The Laith Marouf/CMAC incident took another turn today as Globe and Mail has a report that the Prime Minister’s Office knew for a month that the government was funding an anti-semite as part of its anti-hate program. And it did nothing.
I have written previously about how calling out government ministerial silence on this issue led Liberal MP Chris Bittle to suggest I am racist and a bully. I have written about the shameful silence from virtually all but Jewish MPs, leading MP Anthony Housefather to call on all to speak out (I also discussed this with Housefather on a Law Bytes podcast). I have written about the embarrassing solitary Canadian Heritage hearing, in which Minister Ahmed Hussen was evasive in answering questions and the time for discussion with department officials was lost over an unnecessary hour-long debate over whether to call Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to committee.
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The Law Bytes podcast returns with a special episode focused on combatting online anti-semitism with a particular emphasis on an incident involving the department of Canadian Heritage and Laith Marouf, a well known anti-semite. As part of Heritage’s anti-hate program, the government had provided funding to the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), led by Marouf, to develop an anti-racism strategy for Canadian broadcasting. While there was years of evidence of Marouf’s anti-semitism, the department didn’t look or didn’t find it. The contract was cancelled after a public outcry, but even that led to concerns as it was left to Jewish MPs such as Anthony Housefather, Ya’ara Saks, and Melissa Lantsman to say something while many others remained silent.
Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP from Montreal, not only spoke out on the Marouf situation but also called on all MPs to become more vocal. Housefather has been working on the online anti-semitism issue with politicians from around the world as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Task Force on Online Antisemitism and he joins me on the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the work of the task force and its recent hearing in Washington, DC, the Marouf incident, and the urgency for all to speak out more aggressively against anti-semitism.
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Earlier this week, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather called on all 338 Members of Parliament to say something about the need to combat anti-semitism and to express concern about the government’s funding of an anti-semite as part of its anti-hate program. At that point, there were few MPs who had spoken publicly, leaving the issue largely to Jewish MPs to express concern. As I noted in a post reflecting on the issue, the message in the silence is that anti-semitism is a Jewish problem, not a broader societal concern. While I realize there is something performative about issuing a statement via tweet, elected officials do this all the time as a signal of their priorities or interests and to amplify their message.
Yet days later, the message has not been amplified and it would appear that the issue is not a priority. As of last night, I could find that only 1/3 of the cabinet has said anything about this issue in the weeks since it emerged: 11 cabinet ministers by tweet or retweet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in two press conferences, and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in a statement provided in response to a journalist query (but, to date, no actual statement has been publicly released).
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My post yesterday focused on the government’s multiple failures with regard to providing funding to an anti-semite as part of the Canadian Heritage anti-hate program. It examined the department’s failure to conduct proper due diligence, the failure of most Liberal MPs to speak out, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Chris Bittle’s since deleted tweet that suggested I was racist when I expressed concern about silence from government ministers such as Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.
One of the most notable aspects of the post was the emphasis on how it has been left largely to Jewish MPs such as Anthony Housefather and Ya’ara Saks to say something about the issue. While there have been a few other responses to media or constituent questions, pro-active statements have been shockingly missing. That reality may have sparked Housefather to issue a call for all 338 MPs to speak out.
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It is thankfully not everyday that a sitting Member of Parliament uses social media to suggest that you are racist. Yet that is precisely what happened to me last week when Chris Bittle, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, suggested that my public comments on Twitter calling for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to say something about his department funding an anti-semite as part of its anti-hate program was grounded in racism. Bittle has since deleted the post and apologized. In light of considerable media coverage (CBC, Postmedia) and words of support that came from friends, colleagues, and elected officials from across the political spectrum, I spent the weekend thinking about the incident and decided to offer some reflections.
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