FRONT

Politics

The unravelling of a very public figure

KEN MacQUEEN April 26 2004
FRONT

Politics

The unravelling of a very public figure

KEN MacQUEEN April 26 2004

Politics

FRONT

The unravelling of a very public figure

KEN MacQUEEN

Say what you want about New Democrat MP Svend Robinson—and after 25 stormy years in federal politics, little is left unsaid— he’s not one to run from the consequences of his actions. There are any number of examples: coming out as Canada’s first openly gay MP; risking prison for being present at the assisted suicide of a terminally ill woman; going to jail for participating in Clayoquot Sound logging protests. He’s also been pilloried for heckling visiting U.S. President Ronald Reagan, kicked out of China, and taken to task for staging a confrontation at an Israeli checkpoint.

Through every controversy the veteran MP for Burnaby-Douglas has stood—never far from a television camera—on what he saw as the moral high ground. That changed profoundly last Thursday when a tearful Robinson faced the cameras to admit to the tawdriest of deeds: shoplifting an expensive piece of jewellery at a sale he attended on Good Friday. “Something just snapped in this moment of utter irrationality,” he said, providing few other details. He added that he would be taking a medical leave from politics, and was receiving therapy to deal with “severe stress and emotional pain”—some of that, he hinted, from the lingering effects of a near-fatal fall in a hiking accident in 1997.

Robinson admits taking a piece of jewellery, said by friends to be a ring valued at $50,000, from a customs auction in Richmond, B.C., in what seems an act of career suicide. The site was under video surveillance and, he allows, his identity was known to staff. He says he turned the item over to police on April 13 after failing to reach its owners over the Easter weekend.

Robinson says he won’t evade taking “full responsibility for my actions should charges be laid.” And his riding executive was still deciding whether to dump him as a candidate if there’s a spring election. The Liberals have long planned an assault on his Burnaby stronghold, claiming Robinson is vulnerable. Until now, no one knew just how vulnerable he really was.