Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-adviser sorry for child-porn remark

Widely criticized for suggesting those who view it shouldn't be jailed

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EDMONTON -- Former Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan has been widely condemned for suggesting people who look at child pornography shouldn't be jailed.

Flanagan, who used to advise Prime Minister Stephen Harper, made the remark during a lecture Wednesday in Alberta. His words were recorded on a cellphone and 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 earlier.

His research leave 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.

The incident occurred during a lecture about 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.

One of the audience members, Levi Little Mustache, asked Flanagan about remarks he made in 2009 regarding child porn. Flanagan had been giving a lecture at the University of Manitoba when the student paper reported he strayed into the issue of child porn. The Manitoban quoted Flanagan as saying: "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 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, said everyone was shocked when Flanagan repeated his view. "The whole crowd just kind of gasped. Everyone was just taken aback by that. And then the moderator just kind of shook his head."

He said four people walked out.

Sgt. Mike Lokken with 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 kidnapped the girl.

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 Harper go back to Reform party days when they were policy advisers for the party.

Flanagan twice served as Harper's leadership campaign director and also ran the 2004 federal Conservative election campaign.

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 issued a statement using the same words.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 A16

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