December 6, 2019

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Opinion

Kinew 'reckless' in relationship

Common-law wife, who alleged abuse in 2003, gives more details of NDP leader's past

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Tara Hart’s mother Wendy Bird, left, and her sister Melanie Hart are speaking out for Tara who alleges she was abused by Wab Kinew.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tara Hart’s mother Wendy Bird, left, and her sister Melanie Hart are speaking out for Tara who alleges she was abused by Wab Kinew.

If Wab Kinew feels like he’s been under siege since being elected as the controversial new leader of the New Democratic Party, he’s not the only one.

So is Tara Hart, the woman whose allegations of long-ago domestic abuse have made her a target, too.

There is one major difference, of course.

Kinew, who steadfastly denies the assault happened, can’t run and hide.

Hart has gone into hiding. She does not want her photo used in the newspaper, concerned about being recognized in public because of online attacks.

Among them, accusations that she was paid to resurface when media came looking for details about what caused her to allege that Kinew, who was her common-law husband 14 years ago, had assaulted her.

Those accusations arrived in the newsroom on Wednesday, the day after I found Hart in her hiding place. A place that should provide a sense of comfort and safety to the 37-year-old mother of three, but where she still seems anxious about what’s out there.

I arrived unannounced.

And as we talked, she moved from place to place in the room, at first speaking from a distance as I began to ask questions that she hasn’t answered before.

Possibly, because they weren’t asked.

How did she feel when Kinew called her last month to give her a "heads up" — "one human being to another," as he put it — that the media would be calling to ask about those old domestic assault charges from the spring of 2003 that were stayed about a year later.

Hart answered my question by suggesting she thought Kinew had ulterior motives for calling, beyond simply warning her.

She said the call lasted about 12 minutes before she hung up.

I asked if she felt he was trying to intimidate her.

"Yeah," she said.

Hart said she and Kinew had been Facebook friends for a time when she lived in Alberta with her children and the Mountie she married about a year after the alleged assaults occurred.

Hart’s 64-year-old mother, Wendy Bird, and her older sister, Melanie Hart, had described other details about the alleged attack when we spoke last weekend, beyond what Tara had already said about being thrown across a room and suffering severe rug burns to her knees. Bird said her daughter was also dragged out the door and down the hall of her downtown apartment building that night. And how frightened her daughter was when Kinew allegedly threatened to throw her off the balcony.

When I asked Hart about that — and if there had been other incidents of abuse — she talked about Kinew being "reckless" when they shared the rent in a Holiday Towers apartment while they were both going to university.

Using the top of a kitchen table to represent the top of their balcony railing, Hart sat on it to demonstrate the position she said Kinew placed her in. Then, grabbing her arms, he leaned her back over the edge, she said.

Hart said they lived on the 18th floor.

She didn’t offer any details about when it happened, or how often.

It wasn’t an easy or typical sit-down interview, where the questions could be asked and answered in order. There was a sense of reluctance — at least early on — and there were questions I didn’t know if I would even get to ask before she decided she didn’t want to say anymore.

But whatever did or didn’t happen in that apartment, it was during a time in Kinew’s life that fit a pattern. A period Kinew described as dark, violent and reckless, as the criminal court records document.

Hart said she was still living with him in late February 2003 when Kinew went missing for a day or two. When he returned, it was after a police pursuit that ended downtown and resulted in drunk driving charges.

She said he didn’t only take off from the police.

"He took off with my bank card and I had my student allowance in there, and when I got it back I had nothing in it."

She figured $400 to $500 was missing.

And asked how she felt, "I think I was feeling sorry for him because he got beat up by the cops."

Hart said she took photographs of his swollen face.

It was only a few months later that Hart claims Kinew threw her across their living room. She said Kinew left the apartment and Hart called her grandmother to pick her up.

"I was crying to her on the phone."

Hart said she told her grandmother what happened, and they went home to Peguis First Nation.

It was not long after, around her 24th birthday in mid-June 2003, when Hart visited the RCMP detachment in Fisher Branch.

"I just asked them if it was too late for me to make a police report. And they asked me what kind. And they said, ‘No. It’s never too late.’"

A year later, the domestic assault charges were stayed.

Why?

Hart said she doesn’t know and was never informed. She said she didn’t have any means of getting to court, but the justice system should have been able to locate her at her grandmother’s.

Around the same time, Kinew, who was 22, was arrested again, this time for assaulting a taxi driver. By then, their lives had begun going in different directions.

Kinew, facing sentencing for the assault on the taxi driver, began cleaning up his act with his parents’ help. Hart had met another man, a First Nations Mountie from the Fisher Branch detachment where she had reported the alleged assault by Kinew.

They married the following year.

"And he took good care of me," Hart said.

She said her husband, Lester Houle, had nothing to do with her case.

"The only time I even brought up Wab was when we were house hunting. We bought a house in Winnipeg."

She told her husband something she felt he should know.

The house was two doors down from Kinew’s parents.

Hart and Houle have since separated.

Hart was still hiding out when I returned to ask some followup questions Wednesday. And this time she didn’t answer them.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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