Toronto Sun

April 1, 2001

Is she out of her Hedy?

By LINDA WILLIAMSON -- Toronto Sun

Let us count the lessons in last week's Hedy Fry debacle.

First, that female politicians, who struggled throughout the last century for recognition, now enjoy equality such that they can behave as stupidly and obnoxiously as any man.

Second, that the Liberal party, that great bastion of tolerance, inclusiveness and multiculturalism, can be, in its way, as bigoted and intolerant as most any other party.

Third, that as long as Prime Minister Jean Chretien sets the example by lying, obfuscating, ignoring the shameful behaviour of his own ministers and backbenchers and just plain not showing up, things will only get worse.

I was struck by the little tableau the other day in which Fry taunted the opposition by childishly waving some sort of sign, while being heckled by Alliance MP Deborah Grey, as Alliance MP Gurmant Grewal tried to ask Fry a question.

The unmistakable voice of Heritage Minister Sheila Copps cut through the noise: "What would you know about Christians?" she blared. It was not a great moment in the history of women in politics, let me tell you.

There was some confusion as to whether Copps was yelling at Grewal, a Sikh, or Grey, a Christian. Copps later stressed she was addressing Grey. As if that makes it okay. Of course, as we all know from previous Liberal antics, bigotry is acceptable when it's directed at Christians. (It's even acceptable to tar an entire group of people, including Jews, as "holocaust deniers," as Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan did in reference to Alliance supporters in her riding.)

Fry clearly knows this double standard well - her stupid comment during the last federal election about Alliance leader Stockwell Day's Christian beliefs somehow being "an insult" to all Canadians of other faiths raised nary a Liberal eyebrow, even though it was wrong factually and theologically.

As for cross-burnings, the heinous events that have put Fry in such a hot spot this past week, she seems to have a problem discerning fact from fiction. Police in British Columbia say there haven't been any reports of cross-burnings in the province since 1981, yet Fry has twice referred to them happening - in Prince George ("as we speak," as she infamously told the House), and outside Kamloops (in a newspaper interview).

PHANTOM CROSS-BURNINGS

Sure, she has weakly apologized to both towns, in her haughty, "I'm sorry you were offended" sort of way. But she has yet to explain the origin of these phantom cross-burnings. Did she dream about them, perhaps after watching the striking and bitingly satirical cross-burning scene in the Coen brothers' new film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Heaven knows, racism is serious enough - there's no need to invent it.

One thing is sure: Fry wasn't confusing B.C. with Montreal, scene of the only recent reported incident of cross-burning in Canada. It happened, as Grey somewhat gleefully told the House, during an International Women's Day protest last year by a radical feminist group which defaced a Catholic church in Montreal. Presumably, these crosses were burned as an anti-Catholic statement, rather than the hateful racist message usually associated with white supremacist groups.

But Fry, despite her other job as Status of Women minister, which sponsors Women's Day events, denied any knowledge of it. "I will not make a comment on something I know nothing about," she said. Insert your own punch line here.

Clearly it's time for Fry, whom Sun columnist Doug Fisher has described as one of the key disappointments in a generally poor cabinet, to resign. As an arrogant minister of two of the most unnecessary portfolios in government - Multiculturalism and Status of Women - she would not be missed.

But why should she take the fall when so many other Liberals - ministers and backbenchers - have gotten away scot-free with their tried and true tactic of smearing anyone who opposes them as racist and intolerant? (The sad examples set here by three politicians, all women, who are supposed to be Canada's representatives for Heritage, Immigration and Multiculturalism speaks, shamefully, for itself. And I haven't even mentioned the allegations raised in the Ottawa press last week by Liberal Sen. Anne Cools, who is black, that she has repeatedly been the target of racism within her own party.)

No, Fry will not go down in flames. She will brazen it out. Hey, she's only following in the footsteps of the master of brazen: the leader and example known as Jean Chretien.


Linda Williamson is the Toronto Sun senior associate editor. She can be reached by e-mail at linda.williamson@tor.sunpub.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to editor@sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.