Globe and Mail

Fry in hotseat over remark

The Globe and Mail
Friday, March 23, 2001

Comments in the House of Commons regarding Hedy Fry's remarks on Prince George, B.C.


Ms. Fry's original comment, in response to an expected question from a Liberal MP:

"Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honorable member for that question. March 21 remembers the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in 1960 when innocent people were killed protesting apartheid.

"We only have to look around the world today at Kosovo, at Macedonia, at Northern Ireland to know that people are still discriminated against in the world because of their race, their religion and their culture. We do not have to go too far. We can just go to British Columbia in Prince George, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak.

"It is very important that we recognize that race, religion and culture in the country are part of our strengths and that we must keep every day and ensure that we will . . ." [interrupted by Speaker].

Ms. Fry responding to a point of order asking her to apologize for her comments about Prince George:

"I am responding to the point of order. In British Columbia there have been incidents of hate crime, including cross-burnings. I know of this because I was contacted immediately that these incidents occurred by the mayor of Prince George.

"In my position as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism I funded the mayor to set up a task force right away. The community was duly concerned and duly appalled at the incident and demanded to take immediate action, so I funded the mayor to hold a task force. The task force met and came out with some remarkable and courageous recommendations, which the mayor is implementing.

"What I am highlighting is that these incidents occur. In my role as Secretary of State I am often very astounded at the rapidity with which municipalities and communities take action against such things. It is my role to sometimes assist them with resources. I did so, so I know very clearly and personally of the incident in Prince George.

"I was recently in Prince George, where I met with the task force and congratulated the mayor and the people of Prince George for taking immediate action on incidents that could happen in communities anywhere in Canada."

Response from Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark:

"Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. I hear the minister speak in the House. She referred to crosses burning as we speak. Her response has not addressed that question.

"It would be in the interest of everyone, and it certainly would respect the spirit of this parliamentary debate, if she simply apologized and withdrew that inaccurate remark."

Ms. Fry's response to Mr. Clark:

"Mr. Speaker, I would be very pleased to remove the piece 'as we speak.' Sometimes when we speak in the House of Commons we put some of our phrases before and after.

"However, this was a recent incident. What I meant to say was that as we speak things are happening around the world and in Canada and in Prince George that are changing things.

"I would be very pleased to withdraw the phrase 'as we speak' and say 'recent.' "


Ms. Fry's apology:

"Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and recognition of the current existence of hate and racism throughout the world.

"Yesterday, I linked the City of Prince George with a specific hate activity. I regret that and I apologize to the people of Prince George.

"I am very proud of what communities have accomplished in this country to counter racism and hate and to promote cultural diversity, especially the Prince George city council's task force on hate activities.

"As Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, racism and hate activities are very important and serious issues to me, and I know they are to Canadians by the prompt and immediate actions taken by municipalities and communities throughout the country to counteract such activities."

Reaction from Canadian Alliance MP Richard Harris:

"Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism recklessly and mercilessly compared my home town of Prince George to apartheid in South Africa and Kosovo. She claimed racism was rampant in British Columbia and that indeed crosses were being burned on the lawns in Prince George.

"This we knew was false yesterday and we know it is false today. Her half-hearted attempt at an apology this morning, hidden selectively in some well-rehearsed feel-good phrases, is not enough. I ask for an unequivocal apology to the people of Prince George and her resignation."

Response from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien:

"Mr. Speaker, the minister made a very clear apology. She read it in the House of Commons. Only a few days ago, we had a member from the other side who had done something that was completely unacceptable. He apologized to the House.

"On this side of the House, when a member offers an apology in the tradition of Parliament, we accept the apology of ministers and not just members of Parliament."


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