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Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen cut $133,000 in government funding to the Community Media Advocacy Centre and suspended an anti-racism project it was overseeing after derogatory tweets posted by its senior consultant, Laith Marouf, came to light.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal Heritage department has hired debt collectors to get back $122,661 it paid an advocacy body employing Laith Marouf, an anti-racism consultant who posted derogatory tweets about “Jewish White Supremacists,” francophones and Black and Indigenous public figures.

Mala Khanna, associate deputy minister, told the Commons heritage committee on Monday that in December it hired a debt collection agency after its own attempts to recoup the funds had failed. She said “no money has yet been received.”

Last year, the Community Media Advocacy Centre was awarded $133,000 by the Department of Canadian Heritage’s anti-racism action program to build an anti-racism strategy for Canadian broadcasting in which Mr. Marouf played a leading role, including running a seminar in Vancouver.

Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen cancelled the anti-racism contract and asked CMAC to repay the grant, after a media report about Mr. Marouf’s derogatory tweets last August.

Ms. Khanna said $11,000 of the $133,000 government grant had not yet been paid to CMAC, when the anti-racism contract was cancelled.

She said the department is considering legal action to recoup the funds if the debt collection agency fails to get the money back.

CRTC launches payment review over Laith Marouf affair

Mr. Marouf, who denies he is anti-semitic or racist, told The Globe and Mail in a previous interview that the project had already started when it was cancelled. He said CMAC had spent some of the funding on running the project, including on hotel rooms and travel.

Daniel Savoie, a spokesman for the Heritage department, said it is also working with the Canada Revenue Agency to try to recoup the funds from CMAC.

MPs on the heritage committee questioned why it took from July 26 – when the Heritage department was alerted about Mr. Marouf’s tweets – until September for CMAC’s contract to be cancelled. They also asked why no checks into Mr. Marouf himself were made when a quote from him appeared on the press release announcing the anti-racism project last April, alongside a quote from Mr. Hussen.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who first alerted Mr. Hussen about the tweets in July, 2022, asked Heritage officials whether the department would have acted more swiftly if the “most vilified” groups in Mr. Marouf’s tweets had not been Quebeckers and Jews.

Ms. Khanna apologized for “the pain” the affair has caused, and said she acknowledged “that it took too long” to cancel the CMAC contract.

“The hateful comments made by Mr. Marouf were shocking and profoundly disturbing to us,” she said. “Had Canadian Heritage officials been aware of his comments, the project would not have been funded.”

Ms. Khanna told the committee the incident had led the department to tighten up its vetting procedures before awarding grants. She said checks were now made of consultants and other individuals involved in projects, including of their social-media feeds.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman questioned how around 100 people working in the Heritage’s department communications team had failed to “come across a single tweet ... a vile tweet” by Mr. Marouf.

She also asked whether there had been “inter-departmental communication” about those applying for grants, after The Globe and Mail reported that in December of 2009, Mr. Marouf had been barred from re-entering Canada after a trip to see his extended family in Syria and Jordan.

Mr. Marouf told The Globe he was interviewed at the embassy in Damascus by a Canadian intelligence official for several hours.

The Globe has seen e-mails he sent from Damascus in 2009 asking for help to get back in the country, and asking people to contact MPs on his behalf.

A Federal Court action he lodged protesting the delay while stranded in Syria was dropped after he was allowed to return to Canada by February, 2010.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu also referred to his being barred from re-entering Canada in 2009: “It’s not like Mr. Marouf woke up last summer and began tweeting violent and offensive things. This is a pattern of behaviour.”

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