Laith Marouf, an anti-racism consultant at the centre of a scandal over a series of tweets about “Jewish White Supremacists,” was barred from re-entering Canada from Syria in 2009 and interviewed by a Canadian intelligence official at the embassy in Damascus.
The FBI also questioned the American grandmother of Mr. Marouf’s partner, Gretchen King, about his application to remain in Canada as a permanent resident, Mr. Marouf told The Globe and Mail.
“I was delayed for six weeks, and then called in to the Canadian embassy in Damascus. When I arrived, I found out I was alone in the building with a CSIS agent,” he said. “The three-hour interview included gems like ‘what do you think is the solution to the Indigenous problem?’ and ‘do you think Indigenous people have the right to carry arms?’ ”
On Monday, the Commons Heritage committee will resume its inquiry into federal funding of the Community Media Advocacy Centre and Mr. Marouf, who is a consultant with CMAC. MPs plan to ask what checks were made between government agencies and departments to vet Mr. Marouf.
Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party who sits on the committee, said the revelation raises “serious questions” not just about Ottawa’s vetting process for groups receiving public money but about “how many people in the government of Canada knew about this individual and for how long.”
CMAC is a non-profit that was awarded a $133,000 anti-racism contract last year by the Department of Canadian Heritage.
After Mr. Marouf’s tweets emerged last summer deriding “Jewish White Supremacists,” francophones, and Black and Indigenous public figures, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen cancelled the contract and instructed CMAC to return the funding.
Mr. Hussen pledged to improve the department’s vetting process to make sure it doesn’t fund groups espousing hatred.
Mr. Marouf, who had lived in Canada since he was a teenager, said he was delayed from returning to Montreal even though he had a work permit and temporary residency. He had gone to visit family members in Jordan and Syria in the fall of 2009.
Mr. Marouf launched a legal challenge in Federal Court to the decision not to allow him to return, which was dropped after he was permitted to re-enter Canada by the beginning of February, 2010.
He alleged that former Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who was federal citizenship and immigration minister at the time, had personally intervened to delay him from re-entering the country and gaining permanent residency.
Mr. Marouf alleged that this was because he became “the media face” of a tour by firebrand British MP George Galloway, who was previously denied entry to Canada when Mr. Kenney was minister. A Federal Court judge found that the Conservative government had acted politically to suppress the British politician’s views.
Mr. Kenney adamantly denied Mr. Marouf’s claims as “absurd” and said he had no knowledge of him. He said he had asked Damascus to improve vetting of people trying to enter Canada, fearing that some were using Syria as a route into Canada, including from Iran.
He said if the immigration authorities see “certain flags on a file or have security concerns” they might go to CSIS or partner agencies abroad but “none of that business goes to the minister of immigration.”
“It’s ridiculous the notion that the minister of immigration can call over to CSIS and tell them to interview somebody. It just doesn’t work like that. It’s absurd,” Mr. Kenney said in an interview. “I can say categorically that I was not involved in this individual’s application.”
The Globe has seen e-mails that Mr. Marouf sent from Syria to Canadians asking for help while he was stranded in Syria.
Mr. Marouf, who denies that he is antisemitic, was living in Canada on a Temporary Resident Permit, which can be issued by an immigration officer to people who do not meet the requirements for entering the country.
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said a TRP could be “pulled at any time and for any reasons. It’s a highly discretionary item.”
Mr. Marouf, who was granted a Canadian passport in 2020, said: “A TRP is very common“ and issued to spouses of Canadian citizens while their permanent residency is processed.
“What was unusual was the fact I was ordered to receive a counterfoil in my passport while I was outside the country, and then they were refusing to issue it for 6 weeks,” he said. " I and my lawyers were never given any explanations; and the counterfoil was issued without explanation, just as I was barred without explanation”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it does not comment on specific cases. It said a person may be refused entry to Canada on security grounds, for human-rights violations, criminality, financial reasons, misrepresentation and having an inadmissible family member.
The Heritage Department, CSIS and the FBI declined to comment.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, President and CEO, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said there were “systematic failures which resulted in CMAC – and, through them, Laith Marouf – accessing government funding.”
“Someone like this should not fall through the bureaucratic cracks,” he said.