Globe and Mail

Remarks cost Fry credibility, MP asserts

With a report from Canadian Press
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, March 24, 2001

OTTAWA -- Opposition MPs kept the heat on Liberal minister Hedy Fry yesterday, saying she lied about a purported racist incident in Prince George, B.C., and has delivered only a half-hearted apology.

New Democrat MP Svend Robinson said Dr. Fry, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, has set back the fight against racism by carelessly tarring an entire community.

"I believe in fighting racism. I want to have a minister in that portfolio who has credibility and respect. This minister has totally lost all credibility and respect, and she can't possibly be effective in the fight against racism and the fight for human rights," Mr. Robinson told reporters.

Dr. Fry started a firestorm on Wednesday when she answered a question in the House of Commons on international efforts against racism by suggesting that, as she spoke, people were burning crosses on lawns in Prince George.

After outraged Canadian Alliance MPs demanded an explanation, Dr. Fry returned to the Commons to say that she had been mistaken in saying the cross-burnings were happening as she spoke, but that she had been referring to a recent incident.

The minister said she had been contacted about the incident by the mayor of Prince George and praised the city and its council for combating such incidents of racism.

However, city officials said there never was a cross-burning there, and there was certainly no letter informing Dr. Fry of such an event.

On Thursday, Dr. Fry apologized for linking the city with the cross-burning but refused to answer reporters' questions about whether such an incident ever occurred.

Mr. Robinson said Dr. Fry was clearly lying to the House of Commons and should be punished.

"Are there no standards whatsoever, of ethics or morality, for a Liberal cabinet minister?" Mr. Robinson said. "Does [Prime Minister] Jean Chrétien have no standards at all for his minister."

Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray said Dr. Fry had merely made a mistake and had apologized for it.

"When someone does this, the traditions and conventions of the House are that this admission and error and apology are to be accepted," Mr. Gray said.

Dr. Fry herself was attending a conference in Nunavut on racism and was unavailable for comment.

Prince George MP Jay Hill said Dr. Fry should be removed from her job.

"The truth is that the minister fabricated this slur," the Alliance member said. "When will the Prime Minister begin to hold ministers accountable for their repeated intolerance?"

Human-rights groups, such as the League for Human Rights and the Canadian Anti-Racism Research and Education Society, have defended Dr. 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 British Columbia, including Prince George.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.