Independent Senator Andre Pratte is apologizing for any offence he caused by using the "N-word" twice during a committee hearing Wednesday evening.

Members of the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee had gathered to listen to testimony about Bill C-16, the government's proposed law that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Both terms would also be added to hate speech laws.

Pratte was arguing in favour of calling transgender Canadians by their preferred pronoun, and used the slur to make a point about how hurtful language can be.

"In a civilized society, there are things, there are simply things that you do not, you cannot say," Pratte said as he questioned several witnesses who are against the bill.

"Some people may think that blacks should not be referred by their name, that they should all be called 'hey n-----,' but you don't call them 'hey n-----', you call them by their name, because this is things that you do. So the same kind of thing would apply to transgender people."

Pratte then asked the witnesses: "You don't call them by a name that they don't think they should be called, you call them by the name they choose, and by the pronoun they chose, because this is the respectful thing to do, isn't it?"

The former Quebec journalist later apologized, and tried to explain why he used the word.

In an email to CBC News, Pratte wrote: "I was saying that that was the kind of language that should be forbidden, like misgendering … so of course if even in that context it offended someone, I apologize unreservedly."

Free Speech 

Several witnesses at Wednesday's committee argued that C-16 threatens free speech, and that the government is trying to compel its citizens to use certain language.

The main issue of contention is the use of pronouns: some in the LGBT community find he" or "she" hurtful, and prefer a range of alternatives, including they, their, xi or zee.

At the hearing, several witnesses, including lawyer Jared Brown, argued the bill would make it a crime to not use an individual's preferred pronoun.

But at a previous committee hearing, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that simply is not the case, adding C-16 does not "compel somebody to have to call somebody by the pronoun 'he' or 'she' or otherwise."

Despite opposition from some witnesses, the government bill passed the committee with no amendments Thursday and is headed to the Red Chamber for a final vote.