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This article was published 21/9/2017 (815 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Sen. Murray Sinclair is advising against a "witch hunt" targeting provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew, suggesting sustained media coverage of domestic-abuse allegations may be motivated by racism.
"There seems to be a concentration on Wab Kinew to an excess," Sinclair told the Free Press in a Thursday morning interview. "It can't take on the tones of a witch hunt."
The Manitoba senator, a former associate chief judge and head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, suspects unconscious racism is motivating Manitoba media to keep the story going.
"We have lots of evidence of other public figures whose past has become known to us yet there are no media stories pursuing it," Sinclair said, saying there has been more "overplayed" perspectives than actual news around Kinew’s troubled past.
"It makes me wonder what exactly is the media trying to accomplish by keeping it alive."
Sinclair, who has mentored Kinew, said he finds the latest coverage reminiscent of the Clarence Thomas hearings. He’s referring to the media frenzy around the African-American judge's 1991 Supreme Court nomination. During Thomas' confirmation hearings, a confidential report of sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill went public, almost a decade after those alleged incidents.
"It begins to take on a tone which has racial overtones about it," Sinclair said. "You need to be concerned whether it is an over-focus on this simply because Wab Kinew is an Indigenous man.
"I just think they're unconscious of the fact that they're dealing with an issue regarding a person who is from a vulnerable community," he said.
Sinclair also dismissed recent reports of the Crown attorney’s court statements around Kinew’s 2003 assault of a taxi driver.
The senator says he hasn’t seen media run the defence attorney’s response, and says it’s common for defence lawyers entering a guilty plea to accept that their client has committed an offence, but clarify that the Crown’s account doesn’t accurately convey what happened.
"People who are experienced with the court system will tell you that it is not unusual – in fact it is more often the case than not — that people come to court with different versions of the same event. And it's up to the judge to determine whether or not he believes one version over the other," Sinclair said.
"People recall things differently. Sometimes out of necessity and convenience, but also because of just genuine inability to recall accurately, without intending to lie or mislead."
Media have pointed out discrepancies between the 2004 court record and Kinew’s description of the incident as it was detailed in his book A Reason You Walk.
"The version of facts that are set out in his books seem to me just as credible as the version of facts that the Crown attorney read into the trial. And how do we now prefer one set of facts over the other?" Sinclair said. "What really appears to be happening is we're trying to conduct trial through the media."
Notwithstanding Sinclair's concern, the court records show it was an agreed statement of facts. Kinew's lawyer did say at the hearing Kinew "temporarily lost his way" beginning at age 19 and was drinking excessively despite having earned a degree in economics.
Sinclair worries the intense focus on Kinew will discourage people with difficult pasts from seeking leadership positions. Kinew has said repeatedly in interviews that he is a different person today than he was as a young adult.
"People can change. And people need to be given credit for changing. And the real test, I think, is what kind of person do we have before us now? And if we can say as a society, despite all the things that have been said about your past, this is a good man today, then that would give hope to young people," he said.
"For us to keep saying everything that occurred in your past is going to be held against you for the rest of your life, that will give them no hope," said the senator, adding that is "more than any one person can take."
Sinclair last spoke with Kinew this past weekend to congratulate him on winning provincial NDP leadership. Sinclair attended the convention, though not as a delegate.
"He's a resilient guy; I think he'll be fine," he said. "He needs to know that there are people who believe in him. That there are people who still respect him. Everybody needs that; I need that."
"Those of us who can, need to give him that support. Otherwise I wouldn't blame him for walking away."
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