OTTAWA — Southeast Manitoba MP Ted Falk says he supported Tuesday’s federal apology for past state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTTQ* Canadians, but couldn’t applaud Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because his remarks went beyond historical wrongs.
"I firmly believe in the apology and I stand behind the apology," said Falk, one of a handful of Tory MPs who did not stand or applaud during the apology. "I think some of the statements went further than that."
Trudeau apologized Tuesday in the House of Commons to Canadians who suffered persecution through military and public-service purges, discriminatory convictions and police raids.
"We cannot forget our past. The state orchestrated a culture of stigma and fear," he said, noting many who suffered have since died.
But at least a dozen Tory MPs missed his remarks, including some who left the chamber beforehand — something various Liberal party staffers pointed out to press-gallery reporters Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a handful of Conservatives stayed in the chamber but did not rise to their feet alongside the scores of MPs and gallery witnesses who did, multiple times, after each party leader spoke.
Falk, who sat with clasped hands during the entire apology, didn’t explain what parts of the speeches he took issue with. But his Ontario colleague, Harold Albrecht, took issue with Trudeau’s remarks about children "who fear rejection because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity and expression."
Trudeau added: "Whether you discover your truth at six or 16 or 60: who you are is valid."
For Evan Wiens, it’s a missed opportunity. "I am not surprised by Mr. Falk not standing; I would not expect anything different from him, unfortunately."
In 2013, Falk suggested Wiens, a gay Steinbach teenager, had staged an incident in which he faced homophobic slurs during two separate television interviews after he pushed for the right to set up a gay-straight alliance at his high school. The exchange gained widespread attention in a byelection Falk won.
Though Wiens says it’s water under the bridge, he admits to still being annoyed by a private letter Falk sent, where he apologized while heavily stressing religious freedom. "He never made a public apology; that's what irked me," Wiens said. "It just felt like nothing."
Wiens said Tuesday’s remarks in the Commons "warmed my heart" but said it as disrespectful for Falk to purposely sit when most of the chamber applauded. "Whether you believe that gay people should have rights or not, when you're witnessing an apology for something that was such wrongdoing, at least give respect to those who died, for those who went to prison."
Falk’s office did not respond to emails and voicemails asking to speak about his views.
Wiens knows what he’ll say if he crosses paths with Falk: "When are you going to join in, Ted? Because you're welcome to join our cause… to be with us in our struggle, as an ally."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wouldn’t say whether it was disrespectful for his MPs to walk out or not stand.
"You'd have to ask them what their particulars are," Scheer said. "With the spirit of yesterday, I don't think it's the time to politicize it."
He focused on his own Tuesday speech in which he lamented the lost potential of Canadians purged from the military and public service, remarks he said were "very sincere, on behalf of myself individually and on behalf of our caucus."
Toronto MP Rob Oliphant, who identifies as gay, said he does not begrudge those who did not applaud or skipped the event entirely. "Everyone comes to these things in a different route, with different biases, different understandings," he said, adding his own Liberal party has struggled with these issues.
As for Wiens, he’s now studying political science at the University of Winnipeg, and is involved in Indigenous and LGBTTQ* activism. He's pondering a master's degree, and a possible, future run at federal politics.
He says Bill 18, which in 2013 enshrined anti-bullying laws that compel schools had to accommodate students who start gay-straight alliances, unleashed hurtful opinions that ultimately pushed Manitobans to embrace gay rights.
He marched this summer in Steinbach’s second Pride rally.
"You're walking down your hometown's main street and you're part of a Pride celebration and people aren't yelling at you; you're free to be yourself — that was such an emotional moment for me," he said. "Southeast Manitoba has changed a lot."
— with files from The Canadian Press
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"
Updated on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 8:48 PM CST: fixes typos