Gerry Butts is in a snit. It's bad enough that the Prime Minister's chief adviser had to pay back some of his moving expenses recently because they were embarrassingly high. And now, people are attacking Maryam Monsef, one of the Liberal Party's star MPs, who came to Canada as a refugee and rose to be a cabinet minister at the tender age of 30. How dare they?
Ms. Monsef is in the news because, inadvertently or not, she has misrepresented her place of birth. She has said it was Afghanistan, but she was actually born in Iran. Meanwhile, the immigration department is busy revoking the citizenship of refugees and immigrants (and their children) whose applications turn out to have contained false information.
This is awkward. But rather than clearing the air, Mr. Butts is smearing anyone with questions as a "birther," a racially charged epithet. After an editorial in this paper raised a reasonable doubt or two about Ms. Monsef's account, he tweeted: "The Globe and Mail endorses a homegrown Canadian birther movement. Breathtaking."
That was over the top, even for Mr. Butts. The Globe's mild-mannered editorialists are neither birthers nor racists, even if I do say so myself. You might think the Prime Minister's principal secretary would be a little more restrained – at least in public. But restraint is not his thing. Mr. Butts is the bad guy to Justin Trudeau's good guy, and he wants you to know it.
So much for a new tone in government. The Harperites were nasty, partisan, quick to demonize their enemies and see to it that any dissent from the party line was ruthlessly punished. So, it turns out, are some Trudeauites.
Any comparison between Ms. Monsef and the birther movement is ridiculous. U.S. President Barack Obama never misstated his place of birth – it is the birthers who do that. Ms. Monsef did misstate hers. At any rate, nobody much cares where she was born. The trouble is that her explanation seems a little shaky.
The Liberals built Ms. Monsef into a star because she was political gold. She was Canada's first Afghan-born cabinet minister – it was magic. Her story was so inspiring that none other than Mr. Obama shook her hand and called her a shining example of the good things that happen when countries welcome refugees into their hearts and homes. Unfortunately, the cabinet job was probably a mistake. She was too young and too green, and as the minister in charge of electoral reform (a gnarly assignment if there ever was one), many people think she's in over her head. That's not her fault. It's the party's fault.
Ms. Monsef's story began to unravel when Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife asked her point-blank, last June on the CTV program Question Period, whether she had been born in Afghanistan. "I believe I was," she answered. Last month, when confronted with the truth, she acknowledged she had been wrong. Her explanation is that her mother never told her she was born in Iran, because the family were Afghan citizens and she thought it wasn't relevant. Ms. Monsef's colleagues in the government were as surprised as anyone about her actual birthplace.
Why would a mother applying for refugee status misstate her children's place of birth? Perhaps a parent would fudge an application in hopes they could be accepted more quickly. And why would someone like Ms. Monsef be hesitant to come clean? Perhaps because it would disrupt the heroic narrative a bit, but perhaps also because it would be bound to raise questions about double standards. Right now, your friendly Liberal government is stripping citizenship from hundreds of immigrants and refugees because of long-ago lies on their application papers – even if their parents filled them out, and even "in cases where common sense would suggest that there is no reason to proceed," as immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman told me.
The government itself admits the process is unfair – but it hasn't stopped the revocations. Mr. Waldman says that Ms. Monsef's case "has exposed the entire system and how unfair it is and how it urgently needs to be changed." How awkward for the image of the government, and for Mr. Butts. No wonder he doesn't want us asking questions.