November 24, 2017

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Family of Kinew's accuser wants their story heard

GORDON SINCLAIR JR. / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Melanie Hart (left) and Wendy Bird don’t believe Wab Kinew is the man he says he is.</p></p>

GORDON SINCLAIR JR. / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Melanie Hart (left) and Wendy Bird don’t believe Wab Kinew is the man he says he is.

The call from Tara Hart’s mother came at the 11th hour Saturday.

At 10 a.m., to be exact.

Coincidentally, I was having a latte a block away from the RBC Convention Centre, where in a few hours delegates would elect Wab Kinew as the new leader of the provincial New Democratic Party.

Wendy Bird was calling about Kinew, of course, because her daughter had asked her to call me on her behalf.

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The call from Tara Hart’s mother came at the 11th hour Saturday.

At 10 a.m., to be exact.

Coincidentally, I was having a latte a block away from the RBC Convention Centre, where in a few hours delegates would elect Wab Kinew as the new leader of the provincial New Democratic Party.

Wendy Bird was calling about Kinew, of course, because her daughter had asked her to call me on her behalf.

It was Tara — who alleged and still maintains that more than a decade ago, when Kinew was her boyfriend, he physically assaulted her while they were living together in Winnipeg — who had asked her to call me.

By then, Tara was in "hiding," as her soon-to-be 65-year-old mother would tell me.

The online trolls — many of them young Indigenous women like Tara — had read the interviews she had given a couple days ago.

Now people who looked like her were attacking her online.

Abusing her because of her account of how she pressed assault charges against Kinew that were subsequently stayed.

"I know there is a lot of things being said in the media right now," Tara wrote on Facebook in reaction to the online attacks. "I said my part. I wish it never came out and didn’t have to be this way… I’m sorry if I upset anyone. I’m sorry I went threw (sic) this and that it came up so long after. I hate it."

The spelling of through, as threw, was ironic given what she told Fisher Branch RCMP had happened — that she suffered severe rug burns when he threw her across a room in the Winnipeg apartment they shared.

That news didn’t surface until the leadership campaign.

When it did, Kinew denied he assaulted Hart.

Saturday, in his speech to delegates before the vote, he stressed again he is a different person today.

"I will continue to prove to you that I am a changed man every day through my career in public service. Every day, I will work hard to earn your trust," he said.

"I want to speak with you in person." Wendy Bird said Saturday morning.

It was after the noon hour before I pulled up to the bungalow on the city’s south side where a flat rock with painted flowers and butterflies leans against the front step. There are words on it, too.

"Love, Laughter and Friends are always welcome."

Wendy and her older daughter Melanie were waiting inside.

Almost immediately, Wendy began with the words she needed to say and needed to say for herself and both her daughters,

"Wab is lying."

That’s why she finally decided to "stand up" and speak up.

"I didn’t want to," she continued.

Because she knows Wab’s family and doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

Wendy and both her daughters have their own history of hurt, and two weeks ago, a third generation in the family experienced an assault.

Wendy had been silent about her own domestic and sexual assaults, even after Tara’s experience and Melanie charging her husband with assault last year.

Now, given the latest incident in the family, and Kinew’s denials, she had to say something.

"I wasn’t ready to deal with my children. I wasn’t ready to deal with hurt. So I ignored it. I pushed it back."

It was time to tell her own story to her children and Tara’s story to me.

Wendy and Melanie recalled that Tara and Wab were living in a downtown highrise apartment when he was charged with two counts of assault.

"She told me he grabbed her and he threw her," Melanie said.

"They were standing at the door. And she was trying to leave and he grabbed her. And she was small at the time. And he threw her across the living room. She said she tried to hold herself up. ‘And I skidded across.’ She had rug burns on her arms and her legs. So bad that when my Gran went to pick her up the next day, she couldn’t even bend her knees to get into the vehicle."

Wendy had more details Tara had given her that suggest where the second assault charge may have come from.

"That he opened the door and he had her by the hair of the head and he pulled her right out of the apartment into the hallway. And my girl was crying. She was only about 21 or 22 years old at that time. She told me he opened the door and dragged her down the hallway. By her hair. And Tara had long hair."

Wendy recalled something else Tara told her about the incident.

"She told me she was never so frightened… She said, ‘He was threatening to throw me off the balcony.’"

"They drank a lot. Both of them," Wendy added.

"I wanted the best for Wab and for my daughter."

Melanie said after the charges were stayed, her sister wanted to leave what happened behind her and had, until Kinew called Tara to advise her the media might want to talk to her.

For Wendy, recalling when her daughter was with Kinew resurrected other memories from the relationship; Tara’s two miscarriages and the anguish Wendy still struggles with remembering the little girl who was stillborn after seven months of pregnancy whom they buried on Peguis First Nation.

"I went and dug a grave for that baby. On a rainy day like this."

At the head of her father’s grave, about four feet deep. They named her Binesi.

During the interview, Wendy’s feelings swung from anger to wanting peace and back to anger. Melanie remained angry throughout.

"She told me from time to time about Wab being abusive," Melanie said at one point.

Melanie didn’t offer any examples, other than an experience of her own.

"I was nine months pregnant, about to have my baby. I went to stay with my sister. They had a one-bedroom apartment. Wab made me sleep on the floor. And he says he respects women? The next day, I went into labour. He loves and respects women, but he would put a pregnant women to sleep on the floor… That just shows the kind of man he is."

At one point in the conversation, Wendy’s back-and-forth feelings about Kinew spilled out this way.

"I want to be his friend. I want to forgive him. But I have to deal with it before I can forgive. I’m not just forgiving… and let him think I’m going to be quiet and forgive him like that. No, I’m going to voice it, and then I’ll forgive him."

Wendy’s voice became a whisper of emotion when she recalled seeing him from afar three times this summer at The Forks.

Most recently, it was Labour Day and Melanie was with her.

"You know what he did when we walked past him?" Melanie said. "He looked away and put his head down."

Wendy also saw Kinew’s mother at The Forks on one of the occasions. They hugged.

"It was as if nothing changed. She still talked about Wab and is so proud of him. I don’t want to hurt him.

"You know what? If Wab would come out and say, ‘Yes, I did that… forgive me for what I did. Us as a family. Women. Forgive me. Yes, I did that. But he’s denying it. He’s denying what he did."

In so doing, Kinew makes her daughter to be a liar.

It was near the end of the interview when Wendy said she wanted to go to the NDP convention and speak with Kinew.

"I feel in my heart I could probably talk to Wab and I could ask him. Sorry, Wab, talk to us and ask us to forgive you. As a man. As a political Anishinaabe.

"Come and step up and be responsible for what you did. We know what you did. Never asked my daughter to forgive. Never asked me as the mother. The grandmother of his two children that I buried on Peguis."

I only had two questions left for them about the man they knew and feel they still know.

What kind of premier would he make?

Wendy answered that without a pause.

"If I can’t trust him now, I’ll never trust him. Never."

Finally, I asked if she thought Wab Kinew had changed, as he says he has.

"I don’t think so." Wendy said.

"How could he change if he’s lying?"

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Gordon Sinclair Jr..

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