The federal Heritage Department says it is going to court in an attempt to recoup the roughly $122,000 it paid a non-profit advocacy organization that employs Laith Marouf, an anti-racism consultant who made derogatory social media posts about “Jewish white supremacists,” francophones and Black and Indigenous public figures.
The move follows an unsuccessful attempt to recover the money using debt collectors.
Last year, the non-profit, the Community Media Advocacy Centre, was awarded $133,000 by the Heritage Department’s anti-racism action program to build an anti-racism strategy for Canadian broadcasting. Mr. Marouf played a leading role.
In August, 2022, after a media report about his online comments and outcry among Liberal MPs, the Heritage Department cancelled the contract and asked CMAC to repay the grant funding. Around $11,000 of the money had not yet been paid to the organization.
At a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee on Thursday, deputy heritage minister Isabelle Mondou said no money had yet been recovered from CMAC, though she noted that a debt collection agency had assessed the group’s assets. Replying to questions from NDP MP Peter Julian, she said the government has now filed a legal claim with the Superior Court of Quebec, alleging that CMAC had breached its contract.
She told the committee she could not “apologize enough,” and that the incident had proved “extremely damaging” to the department’s reputation.
At the same committee meeting, Heritage Minister Pascale St. Onge said what had happened with CMAC was “totally unacceptable,” and that steps had been taken to ensure the situation can’t be repeated.
Conservative heritage critic Rachael Thomas tried unsuccessfully this month to summon former heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez before the committee to face questions about whether he had previously misled its members about precisely when he was told about Mr. Marouf’s posts and the department’s funding for CMAC.
Mr. Rodriguez testified before the heritage committee in October last year that he did not know of Mr. Marouf’s posts until after Aug. 22. He said he had first learned about them from news reports.
But e-mails seen by The Globe and Mail show that Mr. Rodriguez was told about Mr. Marouf’s comments on Aug. 17, through his personal parliamentary e-mail account. Records obtained through an access to information request also show that John Matheson, who was Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff at the time, was sending e-mails about Mr. Marouf to Ms. Mondou starting on Aug. 17.
Ms. Thomas wanted Mr. Rodriguez to explain the apparent discrepancy. But the attempt to call the minister was opposed by the NDP and Bloc Québécois.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, Mr. Marouf has been posting on X, formerly known as Twitter. An account he was posting from was suspended this month, after The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wrote to X owner Elon Musk to complain about alleged violations of the platform’s policies against hateful conduct.
The centre’s letter says some of Mr. Marouf’s tweets “can be classified as inciting violence and hatred against the Jewish community, Canadian elected officials and others.”
Mr. Marouf has denied that he is antisemitic.