Maryam Monsef should do right by refugees and resign

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Maryam Monsef is the Liberal MP for Peterborough-Kawartha, Minister of Democratic Institutions, and President of the Queen’s Privy Council. This is an impressive achievement for someone who fled war-torn Afghanistan at age eleven – to rise from refugee to Minister of the Crown in twenty years.

Not only did she win an election and become a cabinet minister, she also won our empathy with her story. She reminded me and so many other immigrants and refugees of our difficult childhoods, and she became an iconic figure for so many of us. That is why it is so troubling to me that she appears to have doctored her story for political gain, and that she has played on our emotions to have access to political power.

Ms Monsef has revealed that a key element of her story, her birth in troubled Afghanistan, is false. She was in fact born in Iran, something she claims not to have known until a few days ago when her mother revealed this to her. Since the story broke, people in her own riding have come forward and claimed that the circumstances of her Iranian birth were well-known in Peterborough since at least 2014 when she ran unsuccessfully for Mayor, and there have been suggestions that she pushed the Afghanistan birth story because it made her a more compelling candidate.

Monsef was born in Mashhad, the second biggest city in Iran and a place of religious significance to the Shia Muslims for housing the tomb of Imam Reza the eighth Shia Imam. Mashhad is a tourist destination and one of the wealthiest cities in Iran. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the Imam Reza shrine. However, she has until recently claimed she was born in Herat Afghanistan, a city which has seen much violence during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and in fighting between the Taliban and the western-backed government of Afghanistan in the early 2000s. Her passport lists her birthplace as Herat.

The confusion around Ms Monsef’s birthplace is troubling to me as a Muslim immigrant from the Middle East. It suggests that either she or someone in her family was not truthful in her application to come to Canada as a refugee, and later while obtaining official identity documents. For anyone other than Ms Monsef, who has the prestige and status of a cabinet minister, this would be enough to revoke her Canadian citizenship and have her deported. This kind of thing brings the whole refugee system into disrepute and casts suspicion on all refugees.

It is unfortunate we have opportunistic people in the immigrant and refugee community like Monsef who use their stories for self-interest. It is sad that she continues to be evasive about her past instead of coming clean.

I am a gay Muslim who was saved from violence in my home country and given the opportunity to live freely in Canada. I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunities this country has given me. I am upset that a fellow immigrant has cast suspicion on us all by not being truthful about her story.

Ms Monsef said during an interview, “That, for me, was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be part of making this great country even better”. I would like to tell her that this country became great because of honest hard working people, including many immigrants who went through the refugee system in good faith. Her actions cast a shadow on all refugees and immigrants.

Minister Monsef owes us an apology for misrepresenting vulnerable immigrants and refugee communities. It is the duty of immigrants and refugees to challenge people like her who use misinformation for self-interest. There is only one thing left for her to do and that is to resign. Ms Monsef – have some dignity and do it.

Yusuf Cheliyan
Ottawa

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