NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says he was sexually abused as a boy
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2019 12:29PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2019 3:24PM EDT
Trigger warning: The content may be distressing to some readers.
OTTAWA – Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is speaking publicly for the first time about being sexually abused as a child, in the hope sharing his experience will help others.
In his new memoir, “Love & Courage” released Tuesday, Singh opens up about his experiences growing up Sikh and the bullying and racism he faced as a result, his relationship with his father, and the abuse he faced at the hands of a tae kwon do instructor.
In the book, Singh alleges that his martial arts instructor assaulted him around the age of 10, when he would go to the man’s house for “special training.” The instructor, now dead, was never charged and Singh says that not speaking up about his experience sooner is one of his “biggest regrets,” because if he had come forward it may have prevented someone else from being hurt by the coach. Singh names the man in the book, but he is also referred to as “Mr. N.”
Singh details the abuse, including an incident when his mother dropped him off at his instructor’s home for one-on-one training only to be met by the man in a “leopard-print Speedo” and quickly ushered into a bedroom, where Singh alleges the man asked him, “How much do you know about the body?” In the book, Singh continues to detail the physical abuse and manipulation he says he was regularly subjected to.
He writes that when he saw the man’s name in the yellow pages many years later he felt the rush of shame that he had buried rise up again, and felt the desire for revenge, or justice, but this book is the first time he has ever gone public with his story, though he has spoken broadly about the need to believe survivors of sexual assault and misconduct.
In an interview on CTV’s Your Morning, Singh said that part of his healing process has been coming to terms with the abuse and understanding that it was not his fault. He said that now that he has the platform as a federal party leader, he wants to take the opportunity to try to “do some good.”
“I feel like this book will help people out,” Singh said.
The title of the book is also one of his key campaign slogans. “Love and courage” has been tied to Singh since he used that phrase to shut down a heckler who got in his face at a 2017 leadership campaign event. Instead of confronting the woman, he spoke over her to the crowd saying: “What do we believe in? Love and courage.”
While the inside front cover of the book states plainly: “This story is not a political memoir,” it is a detailed introduction to Singh, 40, and his journey to the most high-profile political stage in Canada, in just over 300 pages.
“This is a story of family, love, and courage and how strengthening the connection between us all is the way to building a better world,” the book blurb continues.
Singh also goes into detail in the book about his family’s economic and housing struggles, as well as his father’s alcoholism and journey to recovery. He writes that there were times that his dad would “either be stumbling around the house drunk and out of his mind, or passed out on the couch,” and then details his father’s steps to what has lead to years of sobriety.
Singh said there was a time when he couldn’t imagine being in the positive place that he is in with his father now. Writing about this experience helped the two of them heal, though seeing the experiences from his son’s perspective put to paper was “a bit of a gut punch,” said Singh.
Singh also writes about his decision to grow his hair and wrap it in a patka, and go by “Jagmeet” instead of “Jimmy,” around the age of seven. Both changes prompted bullying from classmates, and Singh said he couldn’t pin down exactly why he made that choice as a child, but he is glad that he did.
He also writes about the experiences both he and his brother Gurratan Singh, who has followed in his brothers’ footsteps and currently represents the riding of Brampton East for the NDP as an MPP in the Ontario legislature. Singh writes that after the 9/11 terror attacks they were harassed in public, called “paki,” “dirty,” and “diaper head.”
Singh writes that his decision to throw his hat into what was an already crowded ring for federal NDP leadership was informed, and inspired by the challenges he’s had to overcome. “Why me? The answer didn’t hit me all at once, but I started making connections. I thought about facing racism throughout my life, and how it taught me what it’s like to feel as though you don’t belong… It takes courage to love yourself when you’ve been told your whole life that you’re ugly, or dirty, or a terrorist,” Singh writes.
He goes on to say that after thinking about this and other struggles, like the trauma he experienced and his family’s economic uncertainty, he realized that he felt a responsibility to stand up and fight for those who also had those feelings of being marginalized or neglected.
“Once I realized that, I never looked back,” he writes.
Now, as the first visible minority federal leader in the House of Commons, Singh has made history and said that he hopes that sharing more of his personal story will inspire other kids who have felt different or discriminated against to also push the boundaries of what’s possible.
“I am hoping that by breaking barriers myself, I can inspire a whole new generation of people to think ‘you know what, maybe I can, not just run a country, maybe I could start a company, maybe I could do something in my own local community to make a positive change,’” Singh said.
In a separate interview on CTV’s Power Play Singh said that while the book isn’t a political policy-filled publication, it speaks to why he as the NDP leader does prioritize certain issues and values.
“When it comes to what I care about I think the story shows what I care about and why I believe so much in social programs, social services. I was only able to survive and get past all of these difficulties because of so many people around me that helped me out,” Singh said.
Singh has been lauded for his courage in opening up about his past experiences in this way. When an excerpt of his book was published over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “A powerful and important story to read… your courage to speak up will fight against stigma, and help so many people know they are not alone.”