Flanagan sorry for child porn comments

Former Stephen Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has been widely and swiftly condemned for suggesting that people looking at child pornography shouldn’t be jailed.

EDMONTON — Former Stephen Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has been widely and swiftly condemned for suggesting that people looking at child pornography shouldn’t be jailed.

Flanagan made the controversial remark during a lecture Wednesday night in southern Alberta. His words were recorded on a cellphone and quickly posted on YouTube.

It didn’t take long for people to start cutting ties.

By noon Thursday, the CBC dumped Flanagan as a panellist on its Power and Politics program. The University of Calgary, where he is a political science professor, issued a statement distancing itself from his views.

The university also mentioned he would be retiring, but made clear that decision had been announced prior to this week’s controversy.

He is currently on a research leave, and that will now be extended until his retirement.

In a statement attributed to him on the CBC website, Flanagan was apologetic to anyone he offended. He said he absolutely condemns child sex abuse.

“In an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography,” reads the statement posted on the blog of Kady O’Malley, also a panellist on Power and Politics.

“My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children.

“I apologize unreservedly to all who were offended by my statement, and most especially to victims of sexual abuse and their families.”

Flanagan did not return calls or emails from The Canadian Press.

He was giving the lecture on the Indian Act at the University of Lethbridge, hosted by the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. He has written several books about aboriginal issues and believes the government should allow property rights on reserves.

One of the audience members, Levi Little Mustache, asked Flanagan about remarks he made in 2009 regarding child pornography. Flanagan had been giving a lecture on aboriginal issues at the University of Manitoba when the student paper reported that he strayed into the issue of child porn. According to The Manitoban report, Flanagan said: “What’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures?”

“I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters,” he responded when confronted in Lethbridge.

“But I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures,” he said as the audience gasped, then booed.

He went on to explain that he doesn’t look at such pictures, but was once put on a mailing list of the National Man/Boy Love Association.

“We put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person,” he said. “So it is a real issue of personal liberty.”

The heckling from the audience turned to shots at the Conservative government.

“I’m not part of the Conservative government,” Flanagan said. “I have some doubts about some of the Conservative justice initiatives.”

Little Mustache, a youth on the Blood Tribe reserve southwest of Lethbridge, said everyone was shocked when Flanagan repeated his view.

“The whole crowd just kind of gasped,” Little Mustache said. “Everyone was just taken aback by that. And then the moderator just kind of shook his head.”

He said four people in the audience walked out. His friend, Arnell Tailfeathers, recorded Flanagan’s remarks and posted the video on YouTube.

Sgt. Mike Lokken with the northern Alberta’s Internet Child Exploitation unit said he is troubled by Flanagan’s view.

“Child pornography just isn’t an innocent photo. It’s a permanent record of sexual abuse of a child. And every time somebody views these images, they’re revictimizing that child.”

He said the 2003 rape and murder of 10-year-old Holly Jones in Toronto was motivated by child pornography. Michael Briere confessed to looking at child porn just before he saw the girl and kidnapped her.

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon echoed Lokken’s remarks.

“All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children. Viewing pictures serves to create more demand for these terrible images, which leads to further exploitation of defenceless children,” she said in a statement.

CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire said she supports free speech but Flanagan’s comments “crossed the line and impacted his credibility as a commentator for us.”

Flanagan’s connections to the prime minister go back to Reform party days when the pair were key policy advisers for the fledgling party.

Flanagan twice served as Harper’s leadership campaign director and also ran the 2004 federal Conservative election campaign. He later wrote a tell-all book called “Harper’s Team” that revealed Conservative party tactics and strategies and estranged Flanagan from the prime minister.

Andrew MacDougall, a staff member in the Prime Minister’s Office, called Flanagan’s comments “repugnant, ignorant, and appalling” on Twitter. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also issued a statement using the same words.

In Alberta, Flanagan managed the 2012 Wildrose election campaign and polls suggested the party had a good shot at ending the Progressive Conservatives’ four-decade dynasty in the province.

But anti-gay and racist remarks by two candidates in the lead-up to the election helped sink the party’s bid for power. Leader Danielle Smith stood by those candidates at the time. On Thursday, however, she distanced herself from Flanagan.

“To be clear, Dr. Flanagan does not speak for me or the Wildrose caucus and he will have no role — formal or informal — with our organization going forward,” she said in a statement.

“There is no language strong enough to condemn Dr. Flanagan’s comments. Child pornography is a despicable crime that seriously harms all those involved, including the viewer.”

Premier Alison Redford was equally revolted.

“It turned my stomach,” she said. “I am absolutely disgusted by it. I think it is a perfect example of people who take ideological arguments too far.”

The Manning Centre in Calgary ditched Flanagan as a speaker at an upcoming conference.

Flanagan’s words have landed him in trouble before. In 2010, he mused on CBC that U.S. President Barack Obama should consider assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for releasing highly sensitive government documents.

Flanagan apologized and said he wasn’t serious, but Calgary police investigated whether he should be charged with incitement to murder.

A Toronto woman, outraged by Flanagan’s quip, sent him an email. She said he replied with a threat that she “better be careful, we know where you live.”

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