Views / Opinion

Wab Kinew must come to terms with his past, not sweep it aside: Kabatay

Kinew talks about being a changed man with a problem-filled past, but truly changing is coming to terms with what he has done, regardless of how troubled and upsetting it may be.

Wab Kinew was elected leader of the Manitoba NDP party this weekend.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods / The Canadian Press

Wab Kinew was elected leader of the Manitoba NDP party this weekend.

History was made Saturday when Wab Kinew was elected to lead Manitoba’s New Democratic Party, a first for a First Nations person leading a major party in that province. But the focus hasn’t been on his win — it’s on his past and an allegation of domestic abuse. 

Before the vote ex-partner Tara Hart and her family detailed a violent incident to news outlets, including an allegation that when the couple lived together in 2003 Kinew threw Hart across the room, causing severe rug burn.

Following that alleged incident, Hart filed a complaint with the RCMP. Kinew faced an assault charge that was later stayed (though he told APTN it had been “dropped,” not technically the case; a stayed charge shows the prosecutors stopped the proceeding, not withdrew the charge outright).

He has repeatedly denied Hart’s specific allegation while acknowledging, vaguely, past mistakes. 

On Monday he told CBC Radio: "I feel a lot of compassion for this family. I knew them well at one time in my life and it's clear that I hurt them, and I accept responsibility for the fact that I was not a good person for a time in my early 20s and this has left issues that are unresolved with them.” 

Since this story was released I found it very hard to ignore, but not because of the specifics of the incident. Rather, the reaction of Kinew and his fellow politicians to the allegation.

Besides his opponent Steve Ashton, who said Kinew hasn’t done enough to explain the charge to CBC, others were quick to forgive him.

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck had publicly endorsed Kinew’s leadership and reaffirmed his support at a rally Tuesday, saying he was a changed man. Fellow NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine stood by Kinew, saying she saw “tremendous growth” in him.

Meantime, online trolls attacked Hart because she voiced her experience. But what could she possibly have to gain from speaking about her story? In fact, she was reluctant to speak about it, telling APTN, "I didn’t want it to come out... I wanted this to go away. I wanted the court documents to go away."

The story comes at a crucial time for Indigenous women, as there is still a disproportionate amount of violence against them and as the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry slowly falls apart.

Kinew talks about being a changed man with a problem-filled past, but truly changing is coming to terms with what he has done, regardless of how troubled and upsetting it may be.  

It was difficult for Hart to come forward. Now it’s up to Kinew to do something difficult: truly live with the complexities of his past and let it inform his new role, rather than sweeping it aside.

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