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March 27, 2001

B.C. mayors want Fry to fully recant

Complaints of racism rare in Canada, figures show

Richard Foot, Sheldon Alberts and Stewart Bell
National Post

Carlo Allegri, National Post
Hedy Fry leaves an anti-racism conference in Toronto yesterday. She was escorted to the event by a hired bodyguard.

Municipal leaders in two B.C. cities want written apologies for the "ugly slur" made against their communities by Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, who falsely claimed that racists burned crosses there.

Yesterday, while opposition parties renewed calls for Dr. Fry to resign or be fired from the Cabinet, the mayors of Prince George and Kamloops -- plus some of Dr. Fry's own Liberal colleagues -- said her verbal apologies have been ambiguous and insincere.

As well, an examination of human rights complaints across Canada provides a picture of race relations at odds with the negative one repeatedly presented by Dr. Fry.

Vivienne Poy, a Liberal Senator, and Judy Sgro, a Toronto Liberal MP, said Dr. Fry has not sufficiently explained herself.

Ms. Poy said Dr. Fry should produce whatever evidence she has that prompted her to say crosses were being burned, Ku Klux Klan-style, in British Columbia.

Last Wednesday, Dr. Fry said she had a letter from the Mayor of Prince George about cross-burning. The Mayor replied that he wrote no such letter.

On Thursday -- after Dr. Fry had called the RCMP and hate crimes experts in British Columbia searching for any proof of such burnings -- she recanted her story and issued a terse apology to the people of Prince George. "I mistakenly linked the city of Prince George with a specific hate activity. I regret that. And I apologize to the people of Prince George."

Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, continues to stand by Dr. Fry, saying her apologies are enough.

Dr. Fry has now received this letter from Don Zurowski, Prince George's acting mayor: "The fact is there has never been a 'cross burning' in Prince George, no letters sent to your office noting this, nor any statement by Mayor [Colin] Kinsley to this effect.

"We specifically request a letter of apology to the Mayor and the citizens of Prince George," said Mr. Zurowski, adding that Dr. Fry's apology in the House of Commons was "ambiguous at best."

In 1997, Dr. Fry made similar remarks about cross-burning near Kamloops.

On Sunday, Mel Rothenburger, the Mayor of Kamloops, wrote to Dr. Fry demanding a separate apology for those comments.

"Kamloops is now in a similar situation as Prince George -- identified by a federal Cabinet minister as a community in which cross-burnings have occurred," he said. "Kamloops is not that kind of community and I take exception to any suggestion that it is. An apology to the citizens of Kamloops would be very much appreciated."

In Toronto yesterday, Dr. Fry attended an anti-racism event with Ms. Poy and Ms. Sgro, where together they handed out awards to local schoolchildren.

Dr. Fry was escorted to the event by a hired bodyguard from The Saint Security and Transportation Inc. She refused to answer reporters' questions and was rushed to and from the event by her private security detail.

Ms. Poy and Ms. Sgro did answer questions, however, about whether Dr. Fry's apology should bring the matter to an end.

"Did she actually apologize? What words did she use? I'm not so sure," said Ms. Poy, whose sister-in-law is Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General.

"Where is the proof [of cross-burnings]? Where is the letter she got from the Mayor [of Prince George]? She should produce the evidence, show us the proof."

Said Ms. Sgro: "What [Dr. Fry] said was very unfortunate, but she did apologize. Was it enough of an apology? Well, I'm not sure. But I do think it's time to move on."

Dr. Fry has a long record of making unsubstantiated claims about racism in Canada. During her five years as Multiculturalism Minister, she has described Canada's history as one of "colonial racism and intolerance" and claimed that British Columbia and Alberta were being flooded with neo-Nazis who considered the provinces their "white homeland."

She has spoken of a "very well organized strategic plan" by racist organizations to move into Canada, and now she has twice said that racists were burning crosses in British Columbia

Figures compiled by the National Post show a different picture of Canadian race relations: Provincial and federal human rights commissions, the front-line agencies that investigate allegations of racial discrimination, are getting relatively few complaints.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission did not refer a single complaint of racial discrimination to its tribunal in 1997 and 1998, and only five cases in 1999.

The number of racial discrimination complaints filed with provincial human rights commissions is also relatively small. The city of Vancouver gets more complaints about barking dogs than Canada's combined human rights commissions receive concerning racism in any given year.

Four Canadian provinces had fewer than 10 formal racism complaints in the 1998-99 fiscal year, the latest period for which comparable statistics are available. They were Yukon (7), New Brunswick (5), Prince Edward Island (3) and Newfoundland (3). Another three provinces had fewer than 100 racism complaints: Alberta (91), Manitoba (26) and Nova Scotia (57). Ethnically diverse British Columbia had 150 complaints. Quebec had 139.

In Ontario there were fewer than 1,000 racism complaints, and half were withdrawn or dismissed. Only 36 were referred to a tribunal.

Many of the complaints received across Canada were dismissed as unfounded or withdrawn voluntarily. Most concerned employment and often the complaints were filed by unsuccessful job applicants alleging they were not hired because of their race.

Last year, after spending $2-million of federal funds on public hearings on racism, Dr. Fry declared that "Canada must tell the truth about its history. Our history is of colonial racism and intolerance."

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