As It Happens

Turfed NDP candidate says he's 'done with politics'

Another social media gaffe, another turfed candidate. The NDP asked Stefan Jonasson in Winnipeg to step down after he compared an Orthodox sect of Judaism to the Taliban. But the candidate says the move by the party was too swift -- and his comments were taken out of context.
Stefan Jonasson and Tom Mulcair. (Twitter)

Until Thursday night, Stefan Jonasson, a Unitarian minister, was the NDP candidate for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley in Winnipeg. Jonasson says he was asked by his party to step down after comments he made on social media surfaced earlier this week.

Now, he says he plans to leave politics for good. 

"Politics has become so taken over by muckraking, by gotcha standards, by toxic behaviour on the part of those who cover it, I think I'm done with politics." 

Three years ago, Jonasson posted an article in 2012 accusing the Haredim, a Jewish Orthodox sect, of mistreating women. He wrote "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."

Jonasson tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch that "people are increasingly using the term 'Taliban' to refer to religious extremists of all kinds." And although he defends his comparison of the Haredim to the Taliban, he says he wishes he hadn't used those words. 

"It wasn't my intention to cause gratuitous offence. I was trying to call attention to the fact that women are not being treated equitably by some religious extremists."

The comments emerged this week on The True North Times, a website that promises to expose controversial comments by politicians running in the federal election. But the site says Jonasson compared Jews to the Taliban. He says his comments were extremely distorted by the The True North Times, and that he was only targeting a specific ultra-orthodox group.

Jonasson says "a publication like The True North Times actually isn't interested in informing people. They're interested in provocation and character assassination."

"Politics has become so taken over by muckraking, by gotcha standards, by toxic behaviour on the part of those who cover it." - Stefan Jonasson

In response, the publication has said "We do not and will not encourage parties to preclude a candidate from running, that is the duty of voters at the ballot box."

Jonasson's departure from the race is the latest in a string of cases where candidates have faced criticism and created controversy over things posted online in the past.

This week, Hamilton, Ont. NDP candidate Alex Johnstone was in trouble after Facebook comments she made about Auschwitz. She then admitted recently that she did not know what Auschwitz was. She remains a candidate for the NDP.

When asked if there is a double-standard in the NDP's handling of his case versus the case of Alex Johnstone, Jonasson says that while each case is different "perhaps it is a would certainly suggest to me that ignorance is a forgivable sin. But that actually standing for women, with language that some might consider to have been intemperate, is not."

He believes the NDP acted too quickly by asking him to step down.  

"I don't think they really looked into the background and context of what I posted. I can understand how it could have been viewed as troublesome...and certainly the headline is thoroughly misleading...The decision was pretty hasty.'

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

After deciding to quit politics, Jonasson is already looking to the future. 

"I may try to go back to the ministry which may be where I belong. The advantage of having conversations in a community, a congregation is that people are in conversation with each other. They explore the nuances. Social media doesn't provide a good forum for that."


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