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March 28, 2001

Chrétien denies aides tried to back Fry's cross claim

Prince George still angry: B.C. hate crimes unit says it received call from minister's office

Sheldon Alberts
National Post

Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, said in the House last week that crosses are being burned on lawns in Prince George, B.C.

OTTAWA - Jean Chrétien yesterday denied that Hedy Fry, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, or anyone in her office contacted RCMP hate crime investigators to seek information about possible cross burnings in British Columbia after she made the accusation in the House of Commons.

But the senior investigator in British Columbia's Provincial Hate Crime Unit -- a two-person team of one RCMP officer and one Vancouver city police officer -- confirmed Ms. Fry's office requested information on possible hate crimes in Prince George two days after the Minister told MPs "crosses are being burned on lawns" in the city "as we speak."

Sergeant Fiona Weller, a Vancouver city police investigator, told the National Post an assistant in Ms. Fry's constituency office called her last Friday and asked whether there had been any reports of cross burnings.

"He told me it was a misfortune that Ms. Fry spoke that way and did I have anything," Sgt. Weller said. "I said, 'No, there hasn't been a cross burning in this province that I am aware of, that has been reported to the police since 1981.' "

Sgt. Weller had phoned Ms. Fry's office after first hearing the Minister's claim. The officer said she hoped Ms. Fry would be able to provide her with information about alleged cross burnings.

"I am an investigator. If she is making comments like that, I want to know about it," said Sgt. Weller.

The New Democrats and the Canadian Alliance have repeatedly demanded Mr. Chrétien fire Ms. Fry for the false allegations and for contacting authorities to inquire about potential hate crimes after the fact.

"I verified that there were no phone calls made by the Minister or anyone in her office about that," said Mr. Chrétien, who grew angry when the Alliance rejected his explanation.

"I just said no one has called the RCMP. When the Prime Minister of Canada stands up and says he has inquired and there were no phone calls by the minister or her staff, the burden of proof is on the opposition, who has no leg to stand on because there were no phone calls made by anyone."

The Canadian Alliance accused Mr. Chrétien and Ms. Fry of trying to defuse the controversy by splitting hairs over which hate crimes investigator the Minister's aides had contacted. The Prime Minister has not confirmed or denied if anyone in Ms. Fry's office spoke to Sgt. Weller, a member of the Vancouver police.

Asked whether anyone in Ms. Fry's office had contacted the B.C. Provincial Hate Crimes Unit, the Minister's press secretary, Pascal Charron, said he could not answer.

Corporal Michael Labossiere, the other member of the B.C. Provincial Hate Crimes Unit, said yesterday he thought he had spoken with officials from Ms. Fry's office about racist activities but is now unsure.

"I spoke with several federal and provincial agencies, and I can't confirm that it was Hedy's office," Cpl. Labossiere said.

Dick Harris, the Alliance MP for Prince George-Bulkley Valley, said, "We had it from good sources that they were scurrying around on the weekend trying to find somebody to say there was an incident and maybe get a letter from someone."

Ms. Fry apologized for her remarks last week. She tried again yesterday to put the controversy behind her by issuing a written apology to the northern B.C. city's Mayor, Colin Kinsley.

"I wish to convey to you, personally, how sorry I am for the distress which my comments in the House of Commons on March 21 have caused you, the City Council and the residents of Prince George," Ms. Fry wrote.

But Mr. Kinsley remains furious that Ms. Fry has not specifically apologized for telling MPs that he had written her a letter informing her of the cross burning.

"Sadly, in my opinion, rather than clear up the issue and present the truth, it merely clouds it further," Mr. Kinsley said in a statement.

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