Conservatives suspend official over comments about dead soldier's father

The Conservative campaign suspended a top official on Thursday and ordered him to apologize for comments he made about the father of a soldier killed in the Afghanistan mission.

N.S. man accepts staffer's apology, says he would never politicize son's death

Tory communications director Ryan Sparrow was suspended Thursday after implying comments made by the father of a dead soldier were politically motivated. ((CBC))
The Conservative campaign suspended a top official indefinitely on Thursday and ordered him to apologize personally for comments he made about the father of a soldier killed in the Afghanistan mission.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a Montreal audience Thursday afternoon that Tory communications director Ryan Sparrow has already apologized to Jim Davis, whose son Cpl. Paul Davis was killed in a vehicle rollover near Kandahar in 2006.

In a media interview earlier in the day, Davis complained that Harper's decision to end the Afghan mission in 2011 was "irresponsible."

The soldier's father said the decision to end the mission without ensuring its objectives were completed would mean his son had died in vain.

In an e-mail to a reporter, Sparrow implied Davis's criticism was politically motivated, noting that Davis was a supporter of deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

Dion calls for staffer's dismissal

Harper called Sparrow's questioning of the motivation behind comments from a deceased soldier's father "inappropriate."

"I want to make it very clear that I have set a tone and I have set an expectation for this campaign, and I will make sure that it is followed all the way to victory," the Conservative leader said.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion called for Sparrow to be fired and accused Harper of making "a sad attempt to brush this under the rug." 

"No wonder the prime minister promised a nasty campaign — his staffers are impugning the motives of a grieving father," Dion said. "It doesn't get any dirtier than that."

NDP Leader Jack Layton said it was "hardly a surprise" a member of the Conservative team would make such comments, considering the past behaviour of the party's front and backbenchers in Parliament.

"If you disagree with them, you're open season for an insult," Layton said. "I don't think that's leadership. I think we should have a respectful House of Commons. And as prime minister, I would insist on it."

Suspension 'ridiculous,' says father

Speaking from his home in Bridgewater, N.S., Davis told the Canadian Press he doesn't think Sparrow should be punished.

"Ryan called me to apologize and I thought he was a big man and I feel for him," Davis said. "I accepted his apology and I hope there are no consequences against him. It was just the heat of the moment. I forgive him.

"Suspend him? That's politics. That's being ridiculous."

But he said his earlier comments had nothing to do with the federal election on Oct. 14.

"I would never ever politicize my son's death or any soldier's death. I'm speaking as a father," he said.

The Conservative campaign has been relatively rapid in atoning for its early missteps in the Oct. 14 election campaign.

Earlier this week, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper apologized within hours of a controversial ad being removed from the party's website that showed a puffin defecating on Dion.

During the 2004 federal election campaign, Harper waited several days before finally apologizing for a press release attacking the Liberals that bore the headline "Paul Martin Supports Child Pornography?"

The political blunder was widely perceived as an influential event in the 2004 vote, which saw Martin's Liberals win a minority government.

With files from the Canadian Press