NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is apologizing after a video obtained by Global News shows him breaking COVID-19 restrictions and spending unmasked time in close quarters with an individual who is not from his household.
The footage, which the party confirmed seems “legitimate,” shows Singh exiting a car with Taranvir Dhaliwal, who works as an executive assistant for Singh’s brother Gurratan — a provincial NDP MPP.
Neither Singh nor Dhaliwal are wearing masks, and the two share a hug before walking away together.
Singh had been attending a drive-in Iftar event in Mississauga with Dhaliwal before driving back to Singh’s family home, where he has been living with his parents and siblings throughout the pandemic.
“Like most Canadians, I’ve done my best to follow public health advice. Coming back from this event, I did not do enough to follow that advice and I’m sorry,” Singh said in a statement emailed to Global News.
“I will do better to keep my family, our community and all Canadians safe. We cannot let our guard down if we want to beat this virus, and I’m committed to continue to do my best until we’re on the other side of this.”
Dhaliwal and Singh are both vaccinated with one dose, the source added, though vaccinated Canadians are still currently required to follow the same rules as those who have yet to receive their shots.
Speaking to Global News in an interview on Thursday, Singh reiterated his apology.
“I really hope that this just doesn’t discourage anyone from wearing their masks and following public health protocols,” he said.
“And it’s a reminder, you know, sometimes we let down our guard, and I did that, and I’m sorry.”
He said that Dhaliwal is a volunteer that Singh works with “a lot, and also a friend.” This reality, Singh said, led to him dropping his guard.
“I reverted back to the pre-pandemic days where I would I would greet my friends with a hug or say bye with a hug,” he said.
“This is what happens to a lot of us, we sometimes let down our guards at the end of the day, and I did that and I apologize for that.”
The Singh family opted to move in together to allow Singh to travel to Ottawa by car, and so he could help take care of his parents, the source said.
Singh’s brother Gurratan tweeted about the living situation in January.
“For those who don’t know, months ago our family decided that Jagmeet & Gurkiran would live with Satvir, our parents and I for the pandemic,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Multi-generational homes are common culturally, this helps Jagmeet be close to drive to Ottawa & avoid air travel during the second wave.”
Singh has residences in both Ottawa and in his B.C. riding. The source said Singh spent the summer as well as some break weeks in his Burnaby home — when it was safe to do so, and restrictions allowed for it.
“Instead of flying back and forth, which I think is a much higher risk, lots of folks have been saying that’s a higher risk…while there’s been lockdown orders, I’ve avoided flying as much as possible, almost entirely,” Singh said.
However, he said he still spends as much time in his riding as he can — and participates in virtual events.
“I was doing all the events that I can,” Singh said.
“I just did a town hall a couple of days ago with some of the leading physicians responding to COVID-19 in Burnaby South. So lots of events, lots of virtual outreach.”
The NDP leader isn’t the first politician to come under fire for failing to follow COVID-19 restrictions. Then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer faced heavy criticism after a photo emerged of him unmasked at an airport. Health Minister Patty Hajdu came under similar scrutiny when she was snapped unmasked in an airport lounge.
Then-Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips was also forced to resign from cabinet after it emerged that he had taken a vacation to the Caribbean while his own government publicly pleaded with citizens to stay home. Multiple other politicians, provincial and federal alike, came under fire for similar trips.
The NDP faced its own travel-related scandal when NDP MP Niki Ashton travelled to Greece during the pandemic. She had taken the trip in order to care for an ill family member — but was still stripped of her critic role when the news of her travel was made public.
“While we are sympathetic to Ms. Ashton’s situation and understand her need to be with her family, millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible for them to visit sick or aging relatives,” read an NDP statement, issued in early January.
“Canadians, rightfully, expect their elected representatives to lead by example. While this is no family vacation, Ms. Ashton will be removed from her shadow critic roles.”
Speaking in a press conference on Wednesday before being made aware of the footage, Singh emphasized the ongoing risks the pandemic presents.
“We are still in the middle of the pandemic. Things are still very volatile. We see numbers increasing and a situation developing in Manitoba that is really worrying. We’re seeing people having to be sent to Ontario because the ICU units in Manitoba are being overrun,” he said.
“Things are bad, and we know there are going to be continued risks and fears until we all get vaccinated.”
— With files from Global News’ Marc-André Cossette, Mercedes Stephenson and Mike Le Couteur