March 22, 2001

Opposition MPs call for Fry's resignation, say she lied to Commons

OTTAWA (CP) -- Opposition MPs demanded the resignation of junior minister Hedy Fry on Thursday for accusing some residents of Prince George, B.C., of being racist and falsely attributing her information to the town's mayor.

But they were rebuffed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who said her apology was enough.

Fry, secretary of state responsible for multiculturalism, told the Commons on Wednesday that residents of Prince George burned crosses on their lawns.

On Thursday, she tried to put the matter to rest with a short apology that many later said wasn't nearly adequate.

She ended her workday in the rain chased by a throng of journalists, having touched off a noisy protest in the Commons and setting tongues wagging in the northern B.C. city she maligned.

"She's supposed to be a champion of tolerance and acceptance and of inclusiveness and, instead, she continues to drive divisiveness everywhere she goes," Canadian Alliance House leader Chuck Strahl said outside the Commons.

"She's not fit to be a parliamentary secretary (and) certainly she is not fit to hold that particular portfolio."

The ruckus originated in a question put to Fry by a fellow Liberal MP on Wednesday about the significance of March 21 as the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.

Fry responded that one needn't look far to see examples of racism.

"We can just go to British Columbia in Prince George, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak."

She later explained that she heard about hateful activity from the mayor of the town, Colin Kinsley.

Prince George officials flatly denied that the mayor ever spoke to Fry about cross burnings.

"(Kinsley) thinks that he must have been confused with another mayor," said acting mayor Don Zurowski.

"(Cross burning) simply was not an activity that has taken place in Prince George and it certainly was not part of a conversation or letter that (Kinsley) had authoured to Ms. Fry."

That revelation sent the opposition into a frenzy, accusing Fry of lying about the mayor. However, their calls for her to resign or be fired were deflected by Chretien.

"On this side of the House, when a member offers an apology in the tradition of Parliament, we accept the apology," said Chretien. "They do not respect any tradition of the House of Commons."

Chretien was referring to an apology Tuesday by Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer. Jaffer lied to protect his assistant, who had impersonated him on a radio talk show.

Opposition members looked to the Speaker for relief, asking him to find Fry in contempt of the Commons for lying. But Speaker Peter Milliken wouldn't do it.

While residents in Prince George were angry about Fry's comments, some found it laughable.

Copyright 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.