05/18/2017 02:15 EDT | Updated 05/18/2017 10:22 EDT

Senator Andre Pratte Sorry For Using N-Word While Discussing Words That Shouldn't Be Used

Andre Pratte joined the Senate in 2016.

OTTAWA — Sen. Andre Pratte apologized Thursday for using a notorious racial slur during a Senate committee hearing, where he uttered the so-called "N-word" as an example of an epithet that should never be used.

In an interview with the The Canadian Press, Pratte said he was trying to make the point during Wednesday's hearing that there are limits to free speech when speaking about people, especially those who are vulnerable and subject to discrimination.

"In making that point, I mentioned black people, for instance, and that's when I used the word," Pratte said.

If he offended people by using the word in that context, he apologizes unreservedly, Pratte said.

Sen. Andre Pratte joined the Senate in 2016 following a 35-year career in journalism. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

"Obviously I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," he said. "I accept it was an improper choice of example ... and I apologize that for that."

Committee witnesses at the Senate legal affairs committee were making free speech arguments while debating the Liberal government's legislation to bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression.

If passed, the legislation would make it illegal to deny someone a job or to discriminate against them in the workplace on the basis of their gender identity or how they express it.

It would also amend the Criminal Code to extend hate speech laws.

Pratte, who joined the Senate 2016 following a 35-year career in journalism, supports the bill.

"It is simply a matter of protecting transgender people from discrimination," he said. "It is a very simple bill, really."

The Liberal government is also facing pressure from the federal NDP and members of the transgender community to take additional action beyond the bill, calling for the removal of a federal regulation that prohibits airlines from transporting anyone who "does not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification presented."

"I accept it was an improper choice of example ... and I apologize that for that."

In a statement Thursday, Transport Canada said identity screening regulations were changed in 2010 following a security incident involving a woman wearing a veil who allegedly boarded a flight without her face being checked against her identification.

"Transport Canada amended regulations so that air carriers must screen each passenger by matching the face, date of birth, and gender with that on their identification, otherwise boarding is not allowed," it said.

Regulations were updated again in 2015, the department said, noting age, gender, or facial characteristics could vary on a passenger's identification.

"Airlines have discretion to resolve any apparent discrepancies when comparing passengers' with their identification," it said, noting there have been no reported incidents of transgender people being denied boarding since 2010.

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