OTTAWA - Liberal MP Justin Trudeau retracted his objection Tuesday to the federal government's decision to use the word "barbaric" to describe female genital mutilations, forced marriages and so-called honour killings in a new citizenship guide.
The Liberal immigration critic was pummelled by critics and even some Liberal insiders after suggesting the term is too "jarring" and "pejorative" to be used in official government literature.
"There's nothing that the word 'barbaric' achieves that the words 'absolutely unacceptable' would not have achieved," Trudeau said Monday. "We accept that these acts are absolutely unacceptable, that's not the debate. In casual conversation, I'd even use the word barbaric to describe female circumcision, for example, but in an official Government of Canada publication, there needs to be a little bit of an attempt at responsible neutrality."
On Tuesday, following a flurry of activity on the social media site Twitter, Trudeau issued a statement retracting and apologizing for his remarks, conceding, "perhaps I got tangled in semantic weeds.
"I want to make clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society," he wrote in an e-mail. "I retract my comments and apologize if they've been interpreted by any one as dismissing or diminishing the serious and appalling nature of honour killings and other gender-based violence."
The Conservatives, though, continued their attack of Trudeau and the Liberals Tuesday, accusing the party of putting political correctness ahead of women's rights.
Tory MP Shelley Glover even asked that Trudeau be removed as immigration critic in light of his remarks just days after International Women's Week.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Trudeau's comments demonstrate the Liberals are "so wrapped up in political correctness, they can't call things for what they are anymore.
"They're afraid of offending someone or appearing to be insensitive by actually making a judgement about culturally barbaric practices."
Kenney added the feds wanted to use strong language, even "jarring" and "pejorative" terms, "to condemn in no uncertain terms practices like so-called honour killings, genital mutilation, spousal abuse and now forced marriages.
"It's important that we be clear and unequivocal in our denunciation of such practices, even if it does ruffle some feathers," he said. "That's exactly the point."
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said she agrees with the government's use of the term "barbaric" in the guide, saying the term "unacceptable isn't strong enough in my book.
"Running a red light is unacceptable. We're talking here about hatred and murder. It's serious, and just using the word unacceptable isn't intense enough," she said. "English is my second language, so there may be a better word, but I don't find calling it barbaric offensive. We need to send that strong message."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff shot back at Trudeau's attackers Tuesday, saying everyone agrees Canada is based on "equality between the sexes and equality of respect.
"Let's not play word games with this stuff," he said at a Montreal immigrant resource centre. "If you want to use the word barbaric, use the word barbaric.
"Mr. Trudeau has already made a statement about that so the matter is closed."
The "barbaric" furor was caused, in part, by changes the feds announced Monday to the Discover Canada citizenship guide, including adding "forced marriage" to the previous list of "barbaric" acts not tolerated in Canada.
That section now reads: "Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings,' female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."
The guide now also tells newcomers about gay rights in Canada, including their right to marry, and warns newcomers from war-torn countries and conflict zones to leave their, "violent, extreme or hateful prejudices" at the door.
-- With files from Brian Daly