The disappointing story of Wab Kinew

By Dorothy Dobbie

I’m pretty sure Wab Kinew is a nice guy. I am pretty sure I would even like him if I met him. He seems charming, articulate and well spoken. We wouldn’t agree on policy, he being a dedicated socialist and me a true blue conservative, but different approaches to public policy are what helps to keep the country on an even and balanced keel – practical and sensible but compassionate and caring – that’s the Canadian way.

I even believe Wab when he says he is very sorry for his past and I can certainly forgive him for many of his early transgressions. We all do things in our youth that could have shown better judgment. Even though some of his left a criminal stain on his record, it doesn’t seem that any were overly serious. Many people with less than pristine pasts have reformed and gone on to pursue great futures as pillars of their communities.

But one doubt nags me – his violence and the story of his behaviour toward women, the report of the two assaults compounded by repeated misogynistic words in some of his rap songs. I’d share them with you, but they no longer appear to be available on the Internet – at least, I couldn’t find them. According to an article in the Toronto Star, he spoke of “slapping female genitalia and used a slur for gay men.” The article goes on further to say that in songs, “both with the group Dead Indians and in his later solo career, Kinew repeatedly used derogatory words for women and their body parts. In a 2009 recording, he talked of sexual conquests, chasing skirts and of having made “panties drop.”

But, so what! say his defenders. He’s says he is sorry, that he was young and on booze, that he has quit drinking and is a changed man. Why can’t you just drop it? I would like to, but everything I know about domestic violence and women abusers tells me that the story is not over.

Female and domestic abuse is epidemic, with more than 80,000 assaults reported in Canada each year, while many, many times more cases than that go unreported. Often, these assaults escalate to the murder of the victims and sometimes even of their children.

The recidivism rate is very high – of those who are arrested, about 65 per cent are arrested again for the same thing, even after being forced to go to therapy. The number is probably understated as experts say that data about recidivism is “complicated”.

David Adams, a psychologist and co-director of a Boston-based abusers’ education and intervention program called Emerge, says, “I think one of the biggest misunderstandings about abusers is that they don’t often come across as an abuser. They can sometimes come across as more ‘likeable’ than their victims.”

According to Harry Fletcher, the assistant secretary general of a British union of probation and family courts, in a 2012 report by the Guardian, “These men are often highly manipulative and have no real desire to change.”

This is borne out by David Adams. “One of the ways that abusers manipulate is to put on a big show of remorse. A lot of perpetrators cry more than their victims do. Clergy often see this as a signal that things are changing; changing; they’re overly impressed by that. But for narcissistic abusers, they aren’t crying about their victims. They are crying about what happens to them(selves).”

He continues by saying that the problem is often identified as anger, when really the problem is about control. In Wab’s case, it may be both.

Firstly, he seems conflicted about the seriousness of his abusive action toward his former girlfriend, at first denying that it ever happened and then apologizing for the “pain” he had caused her and her family. That he can be violent is borne out by court records of an incident that involved punching a taxi driver in the face after throwing a racial slur at him. “Then Kinew walked to the driver’s side window and punched the driver in the face, court heard, and pushed him to the ground and kicked him after he exited the vehicle.”

It is not that Wab Kinew was the product of a dysfunctional family. His father was a respected leader in the Indigenous community, both here and abroad. Wab himself had a privileged upbringing, attending the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, an excellent private school, as well as receiving a BA in economics from the University of Manitoba.

Most recently, a Winnipeg Free Press report indicates that Wab was less than fully forthcoming about the authorship of his biography, The Reason You Walk, letting it be understood that he was the sole author when a ghost writer was largely responsible for the work. This raises questions about his ethics.

Most of all, these reports raise deep concern about the message being sent to young men of all backgrounds.

I am saddened by all this because I believe that the Indigenous community has many fine people who would make wonderful leaders of our province. That the one who stepped forward is so flawed is extremely disappointing.

Like Brian Bowman, I want to believe in redemption for Wab. After all, a government is only as good as its opposition. We need this young man to be strong and straight and unflinching in his beliefs. And those of the opposite point of view need to be able to respect him in order to thrust back strongly in critical policy debates.

The self-inflicted focus on Wab Kinew’s personal issues can only obscure issues that are more important. And that makes us all losers

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