Canadian Heritage has changed the way it vets funding requests for community and anti-racism projects after it cut ties with an organization that was accused of antisemitism.
The federal government terminated a contract with the Community Media Advocacy Centre in September after it granted the group more than $122,000 for projects to help combat anti-racism.
Ottawa has since attempted to recoup the funds, but has been unsuccessful in getting the money back, said Mala Khanna, an associate deputy minister at Canadian Heritage.
“It would be possible for the minister to take legal action,” she told a House of Commons committee on Monday.
That option has not yet been pursued, she said.
The federal government’s relationship with the group ended a few days after media reported that a senior consultant had posted what federal ministers described as antisemitic content on Twitter. The ministry decided to review its vetting process and says a new procedure is now in place.
Those applying for money will now have to put into writing that they will not espouse hate or discriminate, Khanna said.
Unlike before, the minister will have the power to immediately terminate a contract if its terms are violated. And staff involved with doling out funding have received anti-racism and antisemitism training.
Under the new vetting process, the government will also review the social media accounts of the staff of organizations that apply for government funding, Khanna said.
“Racism, hate and discrimination would make you ineligible for government funding, and requiring applicants to attest upfront themselves that they or anyone that is associated with the project will not engage in hate,” Khanna said.
“I think those are important lessons that we’ve learned.”
Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said staff at the Canadian Heritage department need rigorous training so they can better understand and identify antisemitism.
“While we appreciate that Canadian Heritage has implemented new processes to prevent organizations and individuals who espouse antisemitic and racist views from receiving government funding, this can only be effective under certain conditions,” Levitt said in a written statement Monday.
He said it’s imperative that staff remain committed to real and meaningful action so that someone who promotes antisemitic views “never receives another cent of Canadian taxpayer money.”
Members of Parliament for the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois were critical of Canadian Heritage for its approval of the contract in the first place, and then its delay in cancelling it.
“The concerns are very legitimate, and the fact this antisemitism was funded by the government, by the taxpayers, I find unbelievable,” NDP MP Peter Julian said at the heritage committee on Monday.
“We can’t have a federal government that takes that long to respond to egregious cases of hate being disseminated, whether that’s online or any other venue.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he raised concerns with the department in mid-July regarding social media posts by Laith Marouf, a senior consultant with the Community Media Advocacy Centre. The organization had been awarded government money to build an anti-racism strategy for Canadian broadcasting.
One tweet read: “You know all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, a.k.a. the Jewish White Supremacists; when we liberate Palestine and they have to go back to where they come from, they will return to being low voiced bitches of thier (sic) Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters.”
Marouf and his lawyer Stephen Ellis could not be reached for comment. However, Ellis previously told The Canadian Press that Marouf harbours no animus toward the Jewish faith as a collective group. He drew a distinction between his client’s tweets about people he calls “Jewish white supremacists” and Jewish people in general.
The department didn’t receive the tweet until Aug. 2, Khanna said, and it wasn’t until Aug. 20 that they suspended the contract. On Sept. 23, the contract was officially terminated.
“We could have moved faster. I wish we moved faster,” Khanna said.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it is still waiting for other departments to adopt the same policies and practices.
“This is larger than one program and one organization. It is a holistic, all-of-government commitment that must be undertaken,” its president and CEO, Shimon Fogel, said in a statement.
Khanna said other government departments that issue grants and contributions have expressed interest in the work Canadian Heritage has done over the last few months. She said she has met with two other departments to discuss what they learned.
“I’m confident that the measures we put into place will make a difference,” she said. “If we were in such a situation again, I believe we would be able to move more quickly. Within a matter of days.”