Political life means signing up for a high degree of public scrutiny, but NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the pain he endured in his childhood – including an experience with sexual abuse – reminds him he has gone through far worse.
Since taking over the reins of the NDP in October, 2017, Singh has faced multiple challenges, including winning a seat in the House of Commons in the riding of Burnaby-South, poor party fundraising and slumping morale that combined raised questions about his own leadership abilities.
Through all of it, the 40-year-old has seemed surprisingly calm even when those around him are rattled.
At least on the outside, he has put on a brave face. His book released Tuesday, Love & Courage, begins to explain why.
“It is tough to be in the public eye, particularly as a politician so my heart goes out to anyone who takes the plunge because it is difficult,” he said in an interview.
“I sometimes think that a part of being able to do this is because of my life experiences. I’ve gone through a lot of difficult moments.”
The “difficult moments” he referred to include privately enduring sexual abuse at the hands of a martial arts instructor at age 10 in Windsor, Ont. – a story he decided to share for the first time in hopes of helping other victims.
“Mr. N abused me,” Singh wrote. “He tied his perversion to my performance, which was my primary motivation. And as the weekend sessions continued on top of my weekly training, I convinced myself that I was improving at tae kwon do.”
Singh said Tuesday he felt a “responsibility” to use his national platform in a positive way.
“I thought, what can I do? What story can I tell that would actually have a positive impact or maybe help people out that need it?” he said.
“Maybe it could help folks feel less alone. Maybe it could help folks have the courage to love themselves and to love others because I know that for me, suffering from abuse makes you feel like you don’t deserve happiness, and you stop loving yourself.”
Statistically, Singh’s story of being able to overcome the long-standing impacts of sexual abuse is rare. Many victims are plagued by debilitating mental health challenges, substance abuse issues, and suicidal thoughts.
The NDP leader said he personally has drawn strength from his spirituality, meditation and a support network.
“That’s also what this story is about,” he said.
“I could not have made it alone. I don’t think anyone makes it alone … A whole bunch of people, some who knew I was in a tough spot and many who probably didn’t know that I was a kid that was almost down and out, stepped in and helped me out.”
Singh’s book also details his father’s struggle with alcoholism, including time in rehab and having to support his family.
He said that his father ultimately turned to a modest, publicly-funded rehabilitation centre in Windsor after losing insurance after he could no longer work.
Singh said the program ultimately saved his father’s life and his family in many ways.
“I am really grateful to all the folks, all the services that people can count on that were there for me,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”