Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has backtracked from controversial comments he made Wednesday about having ropes in the jail cells of convicted killers that prompted an accusation that the Quebec senator broke the law.
His office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that said a comment he made earlier in the day to reporters was "inappropriate" and that he regrets not clarifying his views on repeat criminals.
The comments that set off the controversy were made when Boisvenu was asked for his views on the death penalty.
"No, I'm not in favour of the death penalty. I think people need to be given a chance. But other cases should be reconsidered," Boisvenu said, and he went on to talk about convicted murderers who are deemed to have no chance at rehabilitation. He gave serial killer Clifford Olson as an example.
"Basically I think that every murderer should have a rope in his cell and he can decide on his own life. But I'm against the death penalty," Boisvenu said in French. He then talked about the cost of housing convicted killers in jail and also referred to the Shafia family case, in which a mother, father and their son were convicted on Sunday of murdering four members of their own family.
In the statement from his office, Boisvenu said he was making public views that had been expressed to him by victims of crime about their wishes for serial killers.
He said he wanted to withdraw what he said and that he's sorry if he offended people who have been affected by suicide. Boisvenu, who is also a victim of crime because of the murder of his daughter in 2002, said he believes in rehabilitation.
The statement said he would not be doing any interviews, but Boisvenu did speak to reporters again late Wednesday while he was at the Senate's legal affairs committee.
Despite saying in his statement that he was expressing a view that was expressed to him, he told reporters that his comments earlier were a personal opinion.
He said it was an emotional reaction and that he was not trying to re-open a debate but only giving an opinion and that the media reaction surprised him.
Boisvenu's comments stirred controversy throughout the day on Parliament Hill and in question period.
Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel said it is illegal to counsel someone to commit suicide and that in effect was what Boisvenu had done. She demanded to know from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appointed Boisvenu to the Senate in 2010, whether he supported the senator's views.
Harper defends Boisvenu
"The senator has already withdrawn those remarks. Obviously this government is here to help the victims and obviously the family of Mr. Boisvenu was a victim of a terrible crime and this government wants to act to prevent those things from happening in the future," Harper replied.
"That's not good enough. What Senator Boisvenu did is against the law," Turmel shot back.
Harper said Boisvenu, who founded the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association, has suffered horribly in the past and his party understands his emotions.
"This government is focused on making sure we protect victims in the future," the prime minister said.
Boisvenu sits on the committee that is studying the government's omnibus crime bill. It was holding its first meeting on the bill later Wednesday and senators were to hear from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Some questioned whether he should still sit on the committee.
"I believe Mr. Harper should have a good discussion with the senator," Turmel said. If he maintains his views, he should be asked to withdraw from the Senate committee, "because that doesn't represent the Canadian society at all."
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Boisvenu's comments "were obviously completely unacceptable."
"He's also suggesting that the prison system break the Criminal Code, which is equally ludicrous," he said. Rae said Boisvenu's personal experience may have prompted the emotion that led to those remarks but they are still inappropriate.
"I hope Mr. Harper will completely disown them and make it clear that they're not the policies of the government," Rae told reporters.
Boisvenu's fellow senator on the legal and constitutional affairs committee, Conservative Bob Runciman, said Boisvenu's opinion is not one he shares and that the debate on capital punishment should not be reopened.
Runciman said people should understand what Boisvenu has been through because of the loss of his daughter and "extend some appreciation to the trauma and the impact that's had."
He doesn't think Boisvenu needs to withdraw from the Senate committee that studies crime and justice legislation.
"He has huge credibility within Quebec, especially with respect to the tragedy that befell his family and the loss of his daughter. I think he's a valuable member of the committee," said Runciman.
NDP MP Pat Martin, known for not holding back his views, said Boisvenu's comments were "appalling" and called him "an asshole."
"You stuff the Senate full of hacks and flaks and Tory idiots and you're going to get some stupid comments," he said. "Whoever put him there should apologize on his behalf if he's too stupid to apologize himself."