Former advisor to Stephen Harper apologizes for supporting right to watch child porn

Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, says it's unlikely the premier did anything …Noted Conservative political commentator Tom Flanagan has apologized after enraging the public and his own supporters by standing up for a persecuted group of Canadians — viewers of child pornography.

Flanagan is a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and currently a politics professor at the University of Calgary. He received swift rebuke for his comments from the Prime Minister's Office and CBC News, where he had frequently appeared as a political commentator.

The University of Calgary and Alberta’s Wildrose Party also expressed disappointment in his comments, which launched a firestorm of unrest on social media on Thursday.

In a tangential moment during a discussion on aboriginal issues at the University of Lethbridge on Wednesday, Flanagan said he supported the right to watch child pornography because it didn't cause harm to anyone.

 “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 said, as captured in a video posted to YouTube.

"It is a real issue of personal liberty. To what extent do we put people in jail for doing something for which they do not harm another person."

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Flanagan, who captained the federal Conservative election campaign in 2004, is known for holding controversial opinions. He published a book suggesting First Nations meInsert Blockquotembers should embrace assimilation and said they were merely the “first immigrants” to Canada.

During a 2009 talk at the University of Manitoba, Flanagan expressed his thoughts on child pornography as “just pictures.” He did not expand on the opinion at the time.

His apology, as posted by CBC’s Kady O’Malley:

I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse of children, including the use of children to produce pornography. 

These are crimes and should be punished under the law. Last night, in an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography. 

My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children. 

I apologize unreservedly to all who were offended by my statement, and most especially to victims of sexual abuse and their families.

The idea that viewing child pornography doesn't hurt anyone else is a load of garbage, of course.

Studies into child pornography show that the majority of children who appear in the videos have been abducted or physically forced to participate. The act can have long-lasting debilitating physical, social and psychological impacts on the children.

Considering the videos are purposefully created for others to watch, distributors and collectors of child pornography should, and are, considered partially culpable for its creation.

Canadian laws prohibit the creation, possession and distribution of child pornography for just that reason.

Still, Flanagan's reasoning appears to have some support.

A New York appeals court ruled last year that simply viewing child pornography was not a crime in that state, absent evidence that the material was being collected or saved in some way.

[ Related: Tom Flanagan compared to Sasquatch for wearing bison coat ]

Flanagan said he has never viewed child pornography, but was on the mailing list of the North American Man Boy Love Association for a couple of years.

While he made it clear his opinion was not shared by the Conservative government, it still is unlike to wash well with his ilk.

CBC News announced that Flanagan has been dropped as a commentator on the show Power & Politics following his comments.

"While we support and encourage free speech across the country and a diverse range of voices, we believe Mr. Flanagan's comments to have crossed the line and impacted his credibility as a commentator for us," said CBC News Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire.

Elizabeth Cannon, President of the University of Calgary, also stated the Flanagan did not represent the views of the institution. Alberta’s Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith said the party would cut ties with the former strategist.

There is no language strong enough to condemn Dr. Flanagan’s comments. Child pornography is a despicable crime that seriously harms all those involved, including the viewer,” Smith said in a statement.

Flanagan last captured the public’s attention by bizarrely wearing a massive fur coat during an appearance on CBC's Power & Politics.

At the time, the public dismissed Flanagan as a joke. This time, he should be dismissed as something much worse.