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Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak makes a campaign stop in Ottawa on Sept. 8, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak makes a campaign stop in Ottawa on Sept. 8, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Accused of using ringers, Hudak calls sex-offender outrage universal Add to ...

Community outrage need not be confined to a few select parents when a sex offender moves next door, Tim Hudak says.

The Progressive Conservative Leader was defending himself Thursday against claims that parents who appeared with him a day earlier were ringers for the party who weren’t actually involved in local protests.

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“The whole community was up in arms,” Mr. Hudak said.

The Ontario Tories held a news conference in Leamington Wednesday to talk about plans to make the province’s sex-offender registry public so that parents can keep track of the whereabouts of released offenders.

Sarah Dahle, who was convicted on child exploitation and child pornography charges, sparked outrage in the community when word leaked she’d been released to a halfway house right next to an elementary school. Parents, led by Cynthia Raheb, successfully protested until she was moved out if the community.

Ms. Raheb told the Windsor Star that her group was approached by Mr. Hudak’s campaign to appear at the news conference, but declined. The campaign then recruited other parents, whom they referred to Thursday as school council members and concerned grandparents.

“To have somebody do that behind our backs really presents the issue of how honest and how far they will go to implement what they're saying,” Ms. Raheb told the Windsor Star. “I mean how much can you trust them at this point now?”

Mr. Hudak introduced the parents to reporters in a Leamington community centre, saying: “These parents were shocked by news that a sexual offender – someone who committed heinous crimes against a two-year-old – was released into a house right next to a school I thank these parents for standing up and doing what is right. [Ms. Dahle]has been moved up the 401 and is now in the London area somewhere.”

Paula Pimiskern was one of those standing beside Mr. Hudak, and resents being called a prop. She said she was there because she agreed with his plan to make dangerous offenders wear tracking monitors, not because any of her four children attend the school that was close to Ms. Dahle’s halfway house.

She heard about Mr. Hudak’s appearance through a friend, and volunteered to be involved even though she doesn’t consider herself to be overly political and has “no affiliation” with the party.

“He knew why I was there and if it sounded like I was involved in the school protests then he must have just genuinely misspoke,” she said. “I just believe in the issue of monitoring.”

Mr. Hudak said Thursday that “any of us that have kids” feel like they’ve been “hit in the gut” when they hear stories about sex offenders in the community. Campaign insiders said it was unfair to castigate the parents who appeared with Mr. Hudak, because they were as concerned as anyone else in the community.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, however, fired a shot at his rival: “I think it maybe speaks to the lack of support for their plan, if they’re having difficulty rousting up a few Ontarians who might stand behind him in support of it.”

After barely stifling a chuckle, Mr. McGuinty quickly became serious and pointed out once again that the Tory platform has a $14-billion hole in it, and that, he said, would inevitably lead to big cuts in important programs such as schools and hospitals.

The Conservatives have held several news conferences where they have used “real people” as the backdrop.

In Hamilton, nurses who were introduced as “emergency room” nurses were walked into an ultrasound lab to talk about flaws in the health-care system. Later on the bus, reporters found out the nurses didn’t actually work at the hospital but were brought in from the Niagara region for the event.

The Liberals pounced on both photo ops, saying “there is a reason Ontarians are having a hard time trusting Tim Hudak – they have been burned by him before.”

With a report from Karen Howlett in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

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