London Free Press

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Fry's roasting well-deserved

The multiculturalism minister should be the cure, not the problem

By Herman Goodden -- London Free Press

I've lavishly enjoyed watching Multiculturalism Minister Hedy Fry as she has executed a spectacular triple-header from the frying pan into the fire. Like televangelist, Jack Van Impe, or so-called comedian Adam Sandler, Fry is one of those magically anti-charismatic public figures who irritates me so much, I actually derive a kind of sick pleasure from it. This week I might actually be getting too much of a not very wholesome thing.

Infamous for shooting off her mouth before thinking through what she's going to say, this time Fry's in more trouble than usual regarding some outrageously groundless allegations about cross-burnings in B. C. Had her remarks been delivered off-the-cuff, that would have been the usual dilemma. This is a cabinet minister with a long history of impulsive flippancy regretted at leisure.

In the '93 federal election, which first saw Fry elected to office (she beat out the briefly incumbent Prime Minister Kim Campbell), she made a reckless comment at a homosexual rights forum. Eyes casting about the room, she said, "I hope there is nobody from the Medical Services Commission here," before confessing that as a physician, she had repeatedly and knowingly falsified prescriptions so gays and lesbians could cash in on their partner's medical plans.

Though technically illegal, it's the kind of infraction that probably happens a fair bit. But it was foolish and more than a little self-serving to brag about such practices before that particular audience in a bid to garner votes. That comment netted Fry a subsequent reprimand from the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons and is thought to have cost her a cabinet posting in that first term.

At the lowest point in the Liberals' scummy federal election campaign last November, Fry joined Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the entire news department at CBC-TV in mocking Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day's creationist Christian beliefs. Ignoring the fact there is no more religiously open and diverse party in Canada today than the Alliance, Fry intolerantly sputtered that Day wants to "abuse his political power by making all Canadians believe, as he said, that Jesus Christ is the God of the whole universe. I say that is an insult to every Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, everybody else who believes in other religions."

But Fry's latest remarks were deliberately planned as an answer to a staged question in Parliament which was lobbed her way by an obedient Liberal backbencher. The point of that exchange was to elicit a sort of summation from our minister of multiculturalism on the state of the nation, bigotry-wise, as the world marked that special and joyous holiday (which, I must admit, I'd never heard of before and haven't bothered flagging for celebration next year) called International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDFERD).

Instead of blandly extending "Season's Greetings" or "Happy IDFERD" to Canadians everywhere," Fry donned her very haughtiest demeanour and said:

"Mr. Speaker, 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."

Peppered with questions after that session of Parliament, Fry insisted the mayor of Prince George had sent her a letter requesting her personal help with these demonstrations of racial hatred. Yet Mayor Colin Kinsley of Prince George and that town's RCMP unit denied any such incidents, or that they'd made any overtures to Fry for help.

Interestingly, Fry had made an equally groundless claim four years earlier about cross burnings in Kamloops, has repeatedly claimed that the western provinces are being flooded with Ku Klux Klan-style groups with "a very well organized strategic plan" to establish a "white homeland," and has characterized Canadian history overall as one long litany of "colonial racism and intolerance."

What's the problem here? Aren't there enough genuine cases of racism and intolerance in Canada today to keep a minister of multiculturalism profitably occupied? Is it vocational insecurity that drives Fry in her deluded mission to find a neo-Nazi under every Canadian bed, or is it just standard-issue paranoia? Either way, Fry herself has become a national laughing stock whose professional misconduct only hurts the cause she purports to serve.


Herman Goodden is a London freelance writer. His column appears regularly in Sunday's A&E section. He can be e-mailed at herman.goodden@sympatico.ca.

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Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,