Toronto Star

Mar. 29, 12:56 EDT

Copps under fire for `Christians' remark

Says comment misconstrued as attack on religion

Valerie Lawton
The Toronto Star

OTTAWA - Heritage Minister Sheila Copps set off a new controversy yesterday when she shouted across the House of Commons to the opposition benches, ``What would you know about Christians?''

Copps made the comment while Canadian Alliance MP Gurmant Grewal, a Sikh, was on his feet asking a question. Grewal thought the question was directed at him and demanded an apology.

The remark came during a raucous question period as Copps attempted to defend her cabinet colleague Hedy Fry, the secretary of state for multiculturalism who faced renewed opposition calls for her resignation. Fry has been under fire for saying racists were burning crosses in Prince George, B.C. ``as we speak.''

About an hour after the Copps comment, the minister offered a clarification in the House, saying she'd actually been heckling Canadian Alliance deputy leader Deborah Grey - a staunch Christian.

Copps said she was provoked by Grey, who'd been mocking Fry over her attack on Stockwell Day during last fall's election, when Fry warned the Canadian Alliance leader would promote evangelical Christianity.

``I responded by saying what would she know about Christians in reference specifically to the very important Christian value of forgiveness,'' said Copps. ``I'm sorry that members opposite have tried to construe these comments as something that they utterly were not.''

Canadian Alliance MPs said Copps' comments were insulting - no matter who they were aimed at.

``Deb thought it was directed at her. Gurmant thought they were directed to him. Either way, they were very inappropriate and neither one of them are acceptable,'' said Alliance House Leader Chuck Strahl.

Fry repeated what has become a daily routine of pushing her way past shouting reporters with the help of a phalanx of security guards.

``I apologized to everyone,'' she said, adding she has admitted making a mistake.

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