During the 1991 Saskatchewan election campaign, a group of Conservative organizers were having a bit of fun one night with a video camera. Seventeen years later, the tape of that night has surfaced.
Among the people on the tape were now-Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and now-Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski. But it’s Lukiwski’s comments on the tape that have raised ire.
“Let me put it to you this way,” a much younger and moustachioed Lukiwski tells the camera. “There’s As and there’s Bs. The As are guys like me, the Bs are homosexual faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit disease.”
The rest of the tape has offensive comments throughout, including Brad Wall attacking then-NDP leader Roy Romanow using an Eastern European accent, and another party worker joking about sending a letter bomb to a union leader.
In Ottawa on Thursday, the reaction was swift as NDP MP Bill Siksay rose in Question Period to read the statements into the record, and asked that Lukiwski make an immediate, unequivocal apology to all members of the gay community.
As Lukiwski was not in the House, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan reminded the members that the tape was 16 or 17 years old, but said “The comments do sound distressing and inappropriate and they will have due attention.”
Reaction outside of the House was immediate. Siksay repeated his call for an immediate apology. Gay Bloc MP Réal Ménard said that he felt hurt by the comments, but wasn’t surprised because the Conservatives have refused to support gay rights.
Gay Liberal MP Scott Brison took that sentiment a bit further.
“Mr Harper has done his darndest to try to put a thin veneer of social progressivity on the Alliance party by calling it the Conservative party but there’s a reason that they dropped the word ‘Progressive’ from their moniker — it’s called truth in advertising.”
It wasn’t for another 30 minutes that Lukiwski himself finally appeared in the foyer to make a brief statement, and take three questions from the assembled media.
“I just want to publicly say that I am truly, truly sorry,” Lukiwski began. “I’m ashamed for the comments. If I could take those comments back, I would. I would give anything in the world to take those comments back. They do not reflect the type of person that I am. I do not believe in the type of comments that I made. I do not believe the context behind those comments. I can only say that on behalf of myself, my family, my children I am sorry.”
When asked what his views on gay people are today, Lukiwski struggled.
“That’s not… I do not… I do not share the views if you’re saying… I have the utmost respect. I have no prejudice against gay people whatsoever.”
Lukiwski also called Bill Siksay and made a personal apology, which Siksay believes was sincere. But while Siksay waits to see what happens next, it seems that little will.
Peter Van Loan says that with a quick and unequivocal apology the matter is closed. The Liberals, however, believe that Lukiwski should at the very least be removed from his position as Parliamentary Secretary, and they cite the precedent of his predecessor, Larry Spencer, who was kicked out of the Alliance caucus when he said that homosexuality should be outlawed.
Egale Canada’s executive director Helen Kennedy says that the apology did not go far enough.
“He hasn’t apologized to the community that he offended,” Kennedy says. “He apologized for getting caught, he apologized on behalf of his family, he said he was ashamed of what he said, but he never directed his apology to the gay community. In fact, he never said the word gay once in his apology.”
Kennedy believes that he should be stripped of his Parliamentary Secretary duties at the very least. She would like to see a statement from the Prime Minister’s office about it directed to the gay community.
What is most illuminating about this incident is that it highlights some of the differences between politics in Canada and the United States. While homophobic statements are still frequently heard in the US, that a 17-year-old videotape can become political scandal in Canada is heartening to some, but also a sign that the struggle is not yet over.
“We have to recognize that those kinds of comments are a part of everyday life in Canada for gay and lesbian people,” Siksay warns. “There probably isn’t a day that goes by that there aren’t similarly disturbing made to a gay or lesbian young person in Canada, so I think that it is important that when they surface that we take them very seriously, that we expect a high degree of accountability for them, and that we make sure that appropriate apology and appropriate action is modelled so that we understand that this isn’t acceptable in our society.”
Watch the clip of Lukiwski’s comments below: