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Pettingill apologises for ‘hurtful’ comments

Attorney General Mark Pettingill has apologised for comments he made in the House of Assembly criticising religiously motivated opponents of the sexual orientation amendment to the Human Rights Act.

Mr Pettingill said he recognised "on reflection" that his words had been "clearly hurtful to many in this community".

"I have always strongly advocated equal rights and have been from the depths of my being, entirely opposed to discrimination in any form," he said yesterday. "I have strongly held views on the division of State and Church as were eloquently expressed upon by the Hon Mr Michael Scott in his speech for the Opposition."

He continued: "I appreciate that some of the words I spoke (the actual words, not some of the inaccuracies that have been attributed to me), that they were clearly hurtful to people in this community.

"One senior pastor, who I respect, told me he felt wounded by my words as did people in his congregation.

"I recognise that both he and other pastors have given much to Bermuda and this community, and I am saddened by this and apologise for any wounds they have suffered."

Mr Pettingill continued: "Whilst I passionately believe in the right of free speech as a fundamental premise of our democracy, if what I have to say causes hurt or anguish to any individual, I am deeply regretful for that.

"I would say I am unequivocally sorry to anyone who felt that way as a result of what I said."

He added he had not been directed to apologise by Premier Craig Cannonier or the Cabinet.

"My mother was a bit more keen, and I have taken this course purely on the basis that I do not wish to have the flames of division fanned."

Mr Pettingill concluded his prepared remarks by saying he had been the target of threats of violence as a result of the controversial remarks.

"I entirely forgive anyone who was aroused to such sentiments. In like mind I would ask your forgiveness. Lessons have been learned. There is much more that needs to be done in Bermuda and I would like to get back to contributing to that work."

Asked about calls by the Opposition for his resignation or firing because of what they say has been poor advice to the Cabinet, Mr Pettingill said he had made "hundreds" of decisions since taking office.

If the Opposition has a query about "me getting three things, in their view, wrong, then no one's perfect".

He said he was not worried about being removed from office.

"Having said that, you're only as good as your last case."

Yesterday’s apology was Mr Pettingill’s third opportunity to address the outrage which followed his comments a week ago. He initially refused to comment when this newspaper sought a reaction and only offered a tepid response after Premier Craig Cannonier made a statement on the matter when the issue was raised by the media at a press conference on Wednesday.

Opposition Leader Marc Bean had earlier demanded the Attorney General resign or be fired for the “vile” comments.

He said the incident was one of several OBA controversies centred around Mr Pettingill, whose performance as Attorney General has been “wholly unacceptable”.

“In his latest controversy, the Attorney General in an anti-religious tirade referred to members of the Christian community as ‘Kool Aid drinkers’, described them as ‘aren’t prepared to have any critical thought’ and demanded that they ‘get up and leave and go somewhere else,’” Mr Bean said. “These statements are vile and indefensible and the AG should do the right thing and resign immediately.”

Mr Cannonier stressed in his statement that Mr Pettingill was “airing his own personal convictions” and not speaking on behalf of Government.

Shadow Community Development Minister Michael Weeks kicked off the PLP’s criticism by demanding an apology for Mr Pettingill’s “offensive and hateful” towards the Christian community.

Mr Pettingill yesterday said: “During the debate on amendments to the Human Rights Act on Friday, June 14, I spoke out against those who would use religion to deny those in the gay community their human rights. I offered my personal opinion which should not be construed to be the official position of the Government.

“For clarity, I exercised my freedom of speech and questioned how a 2000-year-old doctrine could be used in the modern, democratic world to deny a segment of our population protection enjoyed by other segments of our community.

“My comments generally echoed those made by [Shadow Public Safety Minister] Michael Scott, who spoke on the same subject earlier in the day.”

Sorry: Attorney General Mark Pettingilll yesterday apologised for offence he has caused with remarks he made in the House of Assembly during a debate on the Human Rights Act Amendment.
PLP leader calls for AG to be fired

Opposition Leader Marc Bean demanded the Attorney General’s firing for what he said was the AG’s “wholly unacceptable” performance.

Mr Bean’s statement reads: “The performance to date of the Attorney General has been wholly unacceptable. Over the first six months as the Bermuda's leading legal figure he has:

l Refused to answer questions and potentially breached proper hiring practices when hiring a former colleague as his new personal assistant in the Attorney General's Chambers;

l Gave incorrect legal advice to the Minister of Tourism and Transport by claiming that the Minister had the power to hear appeals on seniors unable to meet the OBA's higher vehicle licensing fee;

l Failed to advise the Premier that he would breach the code of conduct by accepting travel on a private jet and a free vacation to discuss Government business;

l Spoke in derogatory terms about the faith of many law-abiding citizens in Bermuda.”

He also took aim at Premier Craig Cannonier’s statement on the issue.

“The Premier's attempt to downplay and duck responsibility for the AG's anti-Christian tirade is yet another example of his inadequacies as a leader. Under the Westminster System a Cabinet Minister is bound by collective responsibility and isn't permitted to speak as an individual. The Premier should know this, the AG should know this and Bermuda deserves better. We call on the Premier to stand up, take control of his Cabinet and fire Mr Mark Pettingill. Failure to act can only be interpreted in one way; supporting the intolerant beliefs and incompetent performance of AG Pettingill.”

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Published June 21, 2013 at 9:16 am (Updated June 21, 2013 at 9:15 am)

Pettingill apologises for ‘hurtful’ comments

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