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March 26, 2001

Fry's tactic: shoot first, ask questions later

Sounded out experts on racism after she tarred B.C. city

Justine Hunter
National Post

Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
Hedy Fry

OTTAWA - Hedy Fry, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, sought evidence from hate crime experts to back up her claim of cross burning in Prince George, B.C., only after she made the allegation in the House of Commons last week.

Her critics meanwhile vow to keep up the pressure on Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, to fire her over the incident.

Dr. Fry appears to have exhausted her attempts to find any evidence of cross burning in British Columbia.

She and her staff called the RCMP's special task force on hate crimes and a leading anti-racism activist on Thursday, a day after she claimed the Ku Klux Klan's chilling symbol could be found in Prince George ''as we speak.''

Colin Kinsley, the Prince George Mayor, whom Dr. Fry cited as her source, and Prince George RCMP denied any such event took place, prompting a barrage of criticism from the public and opposition MPs.

On Thursday, the Vancouver Centre MP apologized to Prince George residents, but she also personally contacted Alan Dutton, the executive director of the Vancouver-based Canadian Anti-racism Education and Research Society, to ask for details of hate activity in the province.

''She asked me what I knew about cross burning and the KKK in British Columbia. She asked me for specifics,'' he said. ''Her main concern was one of fact.''

Mr. Dutton, who infiltrated the KKK in the 1980s to expose a Klan member working in Vancouver, is regarded by the B.C. Human Rights Commission as an expert on the subject.

Dr. Fry's office also contacted Corporal Mike Labossiere of the RCMP's B.C. hate crimes unit, seeking evidence of a cross burning anywhere in British Columbia.

Cpl. Labossiere said he told them he could furnish no evidence. ''Not even reports, that I'm aware.''

Aside from a staged, televised event in 1981, Mr. Dutton said there are no confirmed reports of cross burnings anywhere in British Columbia. He believes Klan members do burn crosses in the province, but he has never been able to confirm it.

''There have been reports. None of these reports has been substantiated, and there is not likely to ever be a public cross burning because of the hate crime legislation.''

He could not say why Dr. Fry singled out Prince George, which he said has its share of problems with racism but is not known as a haven for the Klan. ''Not at all,'' he said.

However, he said the Klan and other racist organizations such as the Aryan Nations are still trying to recruit members, and Dr. Fry's comment will at least bring some attention to the problem.

''There are still active members of the Klan in pockets of British Columbia and they still dress up and they still have their ceremonies,'' he said.

The B.C. Human Rights Commission, which would be able to investigate complaints because the Human Rights Code prohibits the burning of crosses as a symbol of hate, has recorded no such complaints.

Dr. Fry triggered the controversy on Wednesday during a staged question-and-answer exchange in the House of Commons with a Liberal backbencher.

Responding to a question about the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Dr. Fry said: ''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.''

Challenged on her claims, Dr. Fry later that day insisted the event occurred, saying she had been alerted by the Mayor, who asked her for help.

It was not until Thursday, after the Mayor and Prince George RCMP denied her allegation, that Dr. Fry recanted. Opposition MPs say they will continue to push for the Minister's resignation, saying she has lost too much credibility to handle the portfolio.

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