EDMONTON - A former high-level political strategist criticized for his comments on child pornography says he was led into a trap.
Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, says in a guest column in the National Post that the question that prompted his controversial remarks came out of left field and had nothing to do with the native issues forum where he was speaking.
"In 45 years of university teaching, I have tried to deal with every question my students have asked, so I forged ahead here, unaware that this was a trap, not a bona fide question — a dumb mistake for someone of my age and experience," Flanagan wrote Monday in the column.
He said he was unaware that his remarks were being recorded on video. That video was uploaded to the Internet last Wednesday, prompting every group Flanagan was publicly associated with to sever any real or perceived ties with him.
"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 tells the crowd in the cellphone footage.
Flanagan apologized Thursday after the footage from the forum in Lethbridge, Alta., went viral, and did so again in the column.
"The last thing I would want to do is to inflict more hurt on people who’ve already suffered too much," he wrote.
"It still bothers me that I did this, and I can’t say how sorry I am about it. I apologize again, though I know that’s not enough."
Flanagan is a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and at one time advised Reform party leader Preston Manning. Flanagan headed up the federal Conservative campaign in 2004 and ran the Alberta Wildrose party's election campaign a year ago.
Harper's office and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith immediately denounced his remarks. They said that looking at child pornography perpetuates the criminal exploitation of children.
CBC-TV also announced it would no longer use Flanagan as a commentator on its "Power and Politics" show.
In the column, Flanagan said his "taste in pictures" comment was a "callous phrase." He said he used it because, as a professor, he is trained to get students to think, which sometimes means challenging them with unconventional questions to prompt them to look at issues in different ways.
"It is the default mode to which I recur automatically, as I did in Lethbridge when I was asked about child pornography."
He acknowledged he made similar comments at the University of Manitoba in 2009.
Flanagan went on to write that the nuance of his message got lost in the heckles of the Lethbridge crowd.
He further wrote that he doesn't endorse viewing child pornography, but wonders if jailing violators is the best way to rehabilitate them.
"Might a regime of counselling and therapy be better, both for them and for society at large?" he asks in the column.
Smith said Flanagan's editorial explanation "changes nothing for me."
"The comments that he made last week were completely unacceptable and appalling, and I don't think there's any way you can talk your way into having Albertans believe anything that was said was reasonable."
Flanagan, who is in his late 60s, remains on research leave at the University of Calgary. He announced in January that he would be retiring as a professor in June.
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