09/20/2017 10:54 EDT | Updated 09/20/2017 10:54 EDT

Jagmeet Singh Stands By Wab Kinew Amid Controversy Over Past Assault Charges

The charges were stayed in 2004.

The Canadian Press
Jagmeet Singh listens during the final federal NDP leadership debate in Vancouver on Sept. 10, 2017.

One of the leading contenders in the federal NDP race is standing by the new leader of the Manitoba wing of his party as Wab Kinew acknowledges he will continue to face questions about 14-year-old domestic violence charges.

Jagmeet Singh, who has been endorsed by the newly-minted Manitoba NDP leader, said Tuesday he believes survivors but added Kinew now speaks out on violence against women.

"The person I know now, the Wab I know is ... someone that's been very clear on his position around making sure that we have a strong approach towards tackling violence against women," he said in an interview in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press
Wab Kinew (R), now the leader of Manitoba's NDP, listens as then-premier Greg Selinger speaks at a news conference in Winnipeg on March 11, 2016.

"He's made it very clear he is a strong supporter of women's rights, of gender justice. So, the person I know now is someone that has been very clear on these issues so I ... can leave it at that."

Kinew's personal life has recently become a high-profile political issue after the domestic violence charges came to light via anonymous emails sent to Winnipeg media outlets last month. The Indigenous activist, author and rookie MLA was charged with two counts of assaulting his former partner, Tara Hart, in 2003.

The charges were stayed in 2004 and court transcripts made available to date do not outline reasons for the decision. Kinew, 35, has repeatedly denied the accusations and has pointed out that the case was dropped.

Last week, Hart told The Canadian Press she stands by her assertions that Kinew threw her across the living room of an apartment they shared, causing rug burns that were so severe she could not bend her legs.

Speaking at a rally held by labour and poverty activists on Tuesday outside the Manitoba legislature, Kinew raised the issue himself.

He's made it very clear he is a strong supporter of women's rights, of gender justice.NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh

"I know there's a lot of discussion about me on social media, in the media and around people's conversation tables," he told the crowd of about 100 people. "And I want to say that I'm committed to answering questions and addressing concerns that any of you have, and will continue to show up for those conversations."

Labour leaders, politicians and others who endorsed Kinew have stood by him and he beat rival Steve Ashton for the leadership Saturday by almost a 3-1 margin. But Kinew and the NDP have since been heavily criticized.

"One of the things that I've begun to understand over the past few days is, it's not going to be up to me as to when people are done having those questions answered, so I'll continue to show up and continue to speak about it," Kinew said.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, endorsed Kinew and spoke in favour of his nomination at the leadership convention. He said Tuesday many people in the labour movement are discussing the accusations, but he continues to back Kinew.

"Lots of people are talking, and I think a lot of people are talking about who is he today and what kind of difference can he make. And people believe the best."

Kinew was brought into the NDP fold by former premier Greg Selinger as a star candidate in the 2016 provincial election and won a legislature seat.

I know there's a lot of discussion about me on social media, in the media and around people's conversation tables.Wab Kinew

He wrote a memoir a year earlier in which he described decade-old run-ins with the law that included convictions for impaired driving and assaulting a taxi driver. He recently received pardons for both convictions.

Kinew has talked at length about his troubled past, which also includes misogynistic and homophobic rap lyrics and social media posts, and has expressed a drive to change and be a force for good.

Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton — Steve Ashton's daughter — has raised concerns about how Kinew has addressed the issue.

She has said Kinew has been dismissive of his former partner's experience, adding it is important to have leaders on the forefront of "supporting survivors."

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