Veteran Saskatchewan government MLA Lyle Stewart said his decision to invite convicted killer Colin Thatcher as his guest to Wednesday's throne speech was an "error in judgment."
Thatcher was found guilty in 1984 of the first-degree murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson, who was found beaten and shot to death in the garage of her home the previous year.
Thatcher was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years. He was granted full parole in November 2006.
Stewart released a statement Thursday morning on his decision to invite Thatcher to the speech.
"Each MLA is given the opportunity to invite a number of guests to the Throne Speech. It was my decision alone to invite Colin Thatcher, who is a constituent and long-time friend. In retrospect, this was an error in judgment as his presence was a distraction from a very positive and forward-looking Throne Speech, which included a number of new initiatives to keep Saskatchewan families safe in their communities," Stewart said.
Thatcher, 84, was a cabinet minister under the Grant Devine government. He resigned from cabinet four days before Wilson was murdered.
The Canadian Press questioned Stewart after the speech Wednesday.
"Colin was a longtime MLA, and he's a constituent of mine and a friend of mine and that's why I [invited him] and I'm happy that I did," Stewart told The Canadian Press.
"If anybody has a right to be here, it's Colin Thatcher."
Stewart said Thatcher was, "a fine individual" and has had a tough life because of his time in prison.
Premier says he did not vet guest list
On Thursday, after question period, Premier Scott Moe said he was not aware Thatcher was invited to the throne speech and didn't approve the guest list.
"I did see him when I sat down in the house. He's a very recognizable individual."
Moe was asked if he would apologize.
"What would I apologize for?" he said.
"The fact of the matter is we had an individual MLA extend that invitation. I most certainly would not have extended that invitation."
Moe said it was "unfortunate" that a "large focus" on crime prevention and policing in the speech was "overshadowed" by Thatcher's attendance.
The controversy comes in the midst of the province's Violence Prevention Week, which runs from Oct. 24 to 28.
Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck said Stewart's comments Wednesday represented, "an appalling lack of sensitivity."
"I believe that Stewart suggested that if anyone had a right to be here it was Colin Thatcher. That is a quote that will go down in infamy in this province," Beck said.
Beck said Moe "ought to have known" that Thatcher was attending the speech.
"The fact that this didn't send up a red flag to anyone over there is shocking to me."
Beck said Moe's response illustrates the government's priorities.
"Image and whether they got their message on throne speech day, instead of the message they sent by inviting and defending having a convicted wife killer on the floor of the assembly."
Opposition calls for an apology in question period
During the first question period of the fall sitting Thursday, the Opposition called on Moe to apologize for having Thatcher attend the throne speech.
"Does the premier understand the message it sends in a province [with the] highest rates in the nation of interpersonal violence?" Beck asked.
Speaker Randy Weekes dismissed three questions directed at Moe about Thatcher's presence at the speech, eventually allowing one question from Opposition MLA Jennifer Bowes related to Saskatchewan's high rates of interpersonal violence.
"Saskatchewan has the highest rates of domestic violence in the entire country, more than double the national average it is a crisis. What message does it send to the women of this province when the province extends the honour of a throne speech to a convicted killer?"
Minister of Justice Bronwyn Eyre stood to answer.
"The rates of interpersonal violence in this province are a tragedy. They are numbers and rates we must do everything we can to stand together to bring it down, and we take this extremely seriously. We've invested in early intervention and prevention," Eyre said.
On Wednesday, Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell was asked about Thatcher's presence, given the throne speech having a tough-on-crime theme. Tell said he had served his time.
"He has a right to be here just like anyone else. He is a free citizen," Tell said.
Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. In Saskatchewan, www.pathssk.org has listings of available services across the province. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.
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