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Lethbridge UCP candidate, slammed for comments on pornography in schools, resigns

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the Canada Strong and Free Network in Ottawa on Thursday, March 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A candidate for the United Conservative Party in southern Alberta has resigned after claiming in a video that children are being exposed to pornography in schools, but some say the provincial government should also condemn those comments.

Torry Tanner, who was hoping to represent Lethbridge West, said in a statement released Thursday by the UCP that she made the video during the nomination process and it spoke to her commitment to protecting children.

"It's clear that my choice of words have distracted, not only from the issue I was trying to discuss, but are being used by my political opponents to hurt our chances of winning across the province," she said. 

"Accordingly, I have resigned as the candidate for Lethbridge West."

Premier Danielle Smith said in the statement that she has accepted Tanner's resignation and will work with the local constituency and the party to appoint a replacement.

A provincial election is expected to be held at the end of May.

Tanner said in the 50-second video, which surfaced online Wednesday, that parents are in a unique position to protect their children.

"We are seeing increasing instances where kids, even those attending kindergarten, are being exposed to pornographic materials or, worse yet, having teachers help them change their gender identity with absolutely no parental consent or knowledge whatsoever," Tanner said in the video. "This needs to be stopped immediately."

The video was immediately slammed by the Opposition NDP and the Alberta Teachers' Association as misinformation and fear mongering.

"These wild, conspiratorial claims are dangerous and harmful," Shannon Phillips, the NDP legislature member for Lethbridge West, said late Wednesday on social media.

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said Thursday that a "vetted UCP candidate" made the comments to create fear for political gain.

"I am from Lethbridge, I am from that riding, actually," he said in an interview. "I know that the people who are working in our schools, the teachers, are not doing what she indicated."

Schilling said the comments are extremely damaging.

"It's harmful to teachers, it's harmful to members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, it's harmful to students, it's harmful to parents. It's harmful, period," he said. "I expect better in terms of candidates that are being put forth by political parties for consideration to be leaders in this province."

Kris Wells, an expert on gender and youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said Tanner's video was both disturbing and dangerous.

"It was an affront to teachers, who are consummate professionals across this province, and an insult to the 2SLGBTQ+ community — full of stereotypes, lies, misinformation and what many would consider blatant homophobia and transphobia," he said.

Wells said he would like to see an apology from both Tanner and the UCP.

"Albertans need to know that these kinds of views are not only abhorrent, but they're not endorsed or supported by the UCP … or the premier," he said.

The teachers' association and the NDP said they also expect the UCP and its government leaders, particularly the premier and the education minister, to condemn the comments.

"It's not enough that the UCP came in and said, 'Oh, she took down the video,'" NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told reporters Thursday. 

"The UCP should have immediately fired her as a candidate and they should have then apologized to a whole range of Albertans for allowing somebody with views that discriminatory to be their candidate."

Neither the premier's office nor the education minister's office have responded to requests for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 30, 2023.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary, with files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

The Canadian Press

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