Toronto Star

Mar. 25, 12:08 EDT

Fry lacks judgment to sit at cabinet table

The Toronto Star

Words can scald, smear and lacerate. No one should be more conscious of their destructive power than Hedy Fry, Canada's secretary of state for multiculturalism.

Yet she recklessly — and wrongly — typecast Prince George in British Columbia as a city where "crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak."

Even if Fry's facts had been true, it is hard to see how denigrating a community of 75,000 promotes racial tolerance.

But her facts were not true. No civic official in Prince George can recall a single instance of cross burning.

When challenged to corroborate her information, Fry claimed she had been informed of the incidents by the mayor. He denies ever telling her any such thing.

"The reference to cross burnings in the city of Prince George is false,'' Mayor Colin Kinsley said.

The municipality did set up a task force to look into hate crimes when the Aryan Nation, a white supremacist group, tried to recruit members in Prince George, for which it has been commended by the province. But the cross-burnings, as far as anyone can determine, came right out of the minister's imagination.

A day later, Fry delivered a carefully worded apology. "I linked the City of Prince George with a specific hate activity. I regret that and I apologize to the people of Prince George,'' she said in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was fully satisfied with her apology.

Canadians should not be. A minister who thinks the way to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is to fling out damaging allegations lacks the judgment to speak on behalf of the government. A member of cabinet who doesn't bother to verify her facts, shouldn't be making public statements.

This is not the first time Fry has overstepped the bounds of decency.

During last fall's election, she attacked Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, warning that he would abuse his political power by promoting evangelical Christianity. "I say that is an insult to every Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, everybody else who believes in other religions.'' She never apologized for that remark.

Three years ago, she told Alberta newspapers that crosses were burned outside Kamloops. The allegation was denied by local officials.

The Canadian Alliance is calling on Fry to step down. That would be the honourable thing to do.

If Fry is incapable of doing that, she at least owes Canadians a commitment that she will curb her caustic tongue.

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