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In new memoir, Jagmeet Singh talks of rough Windsor childhood, sexual abuse by tae kwon do instructor

 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks to reporters after kicking of his first cross-country tour at a rally in Ottawa on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Being sexually abused by a tae kwon do instructor took a “devastating toll” on Jagmeet Singh while growing up here, the federal NDP leader says in a new memoir that describes a Windsor childhood wracked by bullying and discrimination. - Taylor Campbell

Being sexually abused by a tae kwon do instructor took a “devastating toll” on Jagmeet Singh while growing up here, the federal NDP leader says in a new memoir that describes a Windsor childhood wracked by bullying and discrimination.

Singh, 40, lived in South Windsor from the age of seven to 23, though he attended private school in Michigan from Grade 6 to Grade 12 and was mostly away at university after high school. "Love and Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience and Overcoming the Unexpected" comes out Tuesday, but the Toronto Star published an excerpt on the weekend “detailing some of the racial and sexual abuse Singh was subjected to when he lived in Windsor and was in grade school.”

He’s talked in the past about the racial slurs and bullying he suffered while growing up here, and how that motivated him towards his lifelong love of martial arts. In his memoir, according to the Toronto Star, he recounts how he began learning tae kwon do from an instructor he referred to only as “Mr. N” who is now dead.

Singh said Mr. N eventually moved his dojo from a gym to the basement of his home. Singh’s mom would drop him off and Singh would walk alone to the entrance in the back. The first time Singh went to an extra class, he said he discovered Mr. N. sunbathing in the backyard, wearing only a “leopard-print Speedo.”

According to Singh’s memoir: “He stretched a little, then opened the back door and gestured for me to head inside. Before I could take my first step downstairs, he stopped me with a hand on my back.

‘Nope, this way,’ he said, pointing upstairs. ‘You’ll see — this is a very different program. A special one.'”

Mr. N understood Singh’s insecurities and aspirations and took advantage, Singh writes.

“Mr. N abused me. 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 says that abuse quickly came to seem normal. He felt a sense of shame so disabling he suffered in silence. He blamed himself for what happened and although he knew it was real, part of him didn’t accept it was happening.

“So I carried the shame and stigma; I buried it deep. I told no one, and I told myself not to think about what had happened,” he writes.

Attempts to reach Singh on Sunday were not successful. In an interview with the Windsor Star in 2017, shortly after he was elected leader and gave interviews elsewhere recounting the bullying and discrimination he suffered as a child in Windsor, he said he had difficulties in Windsor, “for sure.” But he added he didn’t believe the racism here was worse than anywhere else.

“There were times I had to defend myself. But that kind of thing happened throughout my childhood, not just in one city.”

He described Windsor as his hometown.

“I love it,” Singh said at the time. “I had an incredible childhood. I spent lots of time at Budimir Library. I had friends and we hung out along Cabana Road around Askin and Randolph.”

In the excerpt, Singh recounts how one boy during recess asked if he was brown because he didn’t shower, and how another boy whispered: “Dirty.” Then he was attacked from behind, he said. “Suddenly I felt my topknot being pulled and then a hard shove knocking me to the ground almost simultaneously,” he writes. “I hit the grass hard and felt a sharp strain in my neck.”

He jumped to his feet to confront his assailants, he said. “They were pointing and laughing at my patka , my small head wrap, half pulled off my head. My knees were covered in grass stains. I launched toward them with my hands up, yelling, ‘Let’s go!'”

He said at one point in his childhood, he went from calling himself Jimmy to Jagmeet.

“I also went from a regular bowl cut to wrapping my long hair in a patka. I thought I was making a personal decision about who I was, not inviting a new world of bullying.” Then, as soon as he hit Grade 4, “the bullying became relentless. It wasn’t just at school but wherever I went. I was stared at, mocked, made fun of, and often assaulted for the way I looked.”

He was called “diaper head", “paki” and “Jughead” instead of Jagmeet.

The more insults he heard, the less tolerant he became, he said. Though afraid and unsure, he fought back, the memoir says.

“‘What’s up? You got something to say, say it to my face!’ I said, shoving them and getting pushed back,” he writes. “Within seconds, we’d be swinging fists until a teacher broke up the fight and made us stand against the wall for the rest of recess.”

Singh said his mother knew about the insults and fights. Though she wanted him to focus on his studies, instead, she never discouraged him from standing up to bullies, Singh said.

“She was never willing to tolerate racism, and she didn’t want her kids to have to put up with it either.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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