ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The Progressive Conservative leadership race in Newfoundland and Labrador took a strange twist Thursday as the party disqualified one of its three candidates.
The party's rules committee says Wayne Bennett, a retired naval logistics officer, made discriminatory comments on his Twitter account and failed to uphold party principles.
In its response released Thursday, the panel finds that Bennett's comments are "serious and egregious breaches of the constitution and the principles, aims and values" of the party.
"Additionally, Mr. Bennett continues to defend and support that he is correct in holding these views and professing these comments.
"The rules committee concludes therefore that there is a high likelihood then that Mr. Bennett will continue to use the platform of the leadership campaign to express similar offensive commentary and engage in similar offensive behaviour."
In a series of tweets last month, Bennett compared people he accused of being Tory trolls to terrorists.
"Anyone can be a troll, including you," he wrote to an account he said he believes was set up by a party operative to undermine his campaign. "We used to trust Muslim women and children but not now."
Bennett, a town councillor in Howley in western Newfoundland, has said he didn't mean the comment to be racist. He said he was referring to Canadian soldiers targeted by suicide bombers during the Afghanistan mission.
He also tweeted that the NDP candidate in a hotly contested provincial byelection set for Wednesday is the best choice, but later clarified he is not endorsing her.
Bennett said Thursday he has been denied fair process and should be allowed to appeal. He will also ask the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to set aside the party's decision, he added in an interview.
He said he has filed a complaint with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary alleging cyberbullying.
"Both my Twitter accounts have been hacked, my email account has been hacked."
Bennett said he never deleted the controversial tweets, yet they disappeared from his feed.
Tommy Williams, co-chairman of the party leadership convention committee, said the decision by the Tory rules panel is final with no internal appeal.
"These are remarks that can be seen to be discriminatory both on race and gender," he said in an interview. "That's not something that we stand for.
"That was totally offensive to the party as a whole."
Williams said the party is moving forward from the Bennett "distraction" and will refund his $10,000 leadership deposit.
"If Mr. Bennett wishes to seek some other redress then that's totally up to himself."
A leadership convention was called for July in St. John's after former premier Kathy Dunderdale resigned Jan. 24 amid increasing criticism and dismal approval ratings.
Still in the leadership race are perceived frontrunner Frank Coleman, a Corner Brook businessman, and fisheries magnate Bill Barry, CEO of the Barry Group of companies.