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the bubble

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper apologized for campaign-rally ejections at a campaign stop in Vaughan, Ont., on April 7, 2011.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper is offering an apology for instances where people were tossed from his campaign rallies, trying to tamp down a controversy that's dogged the Conservatives for several days.

"If anybody is kept out of any of our events that's there to hear our message, we obviously apologize to them," the Conservative Leader said during a campaign stop north of Toronto, in Vaughan.

He said Conservative officials have already apologized to individuals, referring to the fact his director communications Dimitri Soudas has directly contacted a London, Ont., university student who was reduced to tears by her ejection from an April 3 event.

"Our interest is in having as many people out to hear our message as we can," Mr. Harper said.

The Tories, who have been running a traditional front-runner campaign that shies from risk, screen attendees at their rallies, which range in size from 400 to more than 800 people.

The Conservatives say any ejections are an aberration and insist that Canadian voters are not concerned with "process" stories about crowd management at Tory events.

The RCMP on Wednesday took responsibility for ejecting people from recent Conservative campaign events in southwestern Ontario, acknowledging it broke the rules in doing so and saying it has reminded Mounties to stick to their jobs.

The focus of attention had been on the role that Tory partisans may have played in these expulsions - but now Mounties thrust themselves into the story, saying it is not their role to act as bouncers.

"The RCMP assisted the party organizers in restricting access to persons not registered for the private event," one of two statements from the Mounties issued Wednesday said.

"This was not in accordance with the RCMP's mandate," it continued.

The RCMP said its only job is to safeguard the party leaders as they seek re-election.

"The RCMP is responsible for the security of party leaders," RCMP spokesman Sergeant Greg Cox said in a statement.

"This mandate does not include managing the access of persons attending private events," he said.

"RCMP members assigned to the security detail for party leaders have been reminded of their responsibilities."

A handful of episodes in which party operatives have asked people to leave rallies - based on checks of Facebook pages and bumper stickers - have sparked opposition charges that Mr. Harper's supporters are going overboard in their desire to insulate their leader from criticism.

The campaign incident that drew the most attention occurred at an event in London, Ont., on April 3. Awish Aslam and her friend were expelled from the event 30 minutes after arriving because, an official told her, "We know you guys have ties to the Liberal Party through Facebook and you're not welcome here."

Ms. Aslam said she is not a Liberal Party member, but she has a Facebook photo of her and Michael Ignatieff taken when she attended a Liberal rally a week earlier. She said as a political-science student at the University of Western Ontario, she's studying all the parties and had registered to attend the Harper rally with the help of her friend's father, who's a card-carrying Conservative Party member.

The case of Ms. Aslam isn't the only example. Organizers of the same Harper rally in London reportedly asked Ali Aref Hamadi to leave the Four Points Sheraton because he had an NDP bumper sticker on his vehicle that read: "Don't blame me, I voted NDP."

On Monday, in Guelph, Ont., University of Guelph students were reportedly asked to leave a Harper rally after participating in a demonstration outside to encourage youth voting.

Separately, a Halifax advocate for homeless veterans said last week he was turned away from a Harper media event at the Halifax pier after he tried to enter the premises.

At a campaign stop in Surrey, B.C., NDP Leader Jack Layton said Mr. Harper must explain what instructions have been given to the Mounties who are following him.

"A political party should not put the RCMP into the position where it's doing political work on behalf of a political party, for example excluding people from public meetings. That's not right," Mr. Layton said.

Any investigation should look at who in the Conservative party has been telling the RCMP what to do and what the police have been told, he said.

"Was it the RCMP's idea to start checking out people's Facebooks just independently? I would say that would surprise me. They are certainly not doing that on our tour," Mr. Layton said.

"I think it's the prime minister whose got the explaining to do."

With a report from Gloria Galloway