Globe and Mail

Off with her Hedy

PAUL SULLIVAN
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, March 27, 2001

What do you suppose she was thinking? Why would Hedy Fry, one of British Columbia's two surviving federal ministers, stand up in the House of Commons and declaim in that familiar, hectoring tone: "We could just go to Prince George, British Columbia, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak."

It wasn't even off the cuff, passed in the heat of a scrum. It was a prepared statement. The Secretary of State for Multiculturalism had to think about it. And then she compounded the fracture later by citing the mayor of Prince George as her source. The mayor was stupefied.

The last cross burned in B.C. was in North Vancouver a decade ago, a few blocks from where this column is being composed, but that's another story. No crosses are burning in Prince George, population 75,000. And unfortunately for the minister, Prince George has become a model of anti-racism. It declared itself a "hate activities free zone" several years ago and, on the very day the minister issued her canard, was given an End Racism Award by the B.C. government.

The incident has stimulated a headline-writing spasm at the Prince George Citizen: "She should give her Hedy a shake," and "She should be head of mouthyculturalism." But despite the hurt reflected in this editorial indignation, the real damage accrues to the minister.

She has spent the past several days back-pedaling gracelessly. But in a single sentence, Ms. Fry has tossed her career onto the bonfire of the vanities. The Prime Minister has defended her in the House, accepted her apology, and will shuffle her to the back benches as soon as it's seemly. (That's if he's still around, and that's another story.) We are left only to wonder at an act of senseless self-immolation.

Oddly, she's done this before, telling The Edmonton Journal in 1997 that "it disturbs me that, in rural B.C., crosses are burned outside Kamloops." She got away with it because she wasn't in the House at the time. Perhaps that led her to believe she could burn figurative crosses with impunity. Or she actually believes that rural B.C. is a, um, hotbed of Klan activity.

Which is not to say that racism in B.C. is all in her mind. Prince George only declared itself a "hate activities free zone" after it was discovered that a member of the Aryan Nations was operating in town. And according to B.C.'s hate-crime unit, 426 incidents were reported from July of 1997 to December of 1999, most of them in the urban Vancouver area. And more than half of those incidents were racially motivated. The worst was the murder of a Sikh temple caretaker by skinheads.

So there's plenty of fact-based fodder, if Ms. Fry cares to make a case. But since apologizing for randomly torching Prince George, she's been uncharacteristically tightlipped. And after dishing it out at the enemies of multiculturalism, both real and imagined, she's now the target of pent-up retaliation. She has been accused of beating up on rural B.C. because, as an Alliance hinterland, it's an easier target than her own city of Vancouver. She's just like all those other snobs in Ottawa, taking cheap political shots at the boonies.

Whatever she was thinking, she has let us all down -- urban and rural British Columbians, including the very minorities she has fought so hard to defend throughout her career. Her credibility is shot, and while it is painful to throw a bone to the jackals baying for her hide, she must resign, for the good of us all.

psulli@sullivanmedia.com

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