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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)

Globe editorial

A question for Maryam Monsef about her birthplace Add to ...

Maryam Monsef is Canada’s first Afghan Member of Parliament. Of that there can be no doubt.

The MP from Peterborough, Ont., and Minister of Democratic Institutions came to Canada from Afghanistan in 1996 as a refugee from the country’s wars, brought here by her widowed mother along with two sisters.

During her early years, the family repeatedly travelled across the Iran border as they sought refuge from the war. Her father, a non-combatant, was killed in 1988 in an incident on the border.

Her displaced upbringing is a narrative familiar to the millions who fled the region during that period. So it is entirely believable that Ms. Monsef would be under the mistaken belief that she was born in the Afghanistan city of Herat, as she claimed until last week, rather than her actual birthplace in the Iranian city of Mashhad, 373 kilometres away.

It is also plausible that, as Ms. Monsef claims, her mother kept that information to herself on the grounds that it was too painful to relive, and because in the end it didn’t really matter. They were Afghans who had taken refuge in Iran and who returned to Afghanistan when they could. The children were never entitled to Iranian citizenship.

But there is one gap in the plausibility of Ms. Monsef’s story. Questioned last week by a Globe and Mail reporter acting on a tip, she says she subsequently asked her mother about her birthplace, and only then learned the truth.

The implication in Ms. Monsef’s story is that her mother was the sole keeper of this family secret. But it is clear that others knew or claimed to know otherwise, which is how Ms. Monsef came to be asked about this matter in the first place. After she acknowledged she was born in Iran, but said it was news to her, some former political opponents in Peterborough, where she once ran for mayor, said they were aware of her true birthplace.

Could it be that Ms. Monsef didn’t know where she was born, but others did? Maybe. But the story she has told so far is incomplete.

An MP and a member of cabinet has to be truthful about herself with the Canadian public. Ms. Monsef especially needed to be factual about her past when she was being vetted for a cabinet position. The onus was on Ms. Monsef to come forward as early as possible with any new information about her birthplace. It is not clear that this was the case, and it needs to be.

Editor's note This editorial has been modified to reflect the following correction: A Thursday editorial on Maryam Monsef incorrectly said a former Liberal MP had said he was aware of her true birthplace. In fact, the former MP said he knew her family was from Iran. “I knew the family was from Iran - I did,” Peter Adams said.

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