Vancouver Sun

Thursday 29 March 2001

Fry should explain herself, Liberals should stop being sanctimonious: Cools

Hedy Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism, stands during Question Period. (CP /Tom Hanson)
Hedy Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism, stands during Question Period. (CP /Tom Hanson)
JENNIFER DITCHBURN
Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA (CP) - Liberal senator Anne Cools has joined the chorus criticizing Hedy Fry, saying the junior minister for multiculturalism has damaged the fight against intolerance and should fully explain her actions.

But Cools, the first black woman to sit in the Upper Chamber, also says her party has a "sanctimonious" attitude toward racism in Canada, and should look in its own ranks to see intolerance.

Fry has refused to explain how she mistakenly asserted last week in the House of Commons that crosses were being burned on lawns in Prince George, B.C.

"The problem with Dr. Fry's statements is that they (cause) a reflex action into a stereotype that all westerners are rednecks," Cools said in an interview Thursday.

"I think that stereotype causes a lot of westerners distress."

Cools made waves herself earlier this month when she told fellow senators she had faced racism from within her own ranks.

She said she suffered as a young woman in the 1970s, dealing with Liberals who didn't think she was fit for the job as she tried for the party's nomination in the wealthy Toronto riding of Rosedale.

Cools said Thursday that logically, there is the same proportion of racists within Liberal ranks as in Canadian society, and the same can be said for other parties.

"You have a lot of constant Liberal mutterings about how sanctimonious Liberals are and how pious Liberals are on these questions," she said, "and I've always adopted the view that Liberals should look in their own backyard as well."

Canadian Alliance members and others have bristled at suggestions from Liberal ranks that their party attracts racists, or that their policies are intolerant. They say they're fed up with the Liberals acting like they have cornered the market on tolerance.

The controversy surrounding Fry continued to smoulder Thursday. Alliance MP Deborah Grey pointed to an incident in Montreal last year, when radical feminists allegedly desecrated a cathedral and burned crosses on its front steps.

She attacked Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, for not denouncing the incident at the time.

"Why did not the junior minister speak up about that real hate crime, not the invented one that she has been doing recently?" said Grey.

Fry caused an uproar of laughter and shouting in the Commons when she responded: "I will not make a comment on something that I know nothing about."

Meantime, Fry apologized in writing Thursday for suggesting four years ago that there were cross-burnings in Kamloops, B.C.

"I am sorry that my remarks in a major daily newspaper in 1997 caused distress to you and the people of Kamloops," Fry said in the letter to Mayor Mel Rothenburger.

"It was certainly not my intent."

Rothenburger said he appreciates the apology.

"Obviously it was of considerable concern that Kamloops should be associated with cross-burning in any way and as everyone knows there was nothing to substantiate it," he said.

"I accept the minister's apology and, as far as I'm concerned, this puts an end to the issue."