Wab Kinew allegations turning into 'witch hunt,' Senator Murray Sinclair says

Senator Murray Sinclair says the controversy over accusations of domestic violence against Wab Kinew, the newly elected leader of the Manitoba NDP, is turning into a “witch hunt.”

‘We can’t conduct a trial in the public media over these allegations,’ says former judge, TRC chair

Sen. Murray Sinclair says the controversy around Wab Kinew's domestic assault allegations is turning into a witch hunt. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Senator Murray Sinclair says the controversy over accusations of domestic violence against the newly elected leader of the Manitoba NDP, Wab Kinew, is turning into a "witch hunt."

"From the perspective of looking at this objectively, we can't conduct a trial in the public media over these allegations," Sinclair said on CBC's Information Radio on Thursday.

"The concern that I have is that this is beginning to look like a witch hunt."

Kinew has been defending himself against the allegations since anonymous emails were sent to the media last month with court records showing the rookie MLA was charged with two counts of assaulting his former partner, Tara Hart, in 2003.

Those charges were stayed in 2004.

Just before the leadership election on the weekend, Hart told The Canadian Press she was thrown across a room and left with rug burn on her legs.

Kinew has denied the allegations multiple times but said he accepts responsibility that he "was not a good person for a time," and this left unresolved issues with Hart's family.

Court records, reviewed by the CBC on Monday, also showed discrepancies with Kinew's account of a 2004 assault on a city taxi driver in his 2015 memoir, The Reason You Walk.

"I can tell you that there probably won't be any new discoveries. I think he's answered all of the questions," Sinclair said.

"I think the reality is the more we talk about it, the more frustrated we are going to feel, because we are not getting any new stuff and we are just rehashing old stuff."

'This is going to discourage young people'

Sinclair has provided Kinew with guidance and advice throughout his political career, even encouraging the Indigenous activist and author to put his name on the ballot. Sinclair said he knew about the incidents detailed in Kinew's book, as well as other allegations.

"Each time that he would consult with me, I would encourage him to be strong and to go forward, because he's not the man today that those allegations talk about," Sinclair said.

However, Sinclair said he is concerned about the message that dredging up Kinew's history has sent to other people who have made mistakes in their past.

"This is going to discourage young people who may have done something wrong in their past to come forward even though they've changed, they've become stronger, they've become better and they are ready to deal with their responsibilities," he said.

Delegates to the Manitoba NDP leadership convention on the weekend elected Wab Kinew despite his past. (Tyson Koschik CBC)

Sinclair said he connected with Kinew because of his leadership skills and because "at the end of the day, he will be an asset to the Indigenous community, as well as an asset to the Manitoba public and the Canadian public."

When asked whether supporting Kinew could send a message about not believing women who come forward, Sinclair said we just have to recognize that there are two different versions of the event out there.

The former judge, who was the chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said he has presided over many cases where there were two different versions of the same event, and the court doesn't always start from the premise the complainant is always telling the truth.

"We need to ensure that we, at the end of the day, are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal court, or that there is evidence to support the allegation if it's made in the course of a family dispute, because often people do make allegations for reasons other than the fact that they occurred," he said, adding he's not suggesting that is what happened in Hart's case.

When it comes to politics, it's up to each voter in the next provincial election to make his or her own decision about whether Kinew has changed, he said.

For Indigenous communities, it's started a conversation about how to proceed when emerging leaders have difficult pasts, he said.

"This is not the first time and not the only time that allegations about Indigenous leaders have been made and will be made," Sinclair said.

"We need to establish for ourselves our own parameters. We need to remember that for a long time, our leaders were never allowed to hold positions of leadership."

With files from CBC's Information Radio