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Tom Flanagan's 2009 Child Porn Comments Led To 2013 Uproar (AUDIO)

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It took only one day for <a href=Tom Flanagan's career to unravel last week, but the process began back in 2009 with comments on child pornography at the University of Manitoba. (CP/Alamy)" />
It took only one day for Tom Flanagan's career to unravel last week, but the process began back in 2009 with comments on child pornography at the University of Manitoba. (CP/Alamy)

It took only one day for Tom Flanagan's career to unravel last week, but the process began back in 2009.

Flanagan's statement last Wednesday during a lecture at the University of Lethbridge that he has "grave doubts" about incarcerating viewers of child pornography because they do "not harm another person" led to public outrage and the termination of a number of professional engagements.

Shocking as they were to some, the comments from the man who was once one of Stephen Harper's closest advisers and who ran the Conservative campaign in 2004 did not come out of thin air but rather in response to a question about child pornography remarks he made at a similar talk nearly three and a half years ago.

In November 2009, Flanagan gave two lectures on campaign ethics and strategy at the University of Manitoba. The appearance, much like his talk last week in Lethbridge, generated opposition from the Aboriginal community.

It was that opposition that led Laura Blakley Brouwer, a student at the school, to cover the lectures for the student newspaper the Manitoban. It was an aside on the subject of child porn, however, that would end up becoming the larger story.

While talking about the adversarial nature of our political and legal systems, Flanagan brought up how former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day got himself into trouble by suggesting that lawyer Lorne Goddard, who had defended a man accused of possessing child pornography, supported child pornography.

Then Flanagan made a notable digression.

"That actually would be another interesting debate for a seminar, like what's wrong with child pornography, in the sense they're just pictures? But I'm not here to debate that today." (You can listen to Flanagan's 2009 comments, and the surrounding context, in the video at the top of this story.)

Blakley Brouwer said the comments felt like they came out of "left field."

"I looked at my friend sitting next to me and we both kind of went 'Whaaat?' Blakley Brouwer told HuffPost. "[The audience] just sort of froze, you could tell they kind of stiffened up a little bit."

Blakley Brouwer said she was subsequently contacted by someone who identified himself as a researcher for one of the country's major federal parties and then by a reporter from The Canadian Press. But the story didn't go anywhere beyond the one article Blakley Brouwer wrote for the student paper.

Skip ahead to 2013 and Levi Little Mustache, a youth programs officer and member of Alberta's Blood Tribe, was scouring the Internet for information about Flanagan ahead of his appearance at the University of Lethbridge. He found Blakley Brouwer's 2009 article and decided to ask Flanagan about it.

Deeply involved with the Idle No More movement and unhappy with the Conservative government's management of First Nations affairs, Little Mustache planned to attend Flanagan's lecture on "Reconsidering the Indian Act" and share his views and those of his community.

"We wanted to go there and expose the ugliness of this guy, that his whole career is based on racism and the abolishment of the Indian Act," said Little Mustache. "His direct influence on Stephen Harper, that's the reason Idle No More showed up."

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On the night of the lecture, Flanagan spoke at length about the history of the the Indian Act before Little Mustache got his chance to ask a question. (You can listen to complete audio of everything that happened that evening here.)

Arnell Tailfeathers, an artist who became friends with Little Mustache through Idle No More, was there to capture it all on video.

"There was a lot of emotion in the room" filled mostly with First Nations people, Tailfeathers told HuffPost. "A little bit of heckling too, I suppose, but that's bound to happen, there's a lot of emotion that comes up when your culture is somewhat attacked."

As for Little Mustache's question, Tailfeathers didn't think Flanagan would even answer.

"I was shocked when Levi told me what he found, but then I figured 'well, he's probably not going to comment on this.'"

Regardless, Tailfeathers made sure he was ready for Flanagan's answer. When it came, he could barely believe his ears.

"It was really shocking, to me the whole room just kind of went awkward for maybe five seconds," said Tailfeathers.

Later that night, Tailfeathers would post his footage on YouTube and share the link on Twitter. Before long, Flanagan was trending on Twitter and HuffPost Canada posted the first of what would become a deluge of stories.

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Flanagan would apologize to those who were offended, but not before he had been denounced by the Prime Minister's Office and Alberta Premier Alison Redford and dropped by CBC's "Power & Politics," Alberta's Wildrose Party and the Manning Centre conference.

Flanagan's primary employer, the University of Calgary, distanced itself from the man who once had the ear of the prime minister and announced that the political science professor had previously made the decision to retire.

The scale of the reaction went far beyond what Little Mustache and Tailfeathers had set out to accomplish.

"I never went there with the intention to destroy a man," said Little Mustache. Tailfeathers said he even feels some "remorse" about what happened.

"But at the same time, those are some pretty dangerous views. He's very influential," said Tailfeathers. "He did it to himself too. He could have not said anything or he could have elaborated further on what he had said."

On Monday, Flanagan did just that, elaborating on his position in the National Post and arguing that a "regime of counselling and therapy" might be better for those who view child pornography and for society at large.

While Flanagan acknowledged that he made a mistake in answering the Little Mustache's question in a "callous" way, he wrote that the whole situation "was a trap, not a bona fide question."

That's a characterization Little Mustache and Tailfeathers don't agree with.

"He knew there were cameras in the room," said Little Mustache. "There was a big news reporter-type camera there."

"I think he's just trying to do damage control right now. But the damage is already done. That's all it is."

Tailfeathers said Flanagan "had the floor" and could have elaborated on his comments.

"But he didn't. He said what he said."

Little Mustache also points out that in his answer, and explanation in the Post, Flanagan failed to recognize the link between his question, child sexual abuse and residential schools.

That's a point Blakley Brouwer also thinks Flanagan may have failed to consider.

"It seemed so wilfully ignorant or just completely naive that he would say that he didn't think it would be a big deal to say this," said Blakley Brouwer. "And I don't know if he knew that any of them were residential school survivors. But at the very least there's a lot of people out there who are children of residential school survivors."

During his lecture last Wednesday, Flanagan described residential schools as a "visionary program," a choice of words that rankled Little Mustache.

"Grand, utopian, visionary changes [to First Nations education] have all failed. Residential schools, that was a visionary program," Flanagan said.

Little Mustache said comments like Flanagan's are a symptom of an undercurrent of racism in Canadian society, one which the Harper government, aided by the media, uses as a "smokescreen."

Like some other First Nations groups, Little Mustache wants Harper to make a public statement condemning racism.

"Canadians are blinded by the racism to actually see what's going on in Canada."

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