The Current

'I tried to bury it down': NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says he was sexually abused as a child

In his new book, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh alleges that he was sexually abused as a child. He speaks to Anna Maria Tremonti about the abuse, and why he hopes his revelation will help other survivors.

Singh was 10 when alleged abuse by taekwondo coach occurred

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he 'felt a lot of shame and guilt' following sexual abuse alleged to have happened when he was a child. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has claimed in a new memoir that a taekwondo coach sexually abused him when he was 10 years old.

"When it happened, I didn't know what to think," Singh told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. "I felt a lot of shame and guilt, which I know is normal when you go through something like this."

The politician revealed the abuse claim in his new book, Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected, released Tuesday.

Singh told Tremonti that the coach spotted the young boy's enthusiasm for the sport and singled him out for extra training at his home through a special program.

"The program, really, was a guise to sexually assault me," Singh said.

"Even now when I think back, it's almost unimaginable that someone would go to such lengths to set up a way to assault a little kid."

Singh said that the coach is now deceased. A representative for the politician, referring to the coach as "Mr. N", said that he was never charged in relation to the abuse, which is alleged to have happened in Windsor, Ont., in the late 1980s.

The CBC has not independently verified the account, and is not revealing the coach's full name.

Singh as a young boy with his mother. Both of his parents immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. (Simon & Schuster)

Singh took up classes to learn to defend himself

As a boy, Singh says he jumped at the chance to join the martial arts class. His Sikh identity had attracted the attention of school bullies, he said, and he was eager to learn to defend himself.

"It was a bit crushing to feel like every day going to school was a gamble. Would I get picked on today? Would I get into a fight? Would someone attack me?" he said.

His parents saw the toll the bullying was taking on Singh, and suggested taekwondo as a way to rebuild his confidence.

"I right away thought of the movies I'd been watching, like Karate Kid," Singh said.

He said he applied himself immediately, doing "extra push-ups before class started, extra sit-ups after class ended."

"I wanted to be physically larger, so I could defend myself," he said. 

Singh as a young student. He says he was bullied at school because he was Sikh. (Simon & Schuster)

Looking back now, he said that the coach saw that tenacity, and suggested the extra training program as a way to take advantage of it.

"I was a little bit of a precocious kid, in the sense I loved reading, and I loved health and — my dad being a doctor — I really wanted to learn more about how the body worked," Singh said.

"So [Mr. N] tapped into that, and said: 'OK, this is going to be a program that's going to help you get stronger faster, it's going to give you a testosterone boost, it's going to help you get your black belt.'"

Singh said that when the alleged abuse occurred, he doesn't think he "could fully understand what was going on."

He said he felt that it was his own fault, and he did not tell his parents.

His father was dealing with alcoholism at the time, and Singh said he "didn't want to stress out" his mom. 

"I tried to bury it down. I didn't really want to talk about it, I didn't really want to think about it."

Singh said that police investigated the coach a few years later for separate abuse allegations. The CBC has not been able to confirm whether that investigation resulted in charges.

At that point, his mother sat him down and asked if anything had happened during his taekwondo classes.

"I immediately said, 'No, no, not at all, not at all.'"

I want to tell people ... it's not their fault.- NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Singh didn't tell his mother until he was 25, he said. 

After struggling for years, he said the words of a friend helped him understand he was blameless.

"A dear friend told me that it wasn't my fault," he said. "That was a really special moment because I knew it wasn't, but I hadn't heard anyone say it to me.

"I want to tell people the same thing: it's not their fault."

Singh with his father Jagtaran. (Simon & Schuster)

Why Singh is telling his story now

When Tremonti asked Singh why he was choosing to make the revelations now, in the months before an election, he said he first thought about writing the book when he became NDP leader in 2017.

"I wanted to do it because I had a platform where I could say a lot of things that might help people out," he said.

"I hope that in the struggles that I faced, I can help people that are facing similar struggles to feel less alone."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commended Singh's courage in telling his story, tweeting over the weekend that the NDP leader was helping to "fight against stigma."

I have experienced things that I think many Canadians have gone through — the feeling of not belonging, the feeling of being a victim- Jagmeet Singh

During his time as NDP leader, Singh has spoken out about the importance of believing survivors, and also addressed allegations of sexual misconduct and abuses of power within his own party.

In 2018, Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir was investigated over claims of sexual harassment. A third-party investigator found evidence to sustain one claim of harassment and three claims of sexual harassment.

Following the findings, Singh said that he had been willing to consider rehabilitative approaches if the Regina-Lewvan MP took full responsibility, but that public comments made by Weir meant that was "no longer possible."

The NDP leader on the allegations of harassment and misconduct facing federal and provincial politicians. 7:03

He expelled Weir from the NDP caucus on May 2, 2018.

The following week, he ordered another investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of authority against Quebec MP Christine Moore. She was cleared of all allegations in July.

With a federal election in the fall, the NDP is trailing the Liberals and Conservatives, but Singh said he hopes Canadians can put their faith in him to find "a new path."

"I have experienced things that I think many Canadians have gone through — the feeling of not belonging, the feeling of being a victim, of being hurt, being marginalized."

Singh said he wants to galvanize not just the left, but all Canadians.

"I hope that I can find the common thread that connects us all and say: We can build a better Canada together."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.