A Liberal candidate in Alberta is apologizing after the Conservative Party pointed out he made controversial comments about sexual assault.

John Reilly, a former judge and candidate in the Wildrose, Alta., riding, last week said there are different levels of sexual assault requiring different levels of punishment.

He apologized Thursday.

"I unreservedly apologize for the clumsy example I used during my remarks last week on the Rutherford Show. I deeply regret any distress they may have caused and any misunderstanding about my own — and my party's — zero tolerance for sexual assault of any kind," Reilly said in a statement.


Former provincial judge John Reilly is running for the Liberals in Alberta. swervecalgary.com

"I want to make explicitly clear that I believe that all sexual assaults should be prosecuted and the guilty individuals should be subject to sanctions."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called the remarks disgraceful and said Reilly will regret them the rest of his life, but said he will remain a Liberal candidate.

"This candidate has issued an unreserved apology for these remarks," Ignatieff said.

"This is a court judge. He has served the community with a long record of distinguished public service ... on that grounds he can continue as a candidate."

Flanagan defends 'great' candidate

Reilly also received vocal support from a prominent conservative figure, Tom Flanagan, who called the controversy over his remarks "gotcha politics" and said it "exemplifies the worst side of Canadian political campaigning." He added he was "embarrassed" of his party for revealing the story.

The outspoken Flanagan, panel interview Thursday on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, added Reilly would be a "great candidate" who knows more about sexual assault than anyone.

"He did not defend sexual assault; he did not discount it," said Flanagan,  former chief of staff and an ex-senior adviser to Stephen Harper.  

"He did not say that you shouldn't go to prison for sexual assault. He made a right-hand argument that some crimes are worse than others, and that sentencing laws don't provide sufficient discretion to judges. It's a serious argument."

While Flanagan said he would never vote for him, he argued Canadians "need more people like him in politics."

"This is a very sad moment for Canadian politics, and I'm embarrassed that my own party, the Conservatives, and the Liberals are equally involved in condemning John Reilly," he said. "It just makes me sad."

However, Manitoba Conservative candidate Shelly Glover said Reilly's comments are unacceptable.

"No means no, and unfortunately this candidate has commented about a very serious offence ... and stated that he still — even though it's been condemned by Michael Igantieff — he still believes that sex offenders, some of them, ought not to go to prison," Glover told CBC host Solomon during an earlier segment on the show .

Glover, the candidate for Saint Boniface, said Reilly should be focused on the victims of sexual assault..

"I will stand by [sex assault victims] 100 per cent in assuring them that Conservatives will push forward to ensure victims come first, not the offenders," she said.  

Remarks made on radio

The Conservatives tipped off the media to the radio interview where Reilly discussed the need for judges to have the ability to look at sentencing on a case-by-case basis.

"Well, you know, there are sexual assaults and there are sexual assaults," Reilly said.

He pointed to a case he'd seen where a 19 or 20-year-old man digitally penetrated his girlfriend while she was sleeping. Reilly said he didn't think a three-year sentence would have been appropriate.

In an interview reported by the Calgary Herald Thursday afternoon, Reilly wouldn't comment further on the sexual assault case he discussed on the radio, although he said the Conservative Party was "vicious" for sending out transcripts and audio clips of the show.

"I’m very concerned about cases of violence against women. I don’t agree that every one of them [sexual assault cases] should result in periods of imprisonment because I think there are more enlightened ways of dealing with them," Reilly said.

Last year, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was considering reviewing the criminal code to bring back the word rape. Currently, the term sexual assault is used instead. Sexual assault can be anything from sexual touching to rape.

Reilly's apology comes a day after Ignatieff turfed a Quebec candidate after reports surfaced the candidate had called Aboriginals "featherheads" and said they couldn't hold jobs.