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The Manitoba NDP relied largely on the "comprehensive" candidate-vetting process it carried out prior to the 2016 election in approving Wab Kinew and Steve Ashton as potential leadership material, the party's president says.
David Woodbury said Tuesday the NDP had viewed Kinew's complete court file before he ran in Fort Rouge last year. That includes 14-year-old charges of domestic assault that were later stayed.
Since the provincial election was held only a year before the leadership campaign, the party felt it did not need to repeat the vetting process, Woodbury said in an interview.
"There would have been a review of the information that had been available from before," he said of the vetting that occurred immediately before the leadership contest.
Kinew handily won the NDP leadership at a convention Saturday in Winnipeg.
During the campaign, more details of his court file came to light for the first time, including the alleged domestic assaults.
This week, it emerged Kinew's account, in his best-selling book The Reason You Walk, of his 2004 assault of a city cab driver is at odds with what was presented in court.
The book describes a street brawl between Kinew and a cabbie who had rushed to his colleague's aid after Kinew left a taxi without paying the fare. Court tapes reviewed Tuesday by the Free Press reveal what may have been a racially motivated attack.
"According to the police report, the accused began to insult the complainant with some racial comments, which continued until the driver reached the intersection of Portage (Avenue) and Fort (Street) and was stopped at a red light. At that point, Mr. Kinew exited the taxicab and turned to the driver’s side window, which was half-open, and punched the complainant in the face," the Crown attorney said at the time.
Kinew, who was drunk at the time, briefly stopped the assault when a passerby yelled out, but then he pulled open the driver’s door. When the driver started to get out, Kinew kicked him and pushed him to the ground, court was told.
The driver had a small cut on his left elbow and redness and swelling on his face. Police happened upon the scene and arrested Kinew.
Woodbury said the process for vetting candidates is the same as it is for potential leadership contestants.
Apart from filling out a questionnaire, there are background and criminal-record checks.
A seven-person committee interviewed Kinew for "several hours," he said. "It was a pretty thorough discussion."
When asked about the differences between the court account of the cab driver assault and the one described in Kinew's book, Woodbury said what is important to the party is its new leader took responsibility for his actions.
"I think what we knew about is that there had been a judgement against him for that assault... He owned up to the fact that he had these charges, that he had been responsible, and this is how he'd move forward to change his life."
— David Woodbury, NDP president
Unlike members of the media, the NDP didn't go the extra step of listening to old court tapes to obtain more details, Woodbury confirmed.
He said the party also concentrated mainly on the convictions in his court file rather than on charges that were later stayed, such as the ones involving domestic assault.
"We were aware of it. We also know that it wasn't proceeded with," he said of the alleged domestic assault.
"What we took is his whole record... (in) totality," Woodbury said, as opposed to reviewing each file item one by one. The party was also interested in how the candidate would respond to media questions about his past.
Asked if he was satisfied about the candidate-vetting process, Woodbury said "it's one of the things that we're going to have to look at. We do it after every election."
Kinew was 22 when he pleaded guilty to four criminal charges in a Winnipeg courtroom 13 years ago. He had no criminal record at the time, but that changed after he admitted to assaulting a taxi driver, refusing to take a breathalyzer test when he was suspected of driving under the influence, breaching his curfew and not showing up to his bail program. He was fined a total of $1,400.
The Free Press reviewed audio tapes of the 2004 court proceedings Tuesday.
Meanwhile, reporters weren't the only ones reviewing old court tapes. One of Kinew's junior staffers was also seen at the courthouse reviewing the evidence, his spokesman confirmed when questioned about it by the Free Press.
The spokesman would not say why Kinew's office was reviewing the testimony.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.