Vancouver Province

Thursday 22 March 2001

Fry 'off her rocker'

Comment about cross burnings in Prince George has city in an uproar

Gordon Clark
The Province

(Hedy) Fry

Liberal MP Hedy Fry's claim yesterday that people in Prince George are burning crosses on lawns "as we speak" has prompted a storm of controversy.

"She's off her rocker and you can quote me on that," said Prince George city Coun. Bruce Strachan, a former Social Credit cabinet minister and open-line radio host.

"I've never heard of a cross burning here," said Strachan, who has lived in the northern B.C. community since 1966.

"I think she's flipped. She is really winging it on this one"

Fry, who is in charge of multiculturalism in the Liberal government, made the comments in the House of Commons while discussing the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was yesterday.

"We can just go to British Columbia in Prince George, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak," she told the House. Fry -- who raised eyebrows during the federal election campaign by saying Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day's Christian views were an affront to people of other faiths -- didn't back down from her comments later in the day.

"In British Columbia, there have been incidents of hate crimes, including cross burnings. I know of this Mr. Speaker, because I was contacted immediately when these incidents occurred by the mayor of Prince George.

"I have funded the mayor who set up a task force right away. The community . . . was duly concerned and duly appalled at that incident and they demanded to take immediate action."

Prince George Mayor Colin Kinsley denied yesterday he ever told Fry there had been cross burnings in his city. "This reference to 'cross burnings' . . . is false, or possibly the minister has me confused with another mayor in another city," he said, adding his office had been told Fry would be clarifying herself today.

Fry could not be reached.

Kinsley noted his city is receiving this year's End Racism Award from Multiculturalism B.C.

The chairman of the Prince George's anti-racism task force also disputed Fry's claims.

"There has never been a cross burning," said Murry Krause, also executive director of the city's Native Health Centre. "It is an unfair representation of the citizens of our community.

"We shouldn't be painted with a brush that makes us look like Alabama -- many years ago, I might add."

Prince George RCMP said they know of no cross burnings. Such incidents are trademarks of the Ku Klux Klan in the southern U.S.

Krause said a task force was formed in June 1999 when the Prince George Citizen broke a story suggesting there was a recruiter for the Aryan Nations white-supremacist group in town.

The young man identified in the article as the recruiter told the paper he was not with the Aryan Nations, and then promptly left town, said Krause.

The incident, although minor, prompted several citizens and members of city hall's Intercultural Committee to suggest a task force was needed to look at racism in the city.

Said Strachan: "This is a very tolerant community.

"It is a little rednecked and it has a frontier mentality but . . . we are very tolerant of all people.

"There's still a couple feet of snow on the ground. It would be kind of hard to burn a cross. It wouldn't burn very long."

B.C. Finance Minister Paul Ramsey, who represents Prince George, said he's unaware of any cross burnings.

"I wouldn't say that Prince George has any greater proportion of its population who may hold racist views," he said, although noting the city is not without racial tensions.

"It certainly is an issue, particularly for the immigrant community and for the First Nations community," he said.

"During the debate on the Nisga'a treaty, it got hot enough that some native people actually pulled their kids out of school. It was not pleasant."

In an editorial, The Prince George Citizen called on the prime minister to remove Fry from the multiculturalism portfolio for "doing her level best to paint Prince George as some kind of backwater, racism-infested haven."