WINNIPEG – The Conservative candidate in a federal by-election in rural Manitoba came under fire Thursday for suggesting the bullying of a gay high school student may not have been real.
Ted Falk told a weekly newspaper that an encounter last winter, in which Evan Wiens was subjected to homophobic slurs as he spoke to reporters outside his school, may have been staged by Wiens.
“Whether that was staged, we don’t know,” Falk said in a recorded interview with the Carillon.
“By the kids?” reporter Chris Gareau asked.
“By the organizers, yeah,” Falk responded.
Falk’s Liberal opponent, Terry Hayward, demanded an apology.
“I would love to have him apologize … to a young man who has put up with a lot,” Hayward said.
“There are unproven statements, as I understand it, and this is victimizing a guy who has already been victimized once or twice.”
Falk declined an interview request. An email sent from his campaign account to The Canadian Press did not address the question of why he thought the bullying may have been a setup.
“I have no idea if it was staged or not. What I do know is that bullying is serious and I’m proud to be part of a Conservative team that introduced legislation … to help combat this,” the email stated.
Falk is running in Provencher, a Conservative stronghold southeast of Winnipeg last held by Vic Toews, former public safety minister. Polls have suggested Falk is set to win the seat by a large margin.
Wiens, 17, became widely known in Manitoba last winter as he pushed for the right to set up a gay-straight alliance in his high school in Steinbach, Man. On two occasions, as he was interviewed by television crews in front of the school, fellow students yelled slurs at him as they walked or drove by.
Wiens said Falk’s comments were the first time anyone has suggested he might have arranged the event.
“I was really just confused,” Wiens said Thursday.
“Like, I’m going to tell these kids, ‘Oh yeah, you should probably come and purposefully bully me so I could get some attention?’ That was not my intent whatsoever and it was not staged.”
Wiens has worked on Hayward’s campaign both this year and in the 2011 general election, but said that should not affect how Falk treats him.
Falk’s comments drew criticism on Twitter from people including comedian Rick Mercer.
“Why did he suggest the kid being bullied was manufactured? Based on what? He’s mixing it up with a hs (high school) student?” Mercer tweeted.
The Provencher campaign had, until Thursday, been a subdued affair compared to the drama that has unfolded at the other end of the province. Polls in Brandon-Souris suggest a very tight race between Conservative Larry Maguire and Liberal Rolf Dinsdale.
Some residents in the riding received a letter this week from Conservative party headquarters, signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which blasts the Liberals.
The letter accuses Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of having a “high-tax agenda” and accuses Dinsdale, who recently moved back to his hometown from Toronto, of only returning to run for office.
An interview request to Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa was not returned.
The Conservatives have also sent out pamphlets blasting Dinsdale for once claiming to have been a senior executive with social media giant Facebook, when, in reality, he sold advertising on Facebook for a Toronto firm.
The Conservatives targeting Dinsdale in their literature while virtually ignoring the NDP is widely believed to be a sign that Liberal support in the riding is on an upswing. In the 2011 election, the Liberals garnered five per cent of the vote and finished fourth, behind the Conservatives, NDP and Greens.