A New Democrat candidate in Winnipeg has dropped out of the federal election campaign — the latest in a string of political hopefuls done in by social media comments.

Stefan Jonasson is no longer running in Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley after comments surfaced in which he compared the beliefs of one set of Orthodox Jews to the Taliban.

Jonasson says he was asked by the NDP to step down and agreed to do so.

Stefan Jonasson

Stefan Jonasson, seen here in a Winnipeg civic election profile from 2014, has stepped down as the federal NDP candidate in Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley. (City of Winnipeg)

"I wish that the party had had the courage and the foresight to believe that my candidacy was worth defending, but they did not," Jonasson said Thursday night.

"I'm conflicted. I understand the party's reasoning and it's a disappointment to me."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair issued a brief comment about Jonasson's decision following the leaders' French-language debate in Montreal.

"I think that that person clearly recognized that he had said something totally inappropriate and has withdrawn and that's enough," he said.

Jonasson is a minister in the Unitarian Universalist church, a liberal religious organization that draws on Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other beliefs and also includes agnostics and atheists.

Three years ago, Jonasson posted a link to a religious article on social media, and compared the Haredim, an Orthodox branch of Judaism, to the Taliban. "Much like the Taliban and other extremists, the Haredim offer a toxic caricature of faith at odds with the spirit of the religious tradition they profess to represent," he wrote.

The comments surfaced this week on The True North Times, a web site that has promised to expose controversial comments by nine politicians in nine days.

The Times said Jonasson compared Jews to the Taliban, but Jonasson said that is a extreme distortion of his comments — that he was only targeting one ultra orthodox group.

"What I was arguing was that I thought the misogynistic position of this group … I was actually arguing that that is against the spirit of the religious tradition they profess," he said.

"I care deeply about freedom, reason and tolerance in religion, but I also care deeply about the rights of women."

Jonasson was hoping to unseat Conservative Steven Fletcher, who easily won the riding in 2011 with 57 per cent of the vote. His departure could help Liberal candidate Doug Eyolfson, although the Liberals finished a distant third in 2011 with 7.5 per cent of the vote.


Late Thursday night, Jonasson posted the following message on his Facebook page:

Early Thursday, a malicious blog known as "The True North Times" published a post about me with a wilfully misleading and inflammatory headline. A model of gutter journalism, this blog ridiculed some of my past social media posts and sought to create the false impression that I had offered a general indictment of Jewish people when, in fact, I was criticizing the misogynistic behaviour of a particular group of dogmatic believers.

A senior party official called me and intimated that I should withdraw as a candidate. I have complied with his request and resigned as the party's candidate in Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–Headingley.

Needless to say, I'm profoundly disappointed. However, I stand by my criticism of those who oppress women in the name of religion and I'm disappointed that my party chooses not to stand with me. While I understand the party's desire to keep the focus on its platform and not on distractions, I'm saddened that the party has proven to be timid in the face of specious and misleading reporting.

I fear that we are living in an increasingly Orwellian age. Robust debate about controversial matters is fair game in politics, but political spin that twists differences of opinion into lies is quite another. Character assassination masquerading as reportage is a hideous poison that is destroying our public life and if good people fail to speak up against it, our very democratic institutions will be in peril.