Wab Kinew should 'own up' to domestic violence charge, says NDP leadership rival Steve Ashton

One of two men running for the leadership of the Manitoba New Democrats is accusing his rival of downplaying domestic violence charges from 2003.

Ashton says Kinew hasn't gone far enough to explain 2003 domestic assault charge

NDP leadership hopeful Steve Ashton has accused rival Wab Kinew of downplaying a 2003 domestic violence charge that was dropped. (CBC)

Manitoba NDP leadership hopeful Steve Ashton says his rival in the race, Wab Kinew, has not gone far enough to explain a domestic assault charge he faced in 2003.

Ashton says he was contacted by a survivor of domestic violence this week who raised concerns about Kinew's response last Friday, after the charges came to light.

"She really reminded me what it's all about and what she went through," Ashton said Tuesday.

"What was particularly concerning to her were the comments that were made Friday [by Kinew] that there was no substance to the allegations, it was investigated and it was dropped."

Both men are running for the leadership of the Manitoba New Democrats. The Opposition party will elect its new leader on Sept. 16.

Kinew approached media outlets last week after two anonymous emails circulated outlining a series of charges against him years ago. Kinew told media last week the accusations were false and the charges were dropped.

Ashton said the survivor of domestic violence he spoke with felt Kinew had not gone far enough to address the charges.

"It struck me how difficult it is for women to come forward and even more difficult to go to court … I think it's important for him to do more than make those kind of dismissive statements," he said.

Kinew declined to provide more detail on Tuesday.

"In some of these instances, some of these allegations, there are other people involved and out of respect for the other people, you know, I'm not going to discuss specifics," he said.

"But I am very proud of the work that I've done as an individual to change my life around and to become a positive force in our community, a positive agent for change — hopefully politically now also, rebuilding the NDP, renewing the NDP."

Ashton has agreed to approach the woman he is quoting about doing an interview with CBC News to explain her concerns with Kinew's statement.

'I would want to know more'

The executive director of a Manitoba women's shelter told CBC News that Kinew needs to be more upfront about his past.

Anna Pazdzierski has been the executive director of Nova House for the past 18 years. The shelter for abused women and children serves about 600 people a year in the Interlake and North Eastman region of Manitoba.

Pazdzierski argues Kinew should have been upfront about his past charges in the first place.

"It would take for him to talk about domestic violence and stand up and say, 'This isn't right,'" she said.

"I think he certainly needs to be open about that past and be open about what happened. Perhaps there is nothing to the charges and the police did just originally lay charges.… I would want to know more."

However, she was quick to add that Ashton was a cabinet minister in the former NDP government, under which she says funding for women's shelters was virtually frozen for more than a decade.

"Where is Steve Ashton on the whole issue of domestic violence?" she asked.

She said she is willing to support Kinew's leadership bid if he gives a better explanation about what occurred in 2003 and why the charges were stayed.

"If he owns up on things and is willing to talk about them and certainly encourage people to make a change, then I would support him in running for the leadership," she said.

558 Kinew delegates elected by Tuesday

Kinew highlighted his work to bring forward public policy aimed at ending gender-based violence.

"To be a leader, generally speaking, but also to just be a progressive man in our society, I think it means reflecting on the fact that you have to step back sometimes and just let others speak and, you know, share the impact that issues like this have," he said.

"It's not about me and how I feel."

According to a press release from Kinew's office, voting results announced Tuesday show NDP members elected 558 delegates supporting Kinew, compared to 339 supporting Ashton. The party itself did not confirm the number of supporters for each candidate.

Up to 1,425 delegates will cast ballots at the convention.

"It's an interesting day, because I'm very honoured by the results and yet I know that I have a lot of work left to do," Kinew said.

There are still 285 delegates to be chosen from unions affiliated with the NDP, while 189 politicians and party officials get automatic delegate status.

With files from Sean Kavanagh, Kristin Annable, Jacques Marcoux and The Canadian Press