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Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef pictured during an interview in her office on Parliament Hill September 21, 2016 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef pictured during an interview in her office on Parliament Hill September 21, 2016 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

Birtherism comes to Canada with the Maryam Monsef ‘scandal’ Add to ...

The story in my family is that my first word was “gun.” Full disclosure: I have not found other sources for this story, beyond my mother.

I never looked. Why would I?

We lived in Vancouver, on the university campus, where my father was a student and, my mother says, there was lots of talk about guns and how bad they were, and I picked up on the word.

It was awkward, she says, everyone would be sitting around, talking about peace and love and whatnot, maybe strumming an acoustic guitar, singing an Ian and Sylvia song, and I’d start happily shouting, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

Soon I could walk, and I stuck to my guns. I added a hand gesture and I was a real little hippie disturber, my mum tells me, running into the room, finger-guns blazing, yelling “Gun! Gun! Gun!” arousing much hippie suspicion, and leaving bullet holes in my parent’s hippie-cred.

These are the kinds of stories families tell, stories that establish their identity. Most of us, the lucky ones, have these tales. We condense and arrange particular elements of our lives together, with no small degree of artifice. These are our familial narrative dioramas.

We don’t – Pulitzer-winning toddlers excepted – fact-check them, and so I am absolutely prepared to believe that Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef never asked her mother if she was really born in Herat, Afghanistan, the city where her parents were married.

It turns out she was born 373 kilometres away, in Mashhad, Iran, a fact she says she recently learned from her mother.

The family is unquestionably Afghan. They were not citizens of Iran; her birth there never entitled her to become one. They were merely forced, sometimes, to live in Iran in order to escape the war. Ms. Monsef’s father died on the border, although he was not a soldier and, in 1996 – the year the Taliban seized control – her mother managed, not easily, to bring the family (Ms. Monsef has two sisters) to Canada.

All the more reason, a moderately empathetic person might say, that Ms. Monsef’s mother might leave out her daughter’s being born away from home, a home that she lost – some part of which she no doubt hopes her children carry with them.

I’ve met third-generation Canadians who give every impression of being born in Scotland but have never so much as been there, and no demands to see a birth certificate from that lot – the clan plaque on the rec-room wall seems to be official enough.

One does, of course, suspect that, were Ms. Monsef of Scottish origin, we’d be having a different conversation, likely about the weather or how the apple fritters at Tim Hortons used to be better, or anything, really, that didn’t specifically include Ms. MacMonsef.

Had the honourable member for Peterborough-Kawartha held an annual Robbie Burns Night for her constituents, sent out tartan campaign literature, and were we only now learning that she was not, in fact, born in Glasgow, her ancestral home, as she’d believed, but on a family holiday in Liverpool, 353 kilometres away, I bet no one would be batting an aye.

Were Ms. Monsef not a “foreign” immigrant, one of that kind, I imagine people would laugh at Conservative MP and leadership contender Tony Clement even more than usual – the national mirth would be heard from his claimed birthplace of Manchester – for demanding, as he did last week, that she resign over this trivial a matter.

Not trivial! you say. Of course, she must have known; why wouldn’t her mother tell her?

I can only say I was fairly grown before I learned I’d been christened under a different name and that my original birth certificate lists me as Tanis Gabriel Southey, a name I carried for a year or so until my mum changed her mind and renamed me Tabatha Mary Southey.

The name Tabatha is Aramaic in origin and can, I like to say, be translated to mean “My (excellent) mother is a bit of a flake.”

No doubt people who knew us back then may remember me as Tanis and insist I must have always known, too, but to my mother it was incidental; there was lots else to talk about, and there’s nothing remotely sad or frightening about any part of that story. There was no reason not to talk about it; we just didn’t.

For the most part, the reaction of a number of Conservatives to Ms. Monsef’s slow-news-day-revelation reads like a cheap, knockoff political-conspiracy theory. Behold the “Birkyn Bag” of birtherism, complete with unnamed sources assuring us that “Something is going on …”

I haven’t seen so much effort go into putting a sinister spin on what is clearly a small family drama, possibly somewhat mythologized, as they often are, since 2008. Cast your minds back to that weird dark time when some on the left attempted to further discredit Sarah Palin by wildly speculating that she had faked her pregnancy and was not actually Trig Palin’s mother, but here we are.

To what end are you playing this dangerous game, Conservatives?

I worry about you guys. If only there were some place you could look to see how this kind of cynical, mendacious, playing to a racist base, and let’s not pretend this “othering” is anything else, ends?

Oh, hey, look, there is! Just to the south of us. Did you catch the debates this week?

You know, that was the Republican candidate up there. That guy who wants to tear up NAFTA, tell American companies where they can make what, impose 35-per-cent tariffs on companies that move jobs outside the U.S. because “we’ll make a fortune,” he’s the free-market party’s figurehead now.

That guy who says these tariffs will earn America such a fortune that, he figures, he’ll sometimes end up saying “Please move. Please move ...” to those companies because he just loves tariffs that much, he’s America’s conservative candidate.

How did the party of the National Rifle Association get to a place where its candidate, in a nationally televised debate, was pretty much saying, “I see your ‘preventing people on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms’ and raise you ‘just plain stopping people on the street to take their guns away’”?

Mr. We’re Going To Take Away Your Guns So Bigly, It’s Gonna Be Beautiful, Just Terrific Firearm Seizing? He’s a Republican! And what happened there is the Republicans let some parasites in. They winked at those parasites a fair bit, threw them some bones. They pretty much served them drinks in the parasite lounge because those parasites could vote, after all, and it didn’t seem that hard to make them happy.

Now that those parasites have taken over their ever-so-gracious host, many regular punters are quietly trying to make for the exits .

How long before people forget what that party looked liked before it allowed a great, orange, gelatinous ringworm to represent it, I wonder?

What I see when I look at Ms. Monsef is a daughter who came to this country when she was 11, went to school, played by the rules, worked hard, and is trying to give something back.

Is that really what you want to stand against, guys? Who in this picture before us doesn’t know where they came from?

If anyone should be re-examining their birthplace, it’s the Conservative Party of Canada.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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Riding reacts to minister Maryam Monsef's birthplace revelation (The Globe and Mail)

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