MLA kicked out of NDP caucus over harassment allegations accuses party of double standard on Kinew

Mohinder Saran, the Manitoba MLA forced out of the NDP caucus after sexual harassment allegations, is calling on his former caucus members to suspend recently elected leader Wab Kinew.

Mohinder Saran's lawyer says Manitoba NDP allowing 'shameful double standard'

Maples MLA Mohinder Saran says the Manitoba NDP is following a double standard in its treatment of him and the party's new leader, Wab Kinew. 'Why has the caucus not suspended him?' Saran asked in a letter to caucus. (CBC News )

Mohinder Saran, the Manitoba MLA forced out of the NDP caucus after sexual harassment allegations, is calling on his former caucus colleagues to suspend recently elected leader Wab Kinew.

Last week, Saran sent a letter to all 13 current members of the Manitoba NDP caucus. In it, he brought up what he calls "shocking revelations of accusations of domestic assault against Wab Kinew." 

He said Kinew should be suspended from the caucus because of those allegations.

"Why has the caucus not suspended him?" Saran wrote. "Given the shocking new allegations will you now suspend him?" 

Saran declined an interview, but his lawyer, Bill Gange, spoke on the former NDP caucus member's behalf.

Gange calls the NDP's treatment of Saran "a complete double standard," and "hypocritical," compared to how the party has supported Kinew.

"He [Saran] was, in essence, hounded out of the NDP caucus.… The allegations against Mr. Saran were nowhere near as serious as were the allegations made against Mr. Kinew," Gange told CBC News.

Saran was booted from the New Democratic Party caucus last January after allegations he verbally sexually harassed a staff person. An investigation was done by an outside arbitrator appointed by the office of the Speaker of Legislature.

Kinew, meanwhile, faced questions about his own past during his race to become leader of the Manitoba NDP which have continued since his election on Sept. 16, including questions around assault charges which were stayed in 2004.

Saran has maintained he never made the inappropriate comments to the staff person he's accused of.

"Mohinder's political career has been ruined by what happened," said Gange. "He [Saran] certainly believes that Wab Kinew and [St. Johns MLA] Nahanni Fontaine were behind it." 

Gange says Saran complied with the investigation by the representative of the Speaker's office, including being interviewed twice. Saran was allowed to read the report that was completed, but was not given a copy. The report was not circulated among caucus members.

"Mohinder treated the whole process respectfully," Gange said.

Saran would eventually complete a course on a respectful workplace environment and wrote an apology letter reviewed by Gange and Garth Smorang, a lawyer appointed by the NDP.

The caucus responded it "didn't go far enough," Gange said.

"The investigator came up with a resolution that wasn't acceptable — they wanted more."

Healing circle never happened, lawyer says

Gange said Saran was asked to partake in a healing circle with the complainant, even though neither was Indigenous and Saran wasn't familiar with the process. 

"Maybe that is something in the tradition of Fontaine or Kinew, but not of Mohinder, or the complainant," Gange says.

Nonetheless, Gange said, Saran agreed to it.

He said the healing circle would only allow Saran to bring a family member, not his lawyer. 

According to Gange, the healing circle was eventually called off after Saran accidently phoned the complainant on his mobile phone. Saran hung up in seconds after realizing his error, Gange said, but members of the NDP caucus took it as an attempt to harass the complainant. 

Gange said Saran is confident Fontaine and Kinew orchestrated his removal from the caucus and leaked details of the allegations to the media.

"The whole thing was shameful," Gange told CBC News. "If you apply the standard Kinew and Fontaine imposed on Mohinder against Wab Kinew … he would not be in the NDP caucus."

Though Saran was kicked out of the caucus, he remains an NDP party member and supported former cabinet minister Steve Ashton's leadership bid.

Kinew won a lop-sided victory, taking 728 votes to 253 for Ashton.

In January, Saran wrote an open letter sent to media saying he was "disappointed that my party did not acknowledge the apology I supplied," and suggested there may have been "political motivations" for his ouster from caucus.

"This whole situation has deeply impacted me both professionally and personally. I have spent my lifetime as a community advocate and decades as an NDP member," Saran wrote.

Kinew also apologizes

Kinew, who maintains he never assaulted his former partner, has repeatedly apologized for any harm he might have caused.
'I have no immediate plans to revisit this decision with caucus,' NDP Leader Wab Kinew said of the decision to remove Mohinder Saran from the party's caucus. (Jeff Stapleton CBC)

"I am not the man I was," Kinew told delegates at the Sept. 16 leadership convention. "I have apologized and I am sorry. But that is not enough … every day I will work hard to earn your trust." 

Kinew told reporters last Thursday he hadn't spoken to Saran in some time but hadn't completely dismissed the idea of his return to the caucus.

CBC News asked for comment from Kinew on Saran's claim of a double-standard and whether he would consider reinstating the Maples MLA.

"The decision made by caucus to remove Mohinder Saran wasn't taken lightly," a statement from Kinew read.

"I have no immediate plans to revisit this decision with caucus. I've always held out that there's a possibility of a resolution to this issue and that remains true today. To respect all parties involved, I can't comment any further."

Caucus divided

The issue of Saran's membership has caused rifts within the NDP caucus. Flor Marcelino, who served as NDP interim leader before Kinew's election, still supports Saran.

"In the grand scheme of things, and for those who know both sides of the story, what Mohinder was accused of doing is innocuous and he should not have been expelled from caucus," Marcelino said in a statement to CBC News.

"While I do not agree and am not happy with the outcome of discussions, I respect the decision of the majority."
'What Mohinder was accused of doing is innocuous and he should not have been expelled from caucus,' says Logan MLA Flor Marcelino. (Sean Kavanagh CBC )

Marcelino was diplomatic about whether there is a double standard in the party's treatment of Saran and Kinew.

"I fully believe our party needs to treat Mohinder's issue and all women's concerns seriously, fairly and consistently," Marcelino said.

She said she would support Saran's return.

"But that is a decision to be made by majority of caucus members, not just by a few who know both sides of the story," Marcelino said.


Sean Kavanagh

Former CBC reporter

Sean Kavanagh was a reporter for CBC Manitoba from 2003-21. He covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections.