Friday, March 23, 2001

Demands grow for Fry's resignation

Minister remains silent on cross-burning claim

By JENNIFER DITCHBURN-- The Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) -- Junior cabinet minister Hedy Fry still wasn't explaining Friday why she wrongly claimed there have been cross burnings in a B.C. city, as opposition politicians continued to press for her resignation.

Junior minister Hedy Fry apologizes in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday, March 22. (CP PHOTO)
New Democrat MP Svend Robinson, a fellow Vancouver rights activist, added his voice to the chorus calling for the prime minister to reprimand her.

Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, apologized Thursday for telling the Commons that there had been recent cross burnings in Prince George, B.C.

But she didn't explain why she wrongly claimed to have been personally told of the burnings by the city's mayor.

The mayor denied ever discussing the matter and city officials, human rights groups and police say they've never heard of cross burnings in the area.

Fry, who was attending a multiculturalism conference in Iqaluit on Friday, did not return calls and has offered no public explanation for her error.

Robinson said Fry has lost credibility over what he calls a "fabrication," and must leave her post.

He and Fry are both well-known activists in the Vancouver area, in particular on the issue of gay rights.

"This minister is totally incompetent," Robinson told reporters outside the Commons.

"I can't think of a more sensitive portfolio than the portfolio of multiculturalism. I believe in fighting racism. I want to have a minister in that portfolio that has credibility and respect . . . she can't possibly be effective in the fight against racism and for human rights."

Robinson was targeted in a B.C. Ku Klux Klan newsletter in 1996.

Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray responded with a pointed reference to Robinson's own record as a human rights activist.

"If he is the kind of person he claims to be with respect to integrity, (he) will . . . let us move on to fighting together against racism, fighting together against discrimination, fighting for the issues I thought were important to him," Gray said.

Despite the Liberal government's defence of Fry, there has been renewed speculation over how much longer she will be kept in cabinet.

A shuffle is widely expected for the spring.

Human rights groups, such as like the League for Human Rights and the Canadian Anti-Racism Research and Education Society, have defended Fry's record in her portfolio, but said they had no firm evidence of cross burnings in Canada recently.

Still, Alan Dutton, executive director of CARES, said that there remains a serious problem with hate groups in B.C., including Prince George.

As recently as last May, provincial police said they were tracking the movements of a small group of young men seeking to resurrect an Aryan Nations chapter in Prince George.

Fry has landed in the news in the past for other controversial comments, such as suggesting Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day's creationist views offend citizens of other creeds.

And the latest comment won't do much to improve Liberal fortunes in the West, critics say.

"There's no question that the Liberal government needs to bolster its limited strength in western Canada, and Hedy Fry is not helping the story at all," said University of British Columbia professor Phillip Resnick.

"Although there's a limited caucus in B.C., there would be a strong case to promoting someone else."

Resnick said Fry is actually doing harm to the multiculturalism file by alienating the people she should be drawing into the rights movement.

"She's contributing to making this much more and divisive and polarized and by her lack of tact."

Copyright 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.