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March 29, 2001

Two MPs accuse Copps of religious intolerance

Bitter exchange

Sheldon Alberts
National Post

OTTAWA - Two Canadian Alliance MPs -- one Sikh and another Christian -- accused Sheila Copps, the Canadian Heritage Minister, of religious intolerance yesterday over remarks made during a bitter exchange in the House of Commons.

Deborah Grey, the Alliance deputy leader and an evangelical Christian, and Gurmant Grewal, an MP of Sikh faith, say they were offended by remarks Ms. Copps made during a round of heckling and partisan taunts during question period.

The incident occurred when Ms. Copps, in an attempt to defend embattled Cabinet colleague Hedy Fry, questioned Ms. Grey's commitment to Christian values.

''What would you know about Christians?'' Ms. Copps shouted at Ms. Grey, who had been heckling Ms. Fry over her past criticisms of Stockwell Day's religious beliefs.

''In fact, if you know anything about Christians you should change your tone.''

The Heritage Minister made the controversial remarks as Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, was answering a question from Mr. Grewal, the Alliance MP for Surrey Central who was born in India.

Mr. Grewal jumped to his feet following question period to demand an apology from Ms. Copps, who he believed had been demeaning his Sikh religion.

''I'm offended by it and I think it is our moral responsibility to treat all religions equally and with respect,'' he said.

But both Ms. Grey and Ms. Copps, frequent verbal combatants during question period, told the Commons the remarks were part of an exchange over Ms. Fry.

The Alliance has been demanding Mr. Chrétien fire Ms. Fry for falsely stating last week that white supremacists were burning crosses in Prince George, B.C.

Ms. Copps refused to withdraw her remarks.

''She accused [Ms. Fry] of attacking Christians, whereupon I responded by saying 'What would she know about Christians,' in reference specifically to the very important Christian value of forgiveness,'' Ms. Copps said.

Ms. Grey said her attacks on Ms. Fry have been justified. The multiculturalism minister, Ms. Grey argues, has not adequately apologized to Prince George.

''She [Ms. Fry] doesn't appear to even want any forgiveness because there is no remorse there at all,'' said Ms. Grey.

Ms. Fry issued an apology in the House of Commons last week and a written apology to Colin Kinsley, Prince George's Mayor, this week.

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