot under the party’s banner.
Vuong went on to win his seat. He refused to resign, despite calls from constituents and other MPs to step down.
More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Vuong’s resignation as an Independent MP. Several constituents also have filed complaints with Elections Canada.
In the days following Vuong’s election win, he apologized for “the lack of disclosure” and pledged to address the 2019 allegations “at a later date more wholly in a dedicated forum.” To date, he has not done so.
In a brief exchange recently with CBC News outside his office, Vuong declined to comment on the case. He instead pointed to an interview he did in November on Newstalk 1010, a Toronto radio station where he’d been an on-air contributor.
During the radio interview, Vuong provided no clarity on the alleged incident that formed the basis of the 2019 sexual assault charge that was later dropped. He also offered little insight into his decision not to disclose the episode to the Liberal Party or the military.
“I naively thought that I could put the charge behind me and I made the wrong call,” he said.
Vuong’s critics say he blocked them online
In the weeks following the election, several constituents said calls and emails to Vuong’s office voicing concerns about his past went unanswered. More recently, social media users who’ve posted criticism of Vuong have also complained they’ve been blocked from his Twitter page.
“I was regularly tweeting at him to resign,” said actor Jean Yoon, who starred in the CBC TV series Kim’s Convenience. “If he were a private citizen, blocking me would be fine. But he’s a public servant now, and he is my representative in Ottawa. He won’t even call a constituents’ meeting.”
Norm Di Pasquale, who campaigned against Vuong as the NDP candidate in Spadina–Fort York, tweeted: “I haven’t engaged with MP Kevin Vuong on this platform for months, yet find that I’m blocked from viewing his Twitter account.”
In the Newstalk 1010 interview, Vuong dismissed constituents who’d been using social media to demand his resignation.
“Twitter,” he said, “isn’t reality.”