Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says political detractors are conflating Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef's complex refugee story with that of deliberate dishonesty as questions about her birthplace linger.
Mr. Trudeau, defending Ms. Monsef publicly for the first time on Thursday, accused her critics of "spreading misinformation" and "trying to torque up an issue," after the minister said in September she only learned she had been born in Iran and not Afghanistan after inquiries from The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Monsef, elected in 2015 and heralded by her party as the country's first Afghan-born MP, said her mother never told her she was actually born in Mashhad, Iran, until The Globe approached her with questions about how she came to Canada as a refugee in 1996 when she was 11. Ms. Monsef has since discovered that she and her two sisters spent less than three years in Herat, Afghanistan, where her parents had lived before moving to Iran.
The revelation has prompted questions about whether Ms. Monsef misrepresented her birthplace. Sun Media has reported that a file has been opened to investigate Ms. Monsef for possible citizenship fraud, although sources tell The Globe this is not the case.
Mr. Trudeau was asked Thursday following a town hall event with high school students to mark his first year in government whether the information that Ms. Monsef was born in Iran could cause her Canadian citizenship to be revoked. The current law allows for citizenship to be revoked without a hearing if a Canadian is found to have misrepresented him or herself in their application.
"This is a situation in which people are conflating, for political reasons, the very real situation that so many refugees face – of fleeing from conflict situations where there is not always perfect clarity on which side of a border one is born on, or the conditions in which one is raised, and mixing that with very deliberate acts of omission or else dishonesty in trying to gain Canadian citizenship through fraudulent declarations or attestations," Mr. Trudeau said.
He said Ms. Monsef should be celebrated as a young Afghan girl who came to Canada and, years later, ended up being elected minister for democratic institutions.
"It's disappointing to see people spreading misinformation and trying to torque up an issue that simply isn't one," he said.
The Prime Minister's Office previously provided a detailed timeline of Ms. Monsef 's life that showed she was born and lived in Iran until the age of 9. The family moved to her mother's family home in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1993 and then fled the Taliban in 1996, ending up in Canada where they claimed refugee status.
Ms. Monsef has since said she is going through the process of correcting her official documents. Her office says she holds both Canadian and Afghan citizenships, and is not and has never been an Iranian citizen.