What I would say at Heritage Committee

It has now been a little more than 2 months since the Laith Marouf affair hit Canada’s mainstream media. Although readers of this blog have known about Canadian government agencies funding hate for almost a year and a half, it was Jonathan Kay’s amplification of my social media stream that brought attention to the issue in mid-August.

In recent weeks, we have learned that the Prime Minister’s Office knew about the government funding of CMAC and Laith Marouf in mid-July, yet said nothing until the story left the Twitter-verse and made it onto the Canadian Press newswires about a month and a half later.

Why?

But there is still much that we don’t know, and it is unclear how much more we will find out.

According to the minutes of a recent Heritage Committee meeting, “the officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage that were responsible for the funding of Laith Marouf [will] be invited to appear before [the Heritage Committee] regarding the federal funding provided to the Community Media Advocacy Centre by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department officials’ handling of the situation”. The appearance will take place after the Committee’s deliberations of Bill C-18, likely late this year.

Two months ago, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather endorsed a thorough review.

Mr. Housefather (and a few other members of the Heritage Committee) leveraged the appearances of Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and CRTC Chair Ian Scott before the committee in the context of the review of the Online News Bill C-18 to ask a few questions. You can find the video replay on ParlVU.

The Heritage officials will certainly be grilled at Committee, but will anyone actually be held to account for what should be embarrassing and shameful lapses in judgment? There is so much that needs to be uncovered in this affair. Canadians need to understand how the funding was awarded in the first place. How could the Minister of Diversity have been quoted in a press release with such a shameless purveyor of hate? Why was there such a lengthy period of silence following the information reaching the Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office?

If I had been given the opportunity to speak before the Heritage Committee, these would be my opening remarks:

Let me start with a few statements that are important to have on the record.

I am a Canadian. I am proudly Jewish. And, I am unapologetically a Zionist, supporting the indigeneity of a Jewish state of Israel in its ancestral land.

Professionally, I focus on telecommunications policy. I have enjoyed a reasonably accomplished career over the past 42 years.

I tend to follow a number of Parliamentary Committee meetings and most CRTC proceedings as part of my work, often “live-tweeting”. Some of you may be familiar with my online presence.

That was how I first intersected with Laith Marouf. In 2016, I made a comment on Twitter about Community TV during a CRTC proceeding; his replies were less than cordial. And that was what put him onto my radar screen.

But it was his harsh responses to my tweets about his appearance at the CBC licensing hearing in January 2021 that were most surprising. So, I started taking screenshots and I have a collection of about 100 tweets of his that I thought should be archived.

Some, in my view, crossed the line set out in Twitter’s terms of service, so I reported them. In mid-2021, Twitter suspended his account <@LaithMarouf>. In violation of the terms of his suspension, he created a new account, fooling Twitter’s sophisticated algorithms by simply inserting an underscore between his first and last name <@Laith_Marouf>.

In July of 2021, I started writing on my blog about Mr. Marouf accessing a CRTC Telecom cost award in May of last year. Despite this, the CRTC awarded a further $15,000 in October of 2021. While some apologists like to distinguish between funding awards to CMAC the organization, versus Mr. Marouf the individual, the CRTC receives detailed cost sheets from each consultant and the Commission clearly knew that the overwhelming majority of the funds were awarded to Mr. Marouf personally. The CRTC also chose to award Mr. Marouf at a rate of $225 per hour, rather than its standard internal consulting rate of $470 per day. And the CRTC bypassed its own procedures, not accepting interventions when it reviewed CMAC’s applications for costs.

CMAC received more than half a million dollars between 2016 and 2021 from the Broadcast Participation Fund, which was created by the CRTC in 2012 to make up for a shortcoming in the Broadcast Act that doesn’t include funding public interest groups’ participation in regulatory proceedings in the same way as provided for by the Telecom Act.

All of this preceded the revelation that Heritage Canada’s Anti-Racism Action Program engaged CMAC. When I learned of this in mid-April of this year, I wrote a blog post and tweeted links to that, tagging the official Heritage twitter handle, Minister Rodriguez, and MPs on both sides of the House. This was in advance of the first of 6 scheduled workshops. I also immediately notified a Jewish advocacy organization that informed me that it would reach out to its contacts at Heritage right away.

In July, when Mr. Marouf retweeted someone else’s tweet that included what I perceived to be a threat for an armed attack, I notified law enforcement, as well as a retired senior law enforcement officer and the Honorable Member for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather, with whom I had engaged during some INDU meetings. At the same time, I asked Mr. Housefather to look into the Anti-Racism funding of CMAC and I provided considerable background material.

He replied to me on July 19 that he had informed Minister Hussen’s office. “The Minister is looking into it and will get back to me”. I followed up a few weeks later and was told on August 12, “I have gotten no good answer yet”. On August 16, “I have escalated this and finally got this moving at the highest level. Should have a resolution shortly”

By August 11, Jonathan Kay had already picked up on the story and moved the issue into the mainstream with his Twitter following of 68,000 (I had just over 5,000 at the time).

And here we are.

MPs on both sides of the House were notified in advance, including members from this Committee. Most did nothing until coverage of the story became too embarrassing to ignore. I don’t want this to be a partisan issue, although I do want to see some real accountability for the disbursement of public funds to this organization, and to this person.

The Honourable Member for Don Valley West recently posted a video on YouTube with a powerful message. He told us how he became sensitized to antisemitism when his father told him to apologize to friends of his for remarks he didn’t make. Mr. Oliphant was told by his father, “It doesn’t matter. You overheard it, and you didn’t counter it.”

Honourable members: too many people in Ottawa knew about this funding and didn’t act on the information. And didn’t speak out. Did nothing to counter it.

And that is why we are here today.

It will be up to Heritage Committee to ask officials why all of the money was paid up front, before services were rendered, and without so much as a web search to investigate the person receiving the money.

Perhaps the Committee will ask whether my blog posts or Tweets from July 2021 or April 2022 were part of the department’s news scan, or the Minister’s office news scan, and why there was no action taken by the army of communications and social media people who work for the Department.

The Committee might want to ask what screening was performed before the Minister was quoted in that press release with Laith Marouf saying, “Our government is proud to contribute to the initiative”.

Will there be any further investigation asking why there was more than a month of silence after the Minister’s and the Prime Minister’s offices were made aware of the situation? Surely it didn’t take more than a month for some communications person to compose a statement. I just keep thinking of that “actions speak louder…” thing, and I’d suggest the inactions of so many created a deafening roar.

Frankly, I’ve had enough of “bended-knee” apologies for past wrong doings. We don’t need another statement expressing regret for the lack of judgment in engaging with CMAC for anti-racism programming. We don’t need to see tweets from the Minister that he convened an antisemitism roundtable. Proclaiming “Online hate and violence doesn’t stay online” comes across as somewhat trite, when a government anti-racism action program sent more than $100,000 to someone who generates hate and calls for violence online.

As Michael Geist recently wrote, The House of Commons Committee Process is Broken. “The reality is probably that unless Ministers prioritize accountability and MPs show some independence, nothing will change.”

What questions would you want asked? [You can leave your comments here.]

1 thought on “What I would say at Heritage Committee”

  1. Well said Mark. Thanks for all your work in bringing attention to this issue and stopping Marouf from using government funded programs to spread his hate. It’s hard to believe he got away with it for so long. The fact that he was able to use taxpayer funds to do so is absolutely insane.

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