TORONTO — An Ontario mayor was criticized for tweets that related the Conservatives' decision to hire veterans as additional security during the federal election campaign to protection measures used by dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The remarks prompted senior Tory Jason Kenney to call for an apology, but Oakville Mayor Rob Burton would only do so to veterans themselves and not the Conservative party.
Burton made the comments in response to word that former members of the Canadian military are acting as security guards at Stephen Harper's campaign events, on top of RCMP officers who are assigned to the prime minister's personal detail.
"Any political parties had private police using veterans before?" Burton tweeted along with links to Wikipedia pages on Hitler's Brownshirts and Mussolini's Blackshirts. "Any others?"
His comments prompted outrage on social media, some of whom started using the Twitter hashtag #ResignMayorBurton. Kenney also took to Twitter.
"Mayor Burton of Oakville has compared Canadian military veterans who do private security work to NAZIs. Please apologize," Kenney tweeted on Saturday.
Burton said his comments weren't about veterans specifically and that he wanted to start a discussion about parties that have enlisted private security. He also wanted to illustrate his opinion that hiring private security detail alongside police is a loss to people's rights.
"I'm talking about what a political party is doing, not who they're using to do it," he said in an interview.
"It doesn't matter to me whether these private security detail people are veterans or not, I believe that what we're seeing is the erosion of the rule of law and rights and freedoms ... It's a bad step onto a slippery slope."
He said he was struck by the detail that former Canadian soldiers, who are travelling with members of the media on the Conservative campaign bus, wear suits and earpieces much like the Mounties assigned to protect Stephen Harper.
One member of the private security team, a former sniper, escorted a man out of a Harper event with the help of RCMP officers on Thursday in Markham, Ont., when he tried to line up behind journalists to ask the prime minister a question.
Burton said he expects "every Conservative activist in the country is going to deliberately misunderstand the point and try to refocus the story and make it about vets."
Burton later took to Twitter to apologize to all veterans for his remarks, saying he regrets "any impact on their feelings or pride."
"I celebrate the way they went to fight for freedom," he wrote.
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