The government’s funding of Laith Marouf, a known anti-semite, sparked anger and condemnation last summer as many wondered how Canadian Heritage failed to conduct the necessary due diligence to weed him out as part of its anti-hate program. While government MPs such as Anthony Housefather urged action, then-Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussein was slow to respond and then-Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez inexplicably remained silent. I posted repeatedly on his silence, leading his Parliamentary Secretary, MP Chris Bittle, to suggest that I was racist and a bully. Yet as we have witnessed in recent days, when it comes to antisemitism, silence is not an option. The threat is literally playing out in our streets and campuses and we need everyone – Jews and non-Jews alike – to speak out against it and take action where necessary.
Even after Housefather pleaded with his fellow MPs to speak out, it still took Rodriguez days to say anything. And when he did, he pointedly did not issue a public statement. In fact, repeated requests for the statement he apparently provided to one news outlet were ignored. The failure to speak out against antisemitism – the notion that it “wasn’t his file” – displayed an utter lack of awareness of the need to counter hate and stand in solidarity with affected communities. That display of weak moral character alone may not be a fireable offence, but lying to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is.
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The concerns over witness intimidation and bullying targeting Bill C-11’s critics continues to attract attention on Parliament Hill as Senators spent more than an hour debating the issue earlier this week. The issue stems from a Globe and Mail report that Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bittle – together with his colleague, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner – sent a letter to the Lobbying Commissioner to seek an investigation into the funding of Digital First Canada, a group representing digital first creators. DFC’s Executive Director, Scott Benzie, appeared before the Heritage committee in the spring and Bittle used his time to focus on the organization’s funding. The Lobbyist Commissioner letter was apparently filed more than two months ago and Benzie had been assured that he was compliant with the law. The story was presumably leaked to coincide with Benzie’s appearance before the Senate committee, a tactic that smacked of witness intimidation and bullying with the government seeking to undermine a critic of the legislation. Soon after, Conservative MP John Nater filed a point of privilege in the House of Commons, arguing that Bittle had attempted to intimidate a Senate witness and the matter escalated further at the Senate committee, where multiple Senators raised the issue.
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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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