Jack MacLaren backtracks after calling zero-tolerance sex abuse policy 'overly harsh'

MPP Jack MacLaren said he "made a mistake" a day earlier when during a Queen's Park debate he said a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse for health care professionals would be "extraordinarily hard — overly harsh — on doctors."

'All I meant was we're all entitled to be considered to be innocent until proven guilty'

Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren says he made a mistake when he suggested a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse for health care professionals might be overly harsh. (CBC)

Jack MacLaren says he "made a mistake" a day earlier when he said during a Queen's Park debate that a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse for health care professionals would be "extraordinarily hard — overly harsh — on doctors."

The Progressive Conservative MPP for Carleton–Mississippi Mills made the comment during a debate on amendments to Ontario's Regulated Health Professions Act.

"I'd like to read a sentence here, because I am concerned that this goes overboard and will be extraordinarily hard — overly harsh — on doctors, to the detriment of health care in general, and certainly to the detriment of doctors in many cases: 'A zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of patients by any regulated health professional.' Any time you hear the term 'zero tolerance,' I find that dangerous, because there always has to be consideration of leniency, of understanding and of tolerance," MacLaren said, according to a transcript posted on the Ontario government website.

"We are a tolerant society, so now to prescribe that we want to be, by law, intolerant, I think, is a very wrongful way to go, and we are doing ourselves a great disservice as a society, and to our people and to the patients of Ontario," MacLaren said.

'Absolutely shocked'

The comments drew sharp condemnations from other members of the Ontario legislature in Toronto.

Wayne Gates of the NDP, as well as Kevin Daniel Flynn and Helena Jaczek of the Liberals, spoke out against MacLaren's comments.

"I'm absolutely shocked that any member sitting in this House — all 107 of us — and particularly the last member who spoke, the PC member, who talked about ... zero tolerance around sexual assault and sexual abuse — I have three daughters and a wife. There should be zero tolerance, no matter what job you have, not just a doctor, not a lawyer, not an auto worker, not a teacher," Gates said.

"To the PC member who said that: I'm concerned that you actually feel that way, as a male, and quite frankly, I'm hurt and saddened that you feel that way."

'Wasn't the meaning that I intended'

MacLaren issued a statement on his website in which he stepped back from his comments, and he also apologized Tuesday in a news scrum with reporters.

"I made a mistake. It wasn't the meaning that I intended," he said. "Of course, I am in favour of zero tolerance. I have zero tolerance for sexual abuse of patients, and the full force of the law should be applied in all cases. So, I assure you I'll be much more careful in the future about choosing my words, because that was a mistake and I regret it very much."

MacLaren also apologized for "any confusion or mixing of messages."

"All I meant was we're all entitled to be considered to be innocent until proven guilty, and the trouble with zero tolerance sometimes is that it can be an abuse of overzealousness to punish people and doctors are deserving of respect for the most part."

'It's unacceptable and frankly I'm disappointed,' said Ontario Provincial Conservative Leader Patrick Brown on Tuesday about MacLaren's comments. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

PC leader says comment 'not acceptable'

Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said Tuesday he hadn't spoken with MacLaren but expressed disappointment.

"I know he said they were misconstrued [and he] has apologized unequivocally, but it's not acceptable," said Brown.

Brown had ordered MacLaren to undergo sensitivity training last year after he landed in hot water for telling a a sexual joke about Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon and her husband during a community fundraiser.

When asked if MacLaren should have to take the training again, Brown responded, "We did that in the spring and I hope that would have solved it."

When asked if he thought he needed sensitivity training, MacLaren said "No, I don't. I think I understand."