Birthplace not important, but being truthful is

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI

The Hill Times

TORONTO—All the fuss about the birthplace of Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is really just a tempest in a teapot. But it should be remembered that it was her government that made her birthplace a big issue when she was heralded as the first Afghan-born MP and cabinet minister.

I thought the government was wrong then, using patronizing statements to fool the so-called ethnics, as I believe the opposition is wrong now to make a big issue about her birthplace.

Birthplace or ethnic origin shouldn’t be an issue when appointing ministers, otherwise we should argue that there are too many ministers of anglophone background in every cabinet. I am deeply convinced that people should be appointed according to their capacity to do the job. Their ethnicity shouldn’t be considered a quality to appoint them, while at the same time it shouldn’t be considered a political handicap to keep them out.

When former prime minister Stephen Harper appointed me as his director of communications, media immediately implied that, because of my previous activity in the multicultural communities, and my origin, the government was trying to get closer to the ethnic communities and my role was limited to the so-called ethnic media.

On my first day on the job, Mr. Harper called me into his office and said: “Angelo, you can do whatever you think is appropriate. I just want you to know that I appointed you director of communications of the prime minister of Canada, not of the ethnic communities.”

Now, back to Ms. Monsef.

Does it make a difference if she was born in Afghanistan or Iran? Absolutely not. However, at this point, the issue is not birthplace but honesty. Did she know or not that she was born in Iran and not in Afghanistan?

In a different case, but still about someone’s place of birth, U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is in trouble because, among other things, he questioned President Barack Obama’s place of birth without having any proof to back up his statement.

As a former citizenship judge, I know that lying on the application to become a Canadian citizen is one, if not the only reason, to have one’s citizenship revoked.

If Ms. Monsef didn’t know about her birthplace, as she said, there is no issue. If she did, honesty and integrity come into play. It means that she lied when she was appointed, and lied again when the issue surfaced and she professed ignorance.

She even had a chance to correct the record when it first was brought to her attention. When she was confronted with the question a couple of weeks ago about her birthplace, she could have easily said that, yes, she knew, but she believed that it was not important because she would always identify as an Afghan. It is an answer that would question her ability to understand what’s important and what’s not, but still be a plausible answer.

Instead she kept professing ignorance, saying that she first heard about it two weeks ago.

At this point the issue becomes murky because it is difficult to believe that she was the only one not to know her birthplace while some family members and, probably, some friends were all aware of it.

Even if many believe that lying is a major tool politicians resort to in their career, it is also true that this works only when they are not caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

I am not saying that she is lying, but at the same time there are many details missing that must be dealt with as soon as possible. I believe the minister herself and even the Prime Minister’s Office have a duty to clear this up.

If she didn’t know, there is no issue to talk about. If she did, birthplace is not the issue anymore.

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