Minister apologizes for cross burning remarks

Hedy Fry has apologized to the people of Prince George, B.C. The Minister of State for Multiculturalism caused a storm in the House of Commons on Wednesday when she said racist cross burnings take place on lawns in the city.

Opposition MPs demanded a retraction, an apology even a resignation from Fry. On Thursday, they got a retraction and an apology but no resignation.

On Wednesday, Fry said, "Mr. Speaker, we can just go to British Columbia, in Prince George, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak."

MP Richard Harris represents the riding of Prince George-Bulkley Valley. He's lived in Prince George for 40 years. He was astonished at the reference.

"I believe that it is revolting that this minister would cast such vicious and mean-spirited aspersions on the people of Prince George, British Columbia," said Harris.

Jay Hill's B.C. riding also includes part of Prince George. "It can't be substantiated. There were no crosses being burned and certainly not as she spoke in the House of Commons."

Fry originally stuck to her guns. She returned to the House later Wednesday afternoon to amend her comments to say "recently" rather than "as we speak."

Nobody CBC spoke with had heard of cross burnings. Not the police. Not local politicians.

The acting mayor, Don Zurkowski, said he didn't know what Fry was talking about. "I have no idea where the information came from but the activity was not a Prince George activity, so she may well have had the wrong community, or the wrong country for that matter," he said.

Fry told reporters, "Within the last year I had a letter from the mayor of Prince George asking me to assist him in my job as secretary of state in an incident of cross burning that had occurred there."

The mayor's office says that's absolutely not true.

Others in the community didn't buy Fry's statement. Purnima Sharma goes into schools in Prince George to promote tolerance. She's a member of the city's large Indo-Canadian community.

"You cannot say racism is not prevalent in this community, but to the extent that there are crosses burning here, I haven't been aware of that and it's never come to my attention," she told CBC News.

The local RCMP have received two complaints in the last year they say border on hate crimes. But the police say if there was a cross burning, they would have noticed.