Vancouver Province

Friday 23 March 2001

Alliance members won't let go of Fry's cross-burning fantasy

Jim McNulty
The Province

After years of happily powdering her loose cannon, Hedy Fry finally blew herself up this week.

She was still clinging to life in cabinet yesterday after the prime minister slapped a big mustard plaster on the wound.

But no Liberal shroud can hide the fact that Fry stands guilty of making preposterous false claims that have not been adequately explained.

The extent of her fantasy about cross-burnings in Prince George and a phantom letter from that city's mayor creates serious doubt about her fitness to remain as secretary of state for multiculturalism.

The Vancouver Centre MP offered a truly feeble apology yesterday in the House, but few bought it except Jean Chretien and a handful of Liberal apologists.

Chretien, who has a strong distaste for demoting cabinet ministers, insisted that her apology cleared the matter.

The House should respect that and let it go, Chretien said -- just as it did when Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer confessed to lying about a radio impersonation caper.

Trouble is, Fry's single sentence of explanation left out far more than it included.

On Wednesday, responding to a puffball question from the Liberal backbench about racism, Fry told the House that "crosses are being burned" in Prince George "as we speak."

When Alliance MPs complained, Fry returned on a point of order to claim that cross-burnings have indeed taken place in B.C.

"I know of this because I was contacted immediately that these incidents occurred by the mayor of Prince George . . . I know very clearly and personally of the incident in Prince George."

Nuts, said the mayor, who denied ever sending Fry a letter complaining of cross burnings. Nor had the RCMP heard of any.

By now, Alliance MPs were in full lather, particularly Dick Harris and Jay Hill, who represent the Prince George area.

Fry returned to the House yesterday with this tepid peace offering: "(Wednesday) I linked the City of Prince George with a specific hate activity, I regret that and I apologize to the people of Prince George."

When Question Period rolled around, Harris and Hill were joined by the Alliance's Gurmant Grewal and Brian Pallister in demanding she resign for failing to address the fabrications.

"The minister could not be clearer," Chretien replied. Huh?

Alliance House Leader Chuck Strahl later carried on the attack by urging Speaker Peter Milliken to find Fry in "contempt of the House" for making false and misleading statements.

"There was no letter, there was no request, there was no lawn, there were no cross-burnings," Strahl said.

"The whole thing is a figment of her imagination, it's a complete fabrication."

Liberal House Leader Don Boudria then tried to claim Fry's statement was "withdrawn. Therefore, if it's withdrawn, any letter attached to something that was withdrawn is equally withdrawn."

That's rich. So was Boudria's reference to the northern city as "King George."

NDP veteran Bill Blaikie then wondered if Fry is "now saying that she received no communication of any kind" from Mayor Colin Kinsley.

It matters not, ruled Milliken, who could find no evidence of a breach of privilege.

While many MPs "may feel that this apology was insufficient . . . the fact is there was an apology . . .

"The House has to accept the apology, such as it is, although there may be disagreement about it."

You can be sure about that. Until Fry truly comes clean on this nasty business, she'll remain the biggest joke in cabinet.

Jim McNulty's voice mail: 605-2094.