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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday defended an election ad that claimed his main rival wanted to set up brothels - the latest in a series of hard-hitting commercials that have marked the campaign.
Harper's Conservatives, trailing in the run-up to the Oct. 19 election, are running newspaper ads aimed at ethnic communities that claim the opposition Liberals want to legalize prostitution and open brothels, and also make it easier to sell marijuana to children.
The Liberals deny they have any such plans, but Harper said the ads were justified and dismissed the suggestion the Conservatives were fear-mongering.
"The other guys will claim it's fear when all we're trying to do is draw attention to facts - facts that they're actually not willing to talk about," he told reporters.
Conservative officials, asked about the brothel claims, say Liberal leader Justin Trudeau once voted against a proposed law aimed at clamping down on prostitution.
"I think it's up to Mr. Harper to explain why he's choosing to mislead Canadians about me," Trudeau told reporters.
Ethnic communities are an important source of voters and it is no coincidence that the Liberals are running newspaper ads warning new Canadians that the government could strip them of their citizenship. The Conservatives say this only applies to those convicted of terrorism.
The New Democrats, the largest opposition party, started the campaign with an ad showing how many Harper appointees had ended up in trouble with the law. It ends with a shot of Harper's former parliamentary secretary in shackles after his conviction for violations in the last campaign.
Michael Mulvey, a marketing professor at the University of Ottawa, said attacks ads were important because of their focus on swing voters.
"People who are firmly entrenched ... they're not going anywhere," he said in a phone interview.
Perhaps the most uncompromising ad was one run by the tiny separatist Bloc Quebecois, which said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair wanted to flood the province of Quebec with Muslim women who wear face veils.
Mulcair defends the right of Muslims to wear face coverings during citizenship ceremonies, a stance that is unpopular with voters. In response to the ad, Mulcair aide Karl Belanger tweeted that the "National Front has just entered the campaign" - a reference to France's far-right party.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler