Former Liberal MP 'disheartened' by caucus response to anti-racism contracts

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Former Liberal MP Michael Levitt is criticizing his old caucus colleagues for not speaking out against statements made by Laith Marouf, a senior consultant at an agency that received government funding for an anti-racism project.

"Looking back on events over the last week (with) regards to Marouf affair, I’m utterly disheartened," Levitt said on Twitter Monday.

"Taking a stand against antisemitism should be a given (and) yet so few of my former Liberal colleagues have done so. This truly hurts. Jewish MPs shouldn’t be left to call this out alone."

Levitt represented the Toronto riding of York Centre for the Liberals for five years before stepping away in 2020 to become the CEO of the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

The centre issued a statement last week expressing relief that the federal government had cut funding for the Community Media Advocacy Centre but questioned why the contract was awarded in the first place.

CMAC was given $133,000 in funding through the anti-racism action program of the federal Heritage Department to develop an anti-racism strategy aimed at the country's media and broadcast policymakers.

Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen expressed concern and launched an investigation intro the contract after The Canadian Press asked his office for an explanation. He cut the funding and suspended the project on Aug. 22, three days after The Canadian Press published a story about tweets posted by Marouf, a senior consultant at CMAC.

Hussen said CMAC must explain "how they came to hire Laith Marouf, and how they plan on rectifying the situation given the nature of his antisemitic and xenophobic comments.”

Marouf's Twitter account is private but a screenshot posted online showed a number of tweets with his photo and name.

One tweet said: "You know all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, a.k.a. the Jewish White Supremacists; when we liberate Palestine and they have to go back to where they come from, they will return to being low voiced bitches of thier (sic) Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters.''

A lawyer acting for Marouf asked for his client's tweets to be quoted "verbatim" and distinguished between Marouf's "clear reference to 'Jewish white supremacists"' and Jews or Jewish people in general.

Marouf does not harbour "any animus toward the Jewish faith as a collective group," lawyer Stephen Ellis said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"While not the most artfully expressed, the tweets reflect a frustration with the reality of Israeli apartheid and a Canadian government which collaborates with it,'' Ellis added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed disgust at the comments when asked about them by reporters at news conferences last week and again on Tuesday.

Last Friday, Trudeau called the remarks "absolutely unacceptable and reprehensible." On Tuesday, he said the government is making sure such a contract will not be issued again to organizations that demonstrate xenophobia, racism or antisemitism.

"We have spoken out and will continue to speak out and I'm happy to do that again today," he said.

Conservative MPs have criticized Trudeau for not issuing a formal statement condemning Marouf's comments, and the Liberal caucus in general for being quiet about them.

"Today is yet another day the @CanadianPM account could release a formal statement denouncing #LaithMarouf and condemn hate-filled antisemitic commentary that has no place in Canada," British Columbia MP Dan Albas said on Twitter Monday.

"The ongoing silence from PM Trudeau and much of his Liberal caucus is unacceptable."

Two Liberal MPs, Anthony Housefather from Montreal and Ya'ara Saks, who replaced Levitt as the MP from York Centre in a 2020 byelection, were both vocal about their horror and demanded explanations as soon as they learned about the Marouf situation. Both are Jewish.

Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith retweeted Hussen's statement on Aug. 21. That same day, Taleeb Noormohamed, the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Granville, responded to a question on Twitter about his thoughts on Marouf and called the comments "vile, racist and antisemitic."

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller denounced Marouf's comments Monday, after learning CMAC received about $800 through a grant approved by his constituency office as part of the Canada Summer Jobs program in 2018.

The organization was approved to receive nearly $3,000, but only received that amount, according to the office of Women, Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marci Ien, the minister who publicly launched the program this year.

"I want to be clear, I have never met Laith Marouf and was unaware of his existence until three weeks ago," Miller said. "His antisemitic views are despicable and any organization associated with him, should not receive funding."

It wasn't until after Levitt's tweet, and another one from Housefather asking all 338 MPs to condemn the antisemitism, that a significant number of Liberal MPs spoke up.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2022.

— With files from Marie Woolf.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press