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While yesterday's tearful shoplifting admission may have been the darkest public moment in Svend Robinson's 52 years, the maverick MP is certainly no stranger to personal troubles and emotional scars.

Rarely far from the public stage, renowned for his impassioned, articulate pronouncements on social issues, Mr. Robinson confessed yesterday that he has another hidden, all-too-human side.

He spoke of something snapping after months of "severe stress. . . . emotional pain . . . [and]great inner turmoil," without going into detail, leaving one to speculate what these demons could be and whether they are related to past events.

Most dramatically, there was his terrifying brush with death in a 1997 hiking accident that contributed, according to Mr. Robinson, to the continuing stress that led him to the fateful decision to pocket a piece of jewellery last Friday.

But long before that, Mr. Robinson suffered through his father's alcoholism, the breakup of an early marriage because of his growing awareness that he was gay, the death of his beloved mother at the age of 47 and his own battle with substance abuse.

Mr. Robinson has also had to endure an enduring swirl of gossip, innuendo and rumours over his gay lifestyle.

Almost from the moment Mr. Robinson was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979 as an outspoken, precocious 27-year-old, door-to-door whisper campaigns against him were a regular feature of election battles in his Burnaby riding.

Conservative MP Chuck Cook once reminded voters that the NDP MP was "a declared homosexual. . . . Is that really what you want as a role model for your children?"

At the same time, Mr. Robinson did not endear himself to many on Parliament Hill, often irritating even his own NDP caucus members with his lone-wolf, headline-grabbing approach to politics.

But through all his ups and downs, there was never any wavering among voters in his own riding who elected him seven consecutive times over 25 years - a record of unbrokenpolitical success few can match.

From his own account, outlined in past media profiles, Mr. Robinson had a troubled childhood. His father, a university professor, was an alcoholic until Svend was 11. The family was constantly on the move.

"One [represses]one's feelings and emotions as a kind of survival mechanism, and [develops]a shell to withstand the emotional trauma," Mr. Robinson has said of that time.

Mr. Robinson's father has recalled his son and a friend being picked up by police for setting a grass fire when they lived in Lethbridge, Alta.

The family settled in Burnaby, where Mr. Robinson soon made his mark as a superb student, debater and young activist.

At age 20, while attending the University of British Columbia, he married his high-school sweetheart. The couple spent their honeymoon at Vancouver's storied Sylvia Hotel, overlooking English Bay.

By then, however, Mr. Robinson was struggling with his increased attraction to men. He began a homosexual affair. When he told his wife, their marriage fell apart, but not without tears.

"I remember walking down the halls at the student union, crying my eyes out, feeling this tremendous sense of pain and confusion," Mr. Robinson told Maclean's magazine.

"[It was]the pain of denial, the pain of going through a marriage, the pain for her."

The same year Mr. Robinson's mother Edith ("the most decent person I've ever known") died of heart failure, and he began to drink heavily, a pattern repeated by many gay men in those days.

"That denial, the numbing, the getting drunk," Mr. Robinson has said.

"In those days, there were no out-and-about clubs for people to go to, no recreational activities."

Mr. Robinson curbed his drinking only when he entered politics.

Near the end of 1997, Mr. Robinson had his near fatal accident. He plunged down a cliff while hiking on Galiano Island, breaking his jaw and ankle. Unable to summon help, he managed to crawl 400 metres through rugged terrain to a cottage.

Mr. Robinson later said he was in such intense pain, he was prepared to give up and die. But his love for partner Max Riveron gave him the will to live.

"I couldn't bear the thought of leaving him behind. My love was so strong and I felt that love for him. And so I got hope again."

Yesterday, Mr. Riveron had his arm around Mr. Robinson's shoulders throughout his brief, emotionally wrought news conference.

Svend Robinson: Highlights and lowlights

1977: The rookie, Svend Robinson, beats the chosen one, Simon Fraser University president Pauline Jewett, for the federal NDP nomination in Burnaby. He wins the seat in 1979 and remains undefeated in the next six elections.

1987: He leads some NDP MPs in heckling U.S. President Ronald Reagan when he addresses Parliament. NDP leader Ed Broadbent is not amused.

1988: Mr. Robinson, at 35, announces on national television that he is gay. As the first openly gas member of Parliament in the House of Commons, he says he wants to draw attention to gay rights, working with Liberal MP Sheila Copps (left). Several months later he leads the Pride parade in Toronto, waving from the back of a red convertible.

1994: Mr. Robinson is sentenced to 14 days in jail after being found in criminal contempt for defying a court order prohibiting the obstruction of logging at Clayoquot Sound. He asks the House of Commons to deduct two weeks from his pay, arguing that taxpayers should not have to pay for his jail time.

1994: Mr. Robinson draws attention to docter-assisted suicide, describing in an emotional press conference how his friend, Sue Rodriguez, suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, died peacefully in his arms (right).

1997: The MP survives a near-fatal fall while hiking. He later says that his love for his partner, Max Riveron, forced him to go on and get himself to safety (centre).

1999: Mr. Robinson is stripped of his front-bench status by party leader Alexa McDonough and relegated to the back benches after he tables a petition calling for the word "God" to be removed from the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

2001: At the Quebec Summit, Mr. Robinson is fired on during a protest; a plastic bullet tears his pants and he is tear-gassed by police. He calls for a public inquiry into the way in which the RCMP treated peaceful demonstrators at the summit.

2002: The MP travels to the Middle East, where he tries to get past Israeli border guards to visit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his Ramallah compound. He never gets to see Mr. Arafat but he does cause controversy and makes headlines.

2004: A survey by the weekly newspaper The Hill Times names Mr. Robinson the second - "biggest self-promoter" on Parliament Hill. He comes second only to his boss, NDP leader Jack Layton. Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps comes third.