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Tom Flanagan's Child Porn Statements Prompt Wildrose Condemnation

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Tom Flanagan, former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been disowned by the Alberta Wildrose Party after making controversial comments about child pornography at an Alberta university on Wednesday.

The influential conservative strategist and one of the men behind the reshaping of Canada's re-branded conservative movement apologized Thursday, but not before the right wing Albertans, and even the PMO, turned on him.

The Wildrose was quick to distance itself from Flanagan Thursday morning, who called viewing child pornography a "personal liberties" issue, and something that "doesn't harm anyone."

"I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures," Flanagan said.

"It is a real issue of personal liberty, to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person."

Flanagan made the comments at a University of Lethbridge moderated discussion after he was questioned by a member of the audience about his thoughts on the current state of Native affairs in Canada and to clarify questionable comments made by the former conservative campaign manager about child porn in 2009.

Alberta's official opposition - the Wildrose Party - was quick to condemn Flanagan's remarks, as did the CBC, which fired the political commentator, and the Manning Centre, which had him booked as one of the speakers at MNC2013 in Ottawa next week.

“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. The viewing of child pornography first requires the production of child pornography, which causes untold suffering and abuse towards children," said Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

"In no uncertain terms, Wildrose condemns the production, transmission and viewing of child pornography.

“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.”

Smith backed her remarks of how strongly her party feels about child pornography by citing a private members bill put forward by Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth three years ago, "compelling the mandatory reporting of child pornography and we were very proud that the bill received unanimous support in the Alberta Legislature."

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The CBC also quickly and publicly ended its relationship with Flanagan.

"In light of recent remarks made by Tom Flanagan at the University of Lethbridge, CBC News has taken the decision to end our association with him as a commentator on Power and Politics," said CBC News General Manager and Editor-In-Chief Jennifer McGuire.

"While we support and encourage free speech across the country and a diverse range of voices, we believe Mr. Flanagan's comments to have crossed the line and impacted his credibility as a commentator for us."

Flanagan was also scheduled to speak at the Manning Centre's MNC2013 in Ottawa next week.

His name appeared on the online list of speakers, which includes, among others, Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to the PM, Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, and Jay Hill, Former Conservative House Leader.

Although Flanagan appeared on that list on Thursday morning, his name had been taken down by noon, confirmed centre spokesman Olivier Ballou.

Flanagan apologized for his comments in a statement posted online by the CBC.

"I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse of children, including the use of children to produce pornography. These are crimes and should be punished under the law.

"Last night, in an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography. 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 and Harper have collaborated in publishing and political efforts since the mid 1990s, with Flanagan eventually running the PM's successful campaigns for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2002 and the Conservative Party of Canada in 2004. He was also the senior communications advisor for the Conservatives's successful 2005-2006 campaign.

But the PMO also seemed to distance itself from Flanagan, as Harper's communications head Andrew MacDougall tweeted his revulsion to the comments made by the strategist.

CORRECTION: An earlier front page photo for this story used an image of someone other than Tom Flanagan. The image has been updated. We regret the error.

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