The new face of CBC's Canada Reads, Wab Kinew, says he doesn't think the sexual assault allegations against former host Jian Ghomeshi will be dealt with directly on the show as it isn't "really relevant to the discussion about books."
But he doesn't think it makes sense to ignore the scandal either, so he's encouraging listeners and viewers to go to the website and nominate books for the annual literary competition that deal with subject matter surrounding the controversy.
"We're looking for 15 books to form a long list and what I would say to people is: 'All right, pick the books that are going to make us have a conversation about the underlying issues, about the ongoing issues, that are raised by this controversy,' " Kinew said in a telephone interview before being revealed as the new host late Wednesday evening.
"Our theme this year is 'A Book to Break Barriers,' so suggest some books that are going to have us talk about gender violence, sexual violence, discrimination against women, sexual harassment in all forms.
"I think that's the best way we can engage with it on-air."
Launched in 2001, Canada Reads is a week-long contest in which five Canadian personalities each select a homegrown book – either fiction or non-fiction – they believe all Canadians should read. They then defend their choices in a series of debates that air on the public broadcaster's radio, TV and online platforms. The books are eliminated one by one until a winner is declared.
Ghomeshi was host of the special until the CBC fired him on Oct. 26.
Kinew, who won the last Canada Reads debate in March with his defence of Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, said whichever books are chosen for the next instalment will frame the debate and issues the panellists talk about on the air.
"So suggest a book now, get involved, make sure that we can deal with it, talk about it," added the Winnipeg-based journalist, who is also a hip-hop artist. "I'm sure if people suggest a book about sexual harassment or something, the panellists are going to be smart people, they're not going to ignore the elephant in the room. We'll deal with it as it comes up.
"I don't want to ignore the elephant in the room."
In all, nine women have come forward with allegations, some dating back a decade, that Ghomeshi sexually or physically assaulted them and police are investigating complaints by at least three of them.
Ghomeshi has filed a lawsuit against the CBC alleging defamation and breach of confidence. The former Q host has argued in a Facebook posting that he engaged in "rough sex" with women, but said it was always consensual.
Kinew, who hosted the CBC documentary series 8th Fire, said the next Canada Reads instalment will happen in March. He signed on as host because he enjoyed his experience last year, in which he got to debate personalities including activist Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.
"I think it's an awesome show and the rationale for wanting to host it is the same," he said. "It's something I think is uniquely Canadian, that we actually have a reality show about books and we can have a show that's a one-time celebration of literature but on another level is a forum to have some pretty deep conversations about big societal issues."