A Progressive Conservative candidate under fire for bigoted remarks is distancing himself from his past comments and asking for compassion from the public over the views he posted online while struggling with mental illness.
On Sunday, London West candidate Andrew Lawton, appointed by party leader Doug Ford along with 10 other Tories two weeks ago, was on the defensive after comments about cultural and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community and women surfaced on social media. The remarks, which take aim at targets from Islam to dwarfism, emerged mainly from his Twitter account over the past eight years.
Sunday was the second day in a row that skeletons in the closet of Ford-appointed candidates emerged to haunt the Tory campaign. On Saturday, Ford dropped social conservative Tanya Granic Allen as his candidate in Mississauga Centre after the Liberals tipped off the media to a 2014 video of her making homophobic remarks. Granic Allen’s anti-sex-ed-driven campaign for the party leadership earlier this year largely framed the terms of debate, while her supporters overwhelmingly selected Ford second on the ranked ballot, helping propel him to victory.
The comments from Lawton, a former radio and podcast host on London’s AM980 and the alt-right Rebel Media site, respectively, were often framed as jokes but include language interpretable as Islamophobic, homophobic and misogynist.
“An immigrant, a Muslim and a communist walk into a bar. The bartender says, 'Hello Mr. President,' ” Lawton tweeted on Oct. 16, 2011.
“Covered in wires from a portable heart monitor. The Muslim gents nearby seem to think I’m one of them,” he posted one month later.
“New Blog Post: Silly rabbit, proms are for straight people,” says a tweet from April 7, 2010. “Someone sent me a link to ‘This Week in Gay News.’ I haven’t read read it yet, but I’m guessing a man broke a nail,” he said on Feb. 18, 2011.
“I was called a misogynist twice today. I’m sure my girlfriend would be the first to say that isn’t the case, when I let her speak,” a post says from Dec. 19, 2014.
In 2010, Lawton hosted controversial conservative commentator Ann Coulter on his podcast, Strictly Right. “It’s sad to see ‘retard’ go, but at least we have ‘negro,’ ” Coulter says in the interview. Lawton chuckles and responds, “Yeah, exactly,” before changing the subject to a “favourite” column by Coulter.
Little people and the deaf community fall under Lawton’s gaze too. “I just learned that October is Dwarfism Awareness Month. Shouldn’t it be February? You know ... the shortest month,” he tweeted in October 2014. Responding in February 2015 to a Twitter user who questioned him on how refer to deaf individuals, Lawton replied: “I don’t think anyone impacted heard the statement.”
Some interactions hit two marginalized groups with one stone. A Facebook user named Kayla Black suggested it’s “ridiculous” not to use the words husband and wife. “Agree completely, Kayla Black. Rather...Kayla African American,” Lawton replied.
His past comments were revealed to QP Briefing by a Twitter user with the handle, @NotAndrewLawton. QP Briefing sent examples of the posts to Lawton as well as the Ford campaign Sunday.
In an email to QP Briefing, Lawton distanced himself from his past remarks, acknowledging his “failings” and former “reckless” attitude and saying he has tried to “make amends and offer apologies one on one.”
He highlighted a struggle with depression and mental illness that spanned 2005 to 2013 and included a suicide attempt in 2010. He asked voters to afford him “the opportunity to define myself as I am today.”
“Simply put, I was reckless in almost all areas of my life: financially, socially, sexually, and vocationally. There are significant chunks of this period that I do not remember. While that used to distress me, I’ve come to see it as a positive – not remembering damaging details has helped me move on with my life to be the person I am today, not who I was back then,” Lawton wrote Sunday.
“In politics, however, it is not so easy to separate these two,” he noted. “I was active on social media throughout much of this time, posting things that are so far removed from who I am and what I stand for that I can’t even fathom my frame of mind in writing them.”
Some of the comments, such as his “misogynist” tweet, appear to have been made after 2013, however.
Lawton said Sunday he began to see a psychiatrist in 2011, who he still checks in with. He said the “cornerstone” of his decision to run for office was mental health-care reform. “Who better to take up that battle than someone who has lost a great deal as a result of mental illness?”
Lawton added that he is “not seeking a pass on past actions,” but rather looking for “compassion and trust.”
“I realize it will be a long road ahead to convince the voters that I should be their representative — but I have been up to that job since I first stepped into this race, and continue to be now.”
Ford spokesperson Melissa Lantsman sought to distance the party leader from the candidate he appointed to the swing riding of London West on April 21.
“Doug Ford has been clear that comments like these do not reflect his views or those of the Ontario PC Party,” Lantsman said in an email Sunday evening. “The Ontario PC Party is an inclusive party, welcoming a variety of views. We want all Ontarians to feel like they have a place in our party.”
Last week Press Progress, an online publication overseen by the Broadbent Institute, reported on some of Lawton's comments on his Rebel Media podcasts. In a 2016 episode, he suggested German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserved to have women sexually assaulted in her country because of her refugee policies. In another, he complained about “the pussification of the West,” a termed he coined for the feeling that men can no longer be men.
The left-leaning media outlet also reported Lawton was “behind an attempt to start a 'Canadian Tea Party'” in 2010.