Politics

Parliament security apologizes after man told shirt expressing love for Canadian oil might be offensive

OTTAWA — Parliament’s security service has apologized to an Alberta oil executive after his shirt expressing love for Canadian oil was deemed too risqué for a Senate tour.

William Lacey, chief financial officer for Calgary-based Steelhead Petroleum, told the National Post he was trying to tour the Senate on Monday with his family when he was stopped by a security guard.

At the time he was wearing a shirt that says “I love Canadian oil and gas” on the front (using symbols for words), and “The world needs more Canadian energy” on the back. The shirt is produced by a group called Canada Action.

“The guard looked at me and he said, ‘Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to remove your shirt because some people may be offended by the message,’” Lacey said. He said the guard gave him two options: turn the shirt inside out, or leave.

Lacey said the guard wasn’t overly aggressive, but it was also clear the matter wasn’t up for discussion. Given he was with his family and there were other people waiting to go in, he decided to turn the shirt inside out and take the tour.

It is possible the guard interpreted the message as a protest action. According to rules posted on Parliament’s website for visitors, “participating in any form of demonstration inside the buildings is prohibited, including wearing items or clothing with visible political messages.”

Yet Lacey said he later toured the House of Commons (which is currently in a separate building due to renovations) and was given no trouble by the guards over his shirt. He said he’d even approached a few of the guards to talk about other subjects, just to see if they’d warn him about the shirt, but it never came up.

On the flight back to Alberta, Lacey wrote the whole thing up as an open letter addressed to parliamentarians, and posted it on his LinkedIn page.

I was not wearing it to be antagonistic at all

“I would like an answer as to why I was treated in such a manner at the Senate and if it is the policy of the Government of Canada to shame members of the Canadian energy industry,” it concluded. The letter spread online and caught the attention of Conservative senators.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Senate’s internal economy committee, which deals with Senate administrative matters, Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk read out Lacey’s letter and demanded to know what happened. “It seems odd to me that they would pick this out,” he said. “Very odd.”

There was nobody from the Parliamentary Protective Service at the committee to speak to the issue, but Julie Lacroix, the Senate’s head of corporate security, told the committee the matter was under review.

“Why would there be a difference between what the Parliamentary Protective Service is considering to be offensive in the Senate as compared to the House of Commons?” asked Conservative Sen. Denise Batters.

“That’s a very good question,” Lacroix said. “I cannot answer that. It should be the same across the board.”

I would like an answer as to why I was treated in such a manner

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Parliamentary Protective Service said its guard had gone too far.

“At the outset, we offer our apologies to the gentleman that raised this issue for the situation he experienced during his tour,” said the statement from Guillaume Vandal.

“In this case, the personnel misinterpreted a message on the visitor’s article of clothing. The staff involved will be receiving operational guidance and training with respect to visitors to the Hill.”

Lacey welcomed the apology, and said he understands the guards have a tough job to do.

“I am happy with this outcome, and I have greater confidence that this won’t happen again to others who visit Ottawa and take in all the amazing things that city has to offer,” he said.

Lacey said he wasn’t trying to mount a protest or pick any fights by wearing the shirt while touring Parliament.

“I was not wearing it to be antagonistic at all,” he said. “I’m proud of the business I work in, and the people I work with, and what we are doing to do our business better.”

• Email: bplatt@postmedia.com | Twitter: btaplatt

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