The Conservative candidate in a Manitoba federal byelection race has angered a local teenager by openly questioning whether the taunting he experienced in front of a CBC News camera was real or not.
Evan Wiens, 17, is demanding an apology from Ted Falk for suggesting he would stage his own bullying incident in his efforts to promote a gay-straight alliance at his school.
"To think that I would stage something like that to get attention, that's really insulting to me," he said Thursday.
Wiens told CBC News in February that he was the only openly gay student at Steinbach Regional Secondary School, but he was starting a gay-straight alliance in the hopes of encouraging others to come forward.
He spoke out amid a heated debate about the Manitoba government's anti-bullying legislation, which requires schools to accommodate students who want to start anti-bullying clubs, including gay-straight alliances.
A number of religious educators and others in Steinbach opposed the legislation — then known as Bill 18 — saying it infringes on their freedoms.
- Manitoba's anti-bullying law opposed by religious schools
- Anti-bullying bill like 'persecution' in Steinbach
During the February interview, Wiens was taunted by other students who made quips like "Penis!" and "I'd tell a gay joke, but…" as they walked past him.
Those remarks were caught on camera, with Wiens describing them as examples of bullying.
"I get bullied really often, and those types of incidents happen quite often to me even when media is not around," he said Thursday.
'We don't know,' says Falk
The CBC News interview was brought up during an interview with Falk that was published Thursday in The Carillon, the newspaper in Steinbach.
While Falk acknowledged that homosexual people do face bullying, he questioned whether the taunting that Wiens experienced during the interview was real or not.
"Whether that was staged we don't know," Falk told the newspaper.
When asked if he was suggesting the teens had staged the scene, Falk replied, "By the organizers, yeah."
Wiens said he was shocked and hurt by the political candidate's comment.
"My own journey with Bill 18 was so long ago, and I'm just confused why he would think that it would be necessary to say that I would stage a bullying incident for myself," he said.
In a statement emailed to CBC News, Falk stood by his questioning.
"I have no idea if it was staged or not," he wrote.
Falk added that he is "100 per cent against bullying of anyone, anywhere and for any reason. Bullying is bullying, no matter who it is directed against."
The NDP's candidate in Provencher, Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, issued a statement late Friday calling on Falk to apologize to Wiens.
"I am both sad and disappointed that Mr. Falk has chosen to use his candidacy in this byelection as a platform to question the integrity of a brave young man like Evan Wiens," she said.
"I admire Evan's strength in turning a personal struggle into an opportunity to foster understanding and a sense of community amongst his peers at Steinbach Regional Secondary School. Our young people deserve our support and respect."