Toronto Sun

Friday, March 23, 2001

Racism remark recanted

By MARK DUNN, OTTAWA BUREAU
Toronto Sun

OTTAWA --  Prime Minister Jean Chretien vigorously defended a junior cabinet minister yesterday who a day earlier had described Prince George, B.C., as a hotbed of racist activity and cross-burnings.

Canadian Alliance MPs said his defence of Hedy Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism, shows the PM condones the poor character of an "intolerant" minister.

"The values that should be present in a prime minister are not present in the prime minister," said Dick Harris, MP for Prince George.

Fry set off a tempest Wednesday when, in response to a question by a Liberal backbencher, she said "crosses are being burned (in Prince George) as we speak."

She cited a letter from the mayor of Prince George. A statement from the City of Prince George yesterday categorically denied her statements.

'HALF-HEARTED'

Chretien refused opposition calls to fire Fry and said the matter is closed because she apologized earlier in the House -- an apology Harris said was "half-hearted and hidden selectively in some well-rehearsed feel-good phrases."

The outspoken minister refused to defend herself outside the House and dashed past reporters to a car.

The PM suggested that no matter what a minister says, all is forgiven as long as he or she apologizes in the Commons.

"We have a tradition that when a mistake is made and recognized we accept the word of an honourable member of the House," the prime minister said in the Commons.

Chretien cited the forgiveness shown Wednesday to Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer, who apologized in the Commons for allowing an aide to impersonate him on radio.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.