The Prime Minister’s Office knew about an anti-racism consultant’s derogatory tweets about “Jewish white supremacists” a month before the government cancelled a $133,000 contract in which he played a key role.
The consultant, Laith Marouf, is an expert for the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), a non-profit that was awarded the contract last year. Mr. Marouf’s tweets also derided francophones and Black and Indigenous public figures.
Three sources have told The Globe and Mail that an official working for Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen told the PMO in mid-July about Mr. Marouf’s online comments. Mr. Hussen’s office announced that it was shelving the contract about four weeks later, on Aug. 22. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
On Aug. 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly condemned Mr. Marouf’s tweets and said the government had acted swiftly. He told reporters it was “absolutely unacceptable that federal dollars have gone to this organization that has demonstrated xenophobia, racism and antisemitism.”
“We cannot accept racism, hatred and anger, particularly not funded by the government, and that’s why we took action quickly,” Mr. Trudeau added. He announced a government-wide review of all contracts with CMAC.
Mark Goldberg, a telecommunications consultant who first told federal politicians about Mr. Marouf’s tweets and his involvement in a government contract, expressed surprise over the government’s delayed reaction to the consultant’s comments about Jewish people.
“It’s surprising that it took a month for the most senior officials to respond publicly,” he said. “I have trouble thinking that any other minority groups would have had the same difficulty getting attention.”
On July 18, Mr. Goldberg sent screenshots of Mr. Marouf’s tweets to Anthony Housefather, a Jewish Liberal MP who sits on the Commons heritage committee, and warned him about “a potentially embarrassing” government contract with CMAC.
The $133,000 contract, awarded by an anti-racism unit within the federal Heritage Department, was for a project related to anti-racism in broadcasting. Mr. Housefather contacted the Heritage Department the day after Mr. Goldberg’s warning, and then contacted Mr. Hussen’s office, after which Mr. Hussen’s team launched a probe into the contract.
Two sources said the PMO was informed soon after the Heritage Department received Mr. Housefather’s warning.
In the weeks that followed, Mr. Housefather repeatedly tried to get the Heritage Department to act, making multiple calls. The first news media story about Mr. Marouf’s tweets was published on Aug. 19. A day later, Mr. Housefather called the PMO himself. Two more days passed before Mr. Hussen announced the contract was being cancelled.
Two sources said Israeli-Canadian Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks also contacted the Heritage Department to raise concerns about the CMAC contract, and later spoke to an official in the PMO.
Arevig Afarian, a spokeswoman for Mr. Hussen, confirmed that the Minister’s office had contacted the PMO.
“After receiving the inquiry from MP Housefather and identifying the failure of the vetting process in this case, our office advised PMO and it was agreed that Canadian Heritage needed to immediately look into the matter,” she said. “We worked with officials to cut the funding, develop a new, more rigorous vetting process for organizations, and to ensure no potential future funding will be awarded to applicants who display racism, hate and bigotry of any kind.”
Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau, did not address the month delay, but said in a statement that the PMO had not taken the matter lightly.
“When the Prime Minister’s office was first made aware by the Minister’s Office of a disturbing comment by an individual, it was agreed that the matter was serious and the department’s officials needed to get to the bottom of it,” she said.
Mr. Marouf, who denies he is antisemitic or racist, has been condemned by Liberal, Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs. Twitter has banned his account.
The Commons heritage committee summoned Mr. Hussen this month to answer questions about how the CMAC contract was awarded, and why it took so long to cancel it.
He said he was warned about the contract on July 19 or 20, after Mr. Housefather first contacted the department asking for action.
Mr. Hussen was sharply criticized by Conservative MPs for taking a month to speak out and cancel the project.
He apologized to Jewish and francophone communities, which he said Mr. Marouf has “continuously attacked with his hateful comments.”
The project with CMAC was approved before Mr. Hussen became Diversity Minister. But in April, when the project was launched, Mr. Hussen was quoted alongside Mr. Marouf in a press release.
Mr. Hussen’s staff members have asked CMAC to return all the funding for the anti-racism initiative, which included an event hosted by Mr. Marouf in Vancouver. It has also made viewing applicants’ social media profiles a part of its vetting process for contracts.