November 24, 2017

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Kinew needs to come clean, NDP needs to speak up

Melanie Hart (right) and Tara Hart's mother, Wendy Bird who said "I want to be his friend. I want to forgive him. If Wab would come out and say, ‘Yes, I did that… forgive me for what I did'... But he’s denying it."

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Melanie Hart (right) and Tara Hart's mother, Wendy Bird who said "I want to be his friend. I want to forgive him. If Wab would come out and say, ‘Yes, I did that… forgive me for what I did'... But he’s denying it."

Seven years ago, on a breezy day in late August, my live-in partner put his hands around my throat and slammed me into our couch. We’d been arguing, again, and this time his anger lashed out like lightning, a sudden electric shock.

In retrospect, the attack didn’t last long: a handful of heartbeats, a few seconds. At the time, it felt neverending. All I could see were the dark pools of his eyes, which stared cold and glassy and hollow. All I could hear was a silence.

(pullQuote)Last week, I drove an old friend to the airport. He’d moved away many years ago. So as I recounted my last relationship — with the flatness of time and years of practice — it fell on him as a fresh horror.

“I would have killed that guy, if I knew,” my friend said.

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Seven years ago, on a breezy day in late August, my live-in partner put his hands around my throat and slammed me into our couch. We’d been arguing, again, and this time his anger lashed out like lightning, a sudden electric shock.

In retrospect, the attack didn’t last long: a handful of heartbeats, a few seconds. At the time, it felt neverending. All I could see were the dark pools of his eyes, which stared cold and glassy and hollow. All I could hear was a silence.

I believe that “then” doesn’t always have to mean “ever”

Last week, I drove an old friend to the airport. He’d moved away many years ago. So as I recounted my last relationship — with the flatness of time and years of practice — it fell on him as a fresh horror.

"I would have killed that guy, if I knew," my friend said.

I shrugged. "Nah," I replied. "Let’s not go there. He’s not a bad guy."

And it’s true, believe it or not, that I don’t consider the man who hurt me to be an irredeemably bad person. Years later, unprompted, he wrote me to apologize. It was a sincere apology, issued without requests or qualifications.

Because the apology was offered honestly, I accepted. Somewhere inside, old scars became mended.

So there’s no torch for him in my heart now, but no anger either. He was not a healthy person back then, but I believe that "then" doesn’t always have to mean "ever." For him and everyone around him, I want only for him to be better.

Yet if he were ever to step forward as a leader, and some enterprising reporter asked me about our time together, I would tell them what happened. I would tell them about those few seconds in August 2010, his hands, my fear.

It’s something the public would deserve to know so they could test his avowed transformation. So they could hold him to account, with new information. So they could demand honest answers to the right questions.

This is, of course, a roundabout way of saying that I believe Tara Hart, who — after the case was raised in media coverage — last week told her truth about how Wab Kinew assaulted her in 2003.

For me, it’s very simple: there is no credible reason not to believe her.

Hart’s account of what happened is supported by her mother and sister, and by court documents filed at the time. (Charges were eventually stayed.) She has nothing to gain by coming forward, and was initially reluctant to do so.

"It’s so long ago, it’s in the past," she told APTN. "I didn’t want it to come out... I wanted this to go away. I wanted the court documents to go away."


On this, I can relate. Confining the past to the past and moving on — that is something I choose every day. That Hart spoke about her experience is incredibly brave. It would have been easier for her to let politics wash her truth away.

And telling my story, too, is a way of saying I understand the cognitive dissonance Kinew’s NDP supporters are faced with, two clashing images inside the same picture: one a man they admire, the other a man who hurt an ex-partner.

In truth, it’s hard for me to reconcile those pictures, too. I am not close with Kinew, though I know him in passing. I worked with him at CBC, many years ago, and liked him. I saw his gifts as a broadcaster, and long admired them.

So as the news of the 2003 assault charge broke in recent weeks, I, too, needed time to watch what was unfolding. To touch the places in myself that were uncomfortable with what I was learning, and listen to what they were saying.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Wab Kinew, Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, listens as Premier Greg Selinger responds at a news conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 11, 2016. The woman at the centre of 14-year-old allegations of domestic violence against Manitoba NDP leadership candidate Wab Kinew says she was thrown across a room and left with rug burn on her legs. </p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Wab Kinew, Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, listens as Premier Greg Selinger responds at a news conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 11, 2016. The woman at the centre of 14-year-old allegations of domestic violence against Manitoba NDP leadership candidate Wab Kinew says she was thrown across a room and left with rug burn on her legs.

Above all, it was time for me to hear others, especially Indigenous women, lead the conversation.

Now, it is time for me to speak. Because what I have heard from too many NDP supporters has been a whole lot of nothing. When the epitaph for this era of the Manitoba NDP is written, that will be the coldest, hardest reckoning.

After hearing Hart’s account, on the cusp of Kinew’s leadership victory, the NDP could have chosen many paths to hear and support her. They could have welcomed Hart’s disclosure, acknowledged its weight, called for clarity.

“I wish it never came out and didn’t have to be this way. I’m sorry if I upset anyone.” – Tara Hart on Facebook

Instead, when confronted with that cognitive dissonance, too many chose to sidestep the issue entirely — at least, until after the leadership vote was done.

That silence has revictimized Hart, to the extent her mother says she is now "in hiding." That silence has left her a vulnerable target — and enabled mudslinging detractors. It has forced her to relive her pain with little protection.

"I wish it never came out and didn’t have to be this way," Hart wrote on Facebook last week. "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."

This should be utterly unconscionable to all Manitobans, and particularly to all NDP members. A silence that leaves an Indigenous woman so unsupported is completely at odds with the party’s claim of being a champion of women.

For this, they cannot point fingers at political shenanigans by the Tories. The silence from some quarters has split the party, at a time when most aim for a unified front. It’s hard to be unified when so many feel so betrayed.

On the weekend, several NDP loyalists I know announced they are leaving the party, on the pain of that silence.

So where can a province go from here? As long as the situation remains unresolved — Kinew denies Hart’s account of the assault — it will hang over Manitoba politics like a dark fog, obscuring the landscape and hiding the truth.


Wab Kinew is now the leader of the provincial NDP. He is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. So the NDP will have to find a way forward — and perhaps there are guideposts in previous responses to Kinew’s behaviours.

From the beginning of Kinew’s political career, his clear ambitions attracted ferocious opposition. In early 2016, the focus landed on his old rap lyrics and tweets, which were splattered with homophobic and misogynistic sentiments.

Yet back then, and before he ran for office, Kinew apologized for those transgressions. He spoke and wrote openly about his struggles with anger, two of his past brushes with the law, and the people that called him to account.

To my mind, at that time, his apology was genuine. The journey to healthier behaviour he described rang true.

Here’s another thing, too: many young Indigenous men look up to Kinew. Some of them have struggles in their own pasts, and dream of building better lives. Some have said or done things they do not want to define them forever.

For them, it’s important the public be willing to accept that people are not ruled by past mistakes. That people can change, if they accept responsibility, apologize honestly and work to make amends to those they have hurt.

So when Kinew apologized then, it charted a course towards something like healing. He laid out a path that others could follow, to a more positive way of being. He reached out to individuals and groups to make those amends.

What Tara Hart revealed last week, of course, is something else entirely, something far worse than cruel tweets and lyrics. For her, there has been no reconciliation. The way this news broke has only deepened her family’s hurt.

"I want to be his friend. I want to forgive him," Wendy Bird, Tara Hart’s mother, told the Free Press. "If Wab would come out and say, ‘Yes, I did that… forgive me for what I did.’ Us as a family. Women... But he’s denying it."

Between that ache for an apology, and Kinew’s previous mea culpas, perhaps there’s a lesson to be taken.


What the NDP must do, and do now, is publicly plot a course to accountability from its new leader and for survivors. It must acknowledge this effort is coming late — and should have happened before Saturday’s leadership vote.

Here, it can look to Indigenous tradition, which has a wealth of knowledge about restorative justice — frameworks that offer stronger roadmaps to uncovering real truth and healing than the institutional justice system.

If Kinew has changed from the person Tara Hart knew, he must once again show us his work

It can begin this process by thanking Tara Hart for telling her story without requesting anything further of her — including her time. It must find a way to offer her the support she needs to navigate the stress it has brought her.

Then, the party must begin to tell the public exactly what Kinew and the NDP have done to address the past and current fractures, what they are doing, and what they intend to do next. This part will be incremental and ongoing.

In short: if Kinew has changed from the person Tara Hart knew, he must once again show us his work.

This needs to happen — and not for Kinew’s sake. He is a grown man who has chosen the limelight of a political life; he can shoulder public scrutiny of his current and past actions. The rehabilitation of his image is not a priority here.

No, this is for the sake of Indigenous women and all victims of domestic violence. This is for Tara Hart and other survivors who have and will ever speak out. This is for a future where we can confront these issues head-on.

Yes, even when it comes from people we want to admire. Or at the hands of people we love.

And it is for the sake of Manitobans, who, whether they’d ever vote NDP or not, deserve far better from the official opposition. At the very least, come 2020, Manitobans deserve a choice they can make with a clean conscience.

But here, we crash against one hard fact: this type of reconciliation cannot happen if Kinew stands by his statement that the assault never happened. There’s no way around it, and as long as it’s in place, I don’t know what else to say.

So the end brings us back to the beginning, to a simple flame that will not be extinguished: I believe Tara Hart. I believe her when she says that, on one night in 2003, Kinew assaulted her, that she told RCMP and her family.

Like with the man who hurt me, I do not believe this makes him an irredeemably bad person. I do believe it means that we need more than silence, side-stepping or denial from him, and from the party that chose him to lead them.

Faced with that belief, what decisions the NDP makes now will define the party for years to come. For my own sake as a survivor, for the sake of all Manitobans and this province I love, I only hope they can make the right ones.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin.

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History

Updated on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:13 PM CDT: updates photo

11:45 PM: updates headline to match print edition

September 21, 2017 at 11:07 AM: Passages of this article have been reworded to more accurately reflect Hart’s eventual decision to speak to the media about her experience.

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