OTTAWA - Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski says the toxic anti-gay comments he made 17 years ago weren't really his views, but he warned less than three years ago that same-sex marriage could lead to polygamy and social decline.
"I firmly believe that by passing this legislation, we start on a very slippery slope which could affect societal change in a very adverse way," he told the House of Commons on June 28, 2005.
It was the last passionate moment of debate on a landmark bill that would see Canada become one of the first countries in the world to legalize gay weddings.
"I see things that have been expressed before that could come down the pike, things like polygamy and others, while hiding behind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Lukiwski is recorded as saying in the official Hansard transcript. "I am fearful that societal change could happen."
Such comments should be taken into account when people decide whether this well-liked and very contrite MP has truly changed or "is simply trying to save his political skin," says University of Manitoba ethics professor Arthur Schafer.
"He says that's not who he is. Do we have any evidence from the last 17 years to confirm that?"
Lukiwski offered a more detailed and self-battering apology Friday for saying during a boozy videotaped party in 1991 that gay men are "faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases."
The Saskatchewan MP was, at the time, a 40-year-old provincial Tory organizer.
Telling the House of Commons that his comments were "stupid, thoughtless and insensitive," Lukiwski repeated Friday that they do not reflect his personal beliefs. He also beseeched his gay friends and colleagues to forgive him.
"The comments I made . . . should not be tolerated in any society," he said. "They should not be tolerated today, they should not have been tolerated in 1991, they should not have been tolerated in years previous to that."
Government House leader Peter Van Loan accepted his parliamentary secretary's "quick, complete and unequivocal" apology and declared the excruciating chapter closed.
While MPs of all political stripes credited Lukiwski's candour under fire, some said the wrong message is being sent.
Liberal MP Scott Brison cast the Conservatives as "soft on hate" for refusing to even rebuke Lukiwski.
"The Conservatives believe that a 14-year-old who commits a crime ought to be punished as an adult, but they believe that a 40-year-old who utters bigotry and prejudice ought not to face any sanctions whatsoever," Brison said Friday.
Gay rights activists say they're not ready to move on.
"It's now time to take a hard, serious look at what the government has done for the gay community since taking office," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada. "And quite frankly, they continue to erode the gains that we've made."
"They re-opened the debate on same-sex marriage. They introduced regulations in December that denied gay men the right to donate their organs. There's a ban of over 33 years on gay men donating blood. There's a refugee and immigration board that turns down gay refugee claimants with comments like: 'You're not effeminate enough and I don't believe you're gay.' You know, the list goes on and on and on."
Kennedy says she whole-heartedly agrees that people can change.
"However, you have shown me nothing over the course of the last 17 years that would indicate that there has been significant changes made."
Lukiwski was one of the very last MPs to speak on the landmark bill to legalize same-sex marriage. He was among many Conservative and Liberal MPs who spoke, at times vehemently, against the move. But he went farther than most.
He concluded by pointing a rhetorical finger at those MPs whose support would allow the bill to pass moments later.
"Let that be on their heads, not anyone else's head," he said. "It is the members opposite who made that choice and shame on them."