New Democratic Party MP Svend Robinson stunned supporters Thursday by saying he needs to take medical leave after admitting he stole a ring.

"Something just snapped in this moment of total, utter irrationality," he said while crying and struggling to read a statement during a nationally televised news conference in his Vancouver-area riding of Burnaby-Douglas.

"While attending a public jewelry sale, I pocketed a piece of expensive jewelry," Robinson said, as he described what happened on Good Friday.

"I did this despite knowing full well ... that the entire area was under electronic surveillance," he added, and that the employees recognized him.

TIMELINE
1978: Called to the B.C. Bar. May 1979: First elected to Parliament. 1983: First introduces a bill to add "sexual orientation" to the Human Rights Act. 1985: Arrested after joining protest against logging on B.C.'s Queen Charlotte Islands. 1988: Publicly announces he is gay. 1995: Runs for the leadership of the NDP. 2001: Resigns as NDP foreign policy critic after visit to Yasser Arafat. February 2003: Elected NDP House leader. April 2004: Announces he won't seek re-election because he is being investigated for the theft of a ring.
He said he's been battling severe stress for the past few months and is now undergoing therapy.

Robinson, who returned the property a few days later, contacted police himself. He's now under criminal investigation.

'I am human and I have failed'

It's not clear if he will run in the next federal election. Robinson has temporarily stepped down as the riding's nominee, and is waiting to find out if charges are going to be laid.

"As you can imagine, this has been a nightmare. I cannot believe that it has happened, but I am human and I have failed."

The 52-year-old Robinson, Canada's first openly gay MP, has been a member of Parliament since 1979. He's won seven consecutive elections, and had been preparing to run again.

"I await the decision of Crown counsel and will not seek to in any way avoid full responsibility for my actions should charges be laid in these circumstances," he said.

"I will be meeting in the near future with my riding executive to discuss the longer term implications of this decision should an election be called while these issues remain outstanding."

At a separate news conference later in the day, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Robinson remains a member of the federal caucus while he's on leave. Layton said he stands behind the MP at this difficult time, but told reporters it's impossible to say if Robinson will run in the next election.

"Now Svend's inner strength must be applied to a very personal inner challenge," Layton said. "I have every confidence that my friend Svend will overcome."

Several other MPs expressed their support as well, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, who called Robinson a dedicated parliamentarian who's clearly under a lot of stress.

"He's a very strong person and I'm sure he will come through it, and I think that all of us want to wish him the best," Martin said.