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Elizabeth May apologizes for remarks, but stands by defence of Omar Khadr

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt(left) prompts Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to stop her speech and leave the stage at the Annual Parliamentary National Press Gallery, in Gatineau, Quebec Saturday May 9, 2015 in Ottawa.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Elizabeth May is sorry she wasn't funny and that the F-bomb she dropped at the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner fell like a lead balloon.

But the Green Party Leader is not backing away from her defence of Omar Khadr, the 28-year-old Canadian who spent nearly half his life behind bars – including many years in infamous Guantanamo Bay – after throwing a grenade in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old that killed a U.S. special-forces soldier.

Ms. May, who normally has trouble getting her fourth-place party inserted into national coverage, spent Monday doing back-to-back-to-back interviews to explain her unfortunate performance on Saturday night.

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The annual event, which Stephen Harper has skipped since he was elected Prime Minister, presses party leaders to deliver some form of humorous entertainment – usually a speech that is self-deprecating or one that takes shots at political rivals.

Ms. May's address came later in the evening and rambled through Mr. Harper's absence at the dinner, her efforts to be included in the leaders' debates, and her creaky replacement hips.

Even Ms. May acknowledges it was not very funny. After about eight minutes, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt arrived to gently lead her off the stage. By that point, Ms. May had launched into her discussion of Mr. Khadr and was playing the theme music to the '70s television show Welcome Back Kotter on her blackberry.

"Welcome back Omar Khadr," she said. Ms. May then used an expletive when she said that Mr. Khadr had more class than the entire Conservative cabinet.

The audience was stunned into silence.

On Monday, hoarse from a cold that she's had for more than a week, and after multiple apologies on Sunday, Ms. May was contrite. "I can be funny, I just wasn't on Saturday. And I apologize again."

She'd had a couple glasses of wine, she said, but she wasn't drunk. She was, however, both sick and tired, having made a quick trip back to British Columbia on Friday to attend events in her riding and then flying back Saturday for the dinner.

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"So that was my fault," Ms. May said in an interview. "I shouldn't have thought I could do an edgy piece of humour with no sleep."

The swearing, she said, was planned. "That was my idea for humour, which was a bad idea. Because everybody knows I am kind of a goody goody two-shoes, and I don't swear."

As for the Welcome Back Kotter bit, she said she woke up with the theme song playing in her head on Saturday and decided on the plane to throw it into her speech. "It did not come out the way I wanted, it did not come out as funny, which was the goal."

But, Ms. May said she does feel strongly about Mr. Khadr, who was granted bail last week, and the way he has been treated by the Harper government and the Liberal government before the Conservatives took power.

Ottawa fought hard to keep Mr. Khadr behind bars, first refusing to advocate for his repatriation and later appealing a lower-court decision to grant him bail.

Mr. Khadr says he pleaded guilty to five war crimes because he faced the possibility of lifelong detention and "continued abuse and torture" at Guantanamo Bay.

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The Greens, "as a party, and I as an individual, have felt that Canada should have taken steps to get him out of Guantanamo Bay. He was a Canadian citizen and he was the only child there," said Ms. May.

"I don't think it's appropriate, frankly, for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice to keep referring to him as a convicted terrorist," said Ms. May. "The circumstances under which he was tried and convicted in Guantanamo Bay violate our standards of rule of law."

Her attempts to praise Mr. Khadr and castigate the politicians didn't work – at least not as a comedy sketch.

Still, the Green Party Leader said she will return to the press-gallery dinner next year. "It's part of the job. But it's hard, when you are not a comedian, to think that it's part of the job to be funny if you can't be."

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