Tom Flanagan, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former campaign manager for Alberta’s Wildrose party, has apologized for saying he had "grave doubts" about jailing people who view child pornography.

The comments drew heavy criticism from the prime minister's office and the Wildrose, as well as the University of Calgary where Flanagan had been working as a professor. The university announced Thursday afternoon that Flanagan will be retiring.

The conservative pundit and political scientist said in a statement that he "absolutely condemn[s] the sexual abuse of children."

Tom Flanagan Statement

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.

He made the comments at a lecture in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday night about changes to the Indian Act. They were recorded and posted online by someone in attendance.

"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," said Flanagan.

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

The statements were met with jeers from the crowd.

Flanagan goes on to say that he is not part of the Conservative government, and that he has some doubts about the some of the party’s justice initiatives.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the comments on Twitter.

"Tom Flanagan’s comments on child pornography are repugnant, ignorant, and appalling," tweeted director of communications Andrew MacDougall.

The Wildrose released a statement saying that Flanagan would have no role with the party going forward. "There is no language strong enough to condemn Dr. Flanagan’s comments," reads the statement.

"Child pornography is a despicable crime that seriously harms all those involved, including the viewer. The viewing of child pornography first requires the production of child pornography, which causes untold suffering and abuse towards children."

The kind of thinking behind Flanagan's remarks about child pornography is dangerous, says Rosalind Prober of Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based group dedicated to combating child sexual exploitation.

"If you're watching it, you're on the demand side. And if you're watching it, children will be on the supply side," Prober said.

"The more you watch — and some people are paying for it, right? — the more it will be supplied. You will get more sexually abused children."

Dropped from Power & Politics

Flanagan was a member of the Power & Politics Power Panel. The CBC announced Thursday he would no longer be appearing on the program.

The University of Calgary also released a statement Thursday distancing themselves from Flanagan and the comments.

"In the university’s view, child pornography is not a victimless crime. All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children. Viewing pictures serves to create more demand for these terrible images, which leads to further exploitation of defenseless children."

Fellow conservative political scientist Barry Cooper defended his longtime colleague and friend. Nobody has really listened to Flanagan's argument, he said.

"What are you going to do about child pornography, and is the control of the consumption the best way to go, or is it the easiest way to go," Cooper said. "I mean, it's as if you cannot discuss child pornography without bringing up all these other emotions."

Dan Shapiro, a researcher at the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, said an academic setting is where ideas are meant to be tested.

"We should be able to have rational conversations about controversial moral and legal topics", Shapiro said.

The university noted that the professor has been on a "research and scholarship leave" since January. They later added that he will remain on sabbatical until June, when he will retire.

Flanagan was scheduled to speak at a Manning Centre conference next week but has since been dropped. The Calgary-based centre bills itself as an organization "building Canada's conservative movement."