Ottawa improving vetting process to keep Heritage grants away from groups promoting hate: Hussen

·3 min read
Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen listens to a question during a news conference Tuesday April 21, 2020 in Ottawa. Hussen says Canadian Heritage will strengthen its vetting process and could ban organizations from future funding if they espouse hate. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen listens to a question during a news conference Tuesday April 21, 2020 in Ottawa. Hussen says Canadian Heritage will strengthen its vetting process and could ban organizations from future funding if they espouse hate. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen says the Department of Canadian Heritage will be improving its vetting process to make sure it doesn't give money to organizations that espouse hatred — and those that do could be banned from future funding.

In an interview with CBC's The House airing Saturday, Hussen said the federal government giving $133,000 to the Community Media Advocacy Centre to develop and run an anti-racism strategy for broadcasters indicated a failure of the vetting process.

In posts on social media, CMAC's senior consultant Laith Marouf talked about "Jewish white supremacists," referred to some Indigenous and Black individuals using the term "house slave" and spoke about francophones in Quebec using the slur "frogs."

"The fact that this slipped through the cracks is a slap in the face to the Jewish community and the francophone community, and many other communities, and for that I sincerely apologize," Hussen told host Catherine Cullen.

WATCH | Government cuts funding to group linked to antisemitic comments:

"This incident reflects a failure in the vetting system that not only missed Marouf's despicable language online but failed to reveal this information later on to correct the error."

Hussen said department vetting processes will be strengthened and any organization found to have spread hateful views could be barred from receiving future funding.

Organizations would "not only have their [existing] funding cut, but they will be ineligible to receive any future federal dollars — they will be ineligible to apply to any programs from the Department of Canadian Heritage," Hussen said.

He said no new federal money will be granted by Canadian Heritage until the new processes are in place.

Liberal MP criticizes initial response

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather flagged the comments to Hussen's office in July and has said he was "disappointed" in the department's response prior to the announcement that funding would be cut. Hussen said Saturday he quickly tasked his office with investigating and coming up with solutions, but now wishes the process had moved more quickly.

Prominent Jewish figures in the Liberal Party have been outspoken about the need for action on the funding. Former Liberal MP Michael Levitt, now president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said on Twitter he was "utterly disheartened" by the Marouf affair.

"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," he wrote.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said earlier this month the tweets showed a need for revamped oversight policies at Canadian Heritage.

The Canadian Press reported last month that 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.