Harper apologizes over rally screening

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is apologizing to anyone prevented from attending his party's rallies, three days after the allegations first surfaced.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is apologizing to anyone who has been removed from his party's campaign rallies, three days after the allegations first surfaced.

Harper has been hounded by questions for the past three days over why students had been escorted out of Conservative campaign events.

Speaking at a news conference in the Ontario riding of Vaughan, Harper said his party is encouraging people to come and listen to his message.

"If anybody is kept out of any of our events that is there to hear our message, we obviously apologize to them," Harper said on Thursday.

"Our interest is in having as many people out to hear our message as we can. We are having huge meetings, we had another huge one last night. And we want people to hear our message."

'This isn't about apologies. This is about the whole attitude of this party.'—Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff

Despite the apology, Ignatieff continued to criticize Harper on Thursday over the decision to remove students from campaign events.

"This isn't about apologies. This is about the whole attitude of this party and this government towards the citizens of the country," Ignatieff said.

"It is not just about a problem of one student at the University of Western Ontario, it is the whole philosophy."

The Liberal leader said Harper's response to the controversy is following a similar pattern used in other instances when he came under fire.

"When the Bruce Carson matter comes up, he blames the [Privy Council Office], he blames the public servants on the security issue. When this young woman gets excluded, he says it's the RCMP's fault," Ignatieff said.

"Step up and accept responsibility that it's your meeting Mr. Harper. You're responsible for everything that happens, just as I'm responsible for everything that happens in my meetings."

The questions first surfaced after Awish Aslam, a second-year political science student at the University of Western Ontario, told CBC News that she and a friend were trying to attend a rally with Harper on Sunday in London when they were asked to leave by an RCMP officer.

She said the officer told her she was being removed because of her ties to the Liberals on Facebook. She said she had a photo of herself and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, which was taken at a Liberal event a few days earlier.

"It was nice to see him acknowledge it, but because he is the leader of the party, he might want to look into finding who's responsible for it," Aslam said on Thursday.

Aslam said Harper’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, sent a Facebook message to apologize. She said Soudas is now trying to set up a time for her to meet with Harper.

Izzy Hirji, a veterinary student who was one of several people ejected from a rally in Guelph, also thanked Harper for the apology but questioned its sincerity

"I mean it did take several days to get that apology to come," he said. "I can’t judge how genuine it is or if it’s just campaign spin."

RCMP clarifies role at rallies

On Wednesday, the RCMP admitted it helped remove unregistered attendees from Conservative events in southwestern Ontario this week.

The national police force said it's not their job to help political party organizers limit access to political events.

The RCMP said in a statement it is responsible only for the protection of the party leaders, and that officers have now been reminded of their duties.

"The RCMP assisted the party organizers in restricting access to persons not registered for the private event," Sgt. Greg Cox said in the statement.

The role of the RCMP in the election campaign was also raised by NDP Leader Jack Layton, who was campaigning in British Columbia.

Layton praised the RCMP officers who have been assigned to his campaign, calling them "consummate professionals." He said political parties should not put the police in a position where they are doing political work on behalf of a party.

"I mean, was it the RCMP’s idea to start checking out people’s Facebooks, just independently? I’ve got to say, that would surprise me — they’re certainly not doing that on our tour," Layton said.

"I think it’s the prime minister who has got the explaining to do here."