May 31, 2020

12° C, Mainly clear

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?


Advertise With Us


Kinew's checkered past a steep political challenge

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/8/2017 (1013 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the midst of a leadership campaign he is expected to win, and on the precipice of becoming arguably the most prominent Aboriginal politician ever in Manitoba mainstream politics, Wab Kinew’s future is in doubt.

Last week, a series of anonymous emails made their way to Winnipeg media outlets, detailing several brushes with the law involving Kinew: an assault in 2004, for which he received a conditional discharge; a theft charge in 2006 that was stayed; and a domestic assault charge from 2003, which was also stayed.

These latest incidents come in addition to previously known incidents where Kinew had trouble with the law: a 2004 assault of a taxi driver and a DUI for refusing a breathalyzer. And a somewhat dubious past as a rap artist that saw him author sexist and homophobic lyrics.

When he was made aware of the emails last week, Kinew decided to go on the offensive, doing interviews with as many news organizations as possible and being as frank as possible.

In those interviews, Kinew attempted to underline a major theme in his life and his political career: that he is no longer the angry, addicted and violent man he was earlier in his life. True to that claim, all of the newest incidents took place more than a decade ago during a dark period in Kinew’s life that he has spoken about publicly and written about in his memoir, The Reason You Walk.

"Some of this has been out before," Kinew said in an interview Sunday. "I’ve written about some of it in my book and in public speaking. I’ve made many references to being in trouble with the law, getting into fights, the addiction, the party lifestyle. But I’ve gone through a change, I’ve turned my life around. I’ve reconstituted my life and put myself on a positive track."

Where does this flurry of new revelations leave Kinew’s political career? In the words of one senior NDP insider, Kinew has now entered "uncharted waters."

It is standard practice for political parties to shun anyone with even a whiff of a criminal past. Most parties have developed detailed screening processes, demanding that prospective candidates fully disclose any past legal problems, offensive social media activity or financial problems.

Politicians unlucky enough to have undetected skeletons from their closets revealed in the middle of an election campaign can be assured of a swift revocation of their candidacy and a short but intense period of public shaming.

In this current environment, one important question arises about Kinew’s political future: does he deserve to be treated differently than other politicians with checkered pasts who were disowned and relegated to the trash bin of political history?

The Progressive Conservatives would argue Kinew should be subject to the same scrutiny and treatment. Over the weekend, Tory insiders focused largely on the fact the new revelations prove Kinew has not been completely honest about all of his past misdeeds. With a premier who has been dogged by allegations of dishonesty, Tories are desperate to see Kinew held to the same standards.

Still, the Tories are thrilled about the prospect of a Kinew-led NDP, largely because they do not believe the public will ever embrace an aboriginal who has been involved in a litany of run-ins with the law.

Although it’s certainly unclear whether Kinew’s ‘reformed-man’ narrative will be accepted by voters, his story does need to be separated, to some extent, from other recent examples of candidates being punted for ugly past revelations.

None of the incidents in Kinew’s life took place while he was a politician. As well, thanks to his books and his outreach with aboriginal youth, Kinew has been largely upfront about the kinds of mistakes he made earlier in his life, even if he has not discussed all the specific incidents. And, he has received a pardon for those past criminal incidents, largely because he has made an effort to work with aboriginal men to avoid falling into the same problems.

That is largely the narrative the NDP and his staunchest supporters are pushing. Kinew is adamant all of his past legal problems, including those detailed in the anonymous emails, were disclosed to the party prior to last April’s election. The fact he was not deemed to be ineligible as a candidate speaks volumes about the faith the NDP have in Kinew.

Over the weekend, a number of notable supporters came to Kinew’s defence. Justice Murray Sinclair, author of the report of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the first aboriginal judge in Manitoba, renewed his public support of Kinew’s candidacy. And former NDP cabinet minister Gord Mackintosh released a statement on social media arguing Kinew remains exactly the man to lead the NDP.

"Sometimes a person who triumphs from a difficult journey is the most insightful, empathetic and strongest to then lead," Mackintosh said in his statement.

To Mackintosh’s point, Kinew’s bid to overcome from his checkered past to become the first aboriginal leader of a mainstream political party has created a watershed moment in Manitoba politics.

Kinew was raised by a man who was a residential school survivor. There is simply no way to separate the violence and substance abuse of Kinew’s earlier life from the violence and substance abuse that consumed his father. How will voters react to a man who appears to have escaped the multi-generational dysfunction that is the hallmark of the residential school experience?

It is certainly possible NDP party members, and voters in general, will look at Kinew’s lyrics and run-ins with the law and reject him as a legitimate option to lead a political party and a province. Based on the way other candidates with checkered pasts have been treated, it is likely fair to hold Kinew to the same standard.

It’s also possible Manitobans will see a man who has, against great odds, pulled himself back from the brink of a personal abyss to forge a high-profile public persona and well-rounded personal life.

Only one thing is certain. As is always the case in politics, the voters will get the final say.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Read full biography


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us