Manitoba NDP leadership hopeful Steve Ashton has said he wasn't responsible for the recent leak of court records about his rival in the race, Wab Kinew, after new clues about how the information got out have emerged.
Last week, local media outlets received two anonymous emails containing previously-unreported details about Kinew's past brushes with the law, including two stayed assault charges against a woman from 2003.
During the same period, the Ashton campaign released a series of announcements about Steve Ashton's personal disclosure — which showed no previous involvement with the criminal justice system — and also criticized Kinew over what they described as a lack of transparency about his past.
Since that time, CBC News has discovered two new pieces of information that one political analyst says could suggest a link between the anonymous email and Ashton supporters.
No comment on court documents: Saran
CBC News has learned that MLA Mohinder Saran recently ordered copies of Kinew's complete court documents. This revelation came to light when a court clerk inadvertently revealed that Saran had ordered the Kinew package while a CBC reporter was at the court house to pick up copies of the same package.
Saran told CBC News in an interview Tuesday that he is working on behalf of Ashton's campaign, but declined to comment about the court documents.
In addition, CBC News compared the metadata — essentially, the file's digital "fingerprint" — from the PDF document containing Kinew's court records sent to media anonymously to that of the PDF containing Ashton's personal disclosure statement, which was sent via his campaign's email account.
The two files were created using the same make and model of scanning device.
This does not prove that the two files were necessarily created on the exact same printer.
CBC News analyzed dozens of PDFs sent to media from various other NDP groups and sources, none of which were made using the same device.
Political analyst Christopher Adams says while this is not proof of direct involvement by Ashton or his campaign, it does put his campaign under the microscope.
"If I were Perry Mason, this is strong circumstantial evidence," he said, referring to the famous fictional lawyer.
"I am not a lawyer. I am a political scientist, but it does start showing you that maybe something is coming out of the [Ashton] campaign," said Adams, who added that sometimes supporters go "rogue" and use tactics not authorized by a political campaign.
Ashton denies involvement
When presented with these findings, Ashton said Saran was not involved in his campaign and denied any knowledge of how the leaked court documents were sent to the media.
"I don't know. I was a sent a copy [of the anonymous email received by media] last week, so I don't know what the story is there," Ashton said.
"When the campaign received the [anonymous email] our decision was not to go public with it. Not to leak it, not to go public," he said.
CBC News requested a copy of the email that Ashton says his campaign received. He has not responded to this request.
Saran supporting Ashton
Saran confirmed that he is working on behalf of the Ashton campaign, helping attract delegates. However, he said he is not formally part of the campaign and is not in the "inner circle."
Last spring, Saran was kicked out of the NDP caucus following an allegation of sexual harassment. He now sits in the Manitoba Legislature as independent.
Asked about whether or not he ordered the Kinew court documents, he declined comment. He also denied sending documents to Ashton's campaign or the media, but did say that Kinew should have been more transparent about his past.
"You have to say everything you said and did, and make it public when you write a book," he said.
Kinew wrote about some of his past brushes with the law in his memoir The Reason You Walk, but did not address the 2003 assault allegations in the book.
"I want to question the party about how we can win the next election with Wab Kinew," said Saran.
Kinew told CBC News he would not comment on the situation.
"It is not up to me to comment on what the other campaign is up to," he said.
Adams believes that regardless of how the information got out, the pressure being applied by Ashton to his rival remains relevant.
"I think Ashton is right to ask about what were those things? Who was the person involved? What was the actual incident that caused this, that eventually led to the stay of charges? I think Ashton is kind of doing what we would expect him to do," he said.
Timeline of events:
- Steve Ashton publicly calls on Wab Kinew to release his tax return.
- Steve Ashton releases a five-year summary of his tax return.
- CBC News and other media outlets receive an anonymous email that highlights a list of past charges against Wab Kinew, and alleges that he has not been publicly transparent about his past.
- Steve Ashton releases a personal disclosure document that states, among other things, that he has never been arrested, charged or convicted of an offense. He calls on Wab Kinew to do the same.
- In order to confirm the information contained in the anonymous email sent the day previous, a CBC reporter requests copies of the records from the court house. In a moment of confusion over duplicate documents, the court house clerk inadvertently reveals that Mohinder Saran had also requested these same documents.
- An email sent to media using by an anonymous person using the fictitious name "Seymour Trespasses" contains a PDF of all available court documents regarding Wab Kinew's past involvement with Manitoba's justice system.
- Wab Kinew addresses the list of charges and discloses a previously unknown assault charge from Ontario. Kinew says it involved a bar fight and says the charges were dropped.
- Steve Ashton denies any involvement in the release of details about Wab Kinew's past involvement with the justice system.
- Steve Ashton releases a statement to media outlets condemning Wab Kinew for not "owning up" to the domestic violence charge and says Kinew's incomplete statements "do a disservice to women who are survivors of gender-based violence."
- CBC News analyzes the metadata from the document sent anonymously to media containing Kinew's past charges and finds that the file has been created using the same make and model of scanner as the one used to create the the personal disclosure statement sent by Steve Ashton's campaign team. Ashton denies any involvement in the release of information.
- Asked about whether or not he ordered the court documents, Mohinder Saran declines to comment. CBC also confirms that Mohinder Saran has been actively supporting Ashton's campaign.
- Ashton asserts he also received the anonymous email that was sent to media. CBC News asks for a copy of this email for inspection, but Ashton's campaigned has not responded to numerous requests.