Ontario’s NDP leader is standing by a candidate who was photographed more than a decade ago holding a vulgar anti-police sign at a demonstration, the latest instance in which she’s had to defend past actions of those on her roster.
Andrea Horwath denounced the sign held by Brampton East candidate Gurratan Singh but said he regrets his actions and will stay on.
“That’s a sign that’s despicable,” Horwath said on Tuesday. “Gurratan has actually said so as well. He’s very regretful that he held that sign a number of years ago.”
Horwath defended Singh, the brother of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, during a pair of campaign stops in Toronto and Brantford, Ont. Gurratan Singh, Horwath said, is a different person now compared to when he held up that sign at a 2006 rally.
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“When I was 20 there’s things I probably did that I regret,” she said. “It’s not on Facebook though, there wasn’t Facebook when I was 20.”
“Gurratan Singh is a person that turned his life around. He went to law school. He now upholds the law in the justice system,” Horwath added. “People make mistakes when they’re young.”
Singh issued a statement Tuesday apologizing “unreservedly to police officers, their families and the policing community”, saying he was “deeply ashamed” of his actions.
“I deeply respect the sacrifices police officers make in service of justice and public safety, and realize the importance of community-building with officers,” he said.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne called a photo of Singh holding the sign a “very disturbing and divisive image.”
“As leaders, we all have to answer for the beliefs and the behaviour of our candidates,” she said. “This is a very disturbing situation and Andrea Horwath is going to have to explain how she can continue to support a candidate in that position. I would not be able to support his candidacy.”
Horwath’s defence of Singh comes after Tasleem Riaz, the party’s candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, was roundly criticized last week when the Progressive Conservatives exposed a Facebook post she allegedly made that pictured Adolf Hitler.
Riaz was quick to issue a statement saying she was “horrified” the post had appeared on her Facebook page, stressing that she did not understand how it had happened and would never have shared it intentionally. Asked about the allegations again Tuesday, Horwath highlighted Riaz’s years of work as an interfaith advocate.
“It’s a despicable meme,” Horwath said. “It’s horrifying that it got posted. It’s horrifying that’s been tagged to one of my particular candidates. And what’s most horrifying to me is that this woman is somebody who is completely opposed to the horrors of that took place in the Nazi regime.”
Asked if the pair of controversies show that her party has a broader problem properly vetting candidates, Horwath rejected the notion.
“There have been a couple of things that (Progressive Conservative Leader Doug) Ford and his team have decided to go back years and years and years and mine through Facebook,” she said.
“If that’s how he wants to spend his time and how his team want to spend their time then they can have at it. What I can tell you is this, my team does not have three on-going police units … looking into my candidates possibly using stolen information from the 407 to help them get nominated.”
Ford has said his party is looking into whether allegedly stolen customer data from a highway toll company may have been used by some candidates to win nomination races. Police are investigating a data breach at the 407 Express Toll Route company.
— with files from Colin Perkel.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
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