(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
Maryam Monsef was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she once claimed.
Most Canadians have now heard about this story, and most fall into two broad categories.
Either they are sympathetic to Monsef’s story, believe she is the victim of a tragic childhood in war-torn Afghanistan, and consider her birthplace controversy another iteration of the hardships of being a refugee.
Or, they are skeptical of Monsef’s story, concerned about the legal implications for a person whose citizenship application is likely to have contained false information, eager for the law to be applied equally and worried about how a person can reach a top position of power in the government without basic facts about their life coming out.
I fall into the latter category.
I don’t believe Monsef is being forthright about her past. Her changing story, her time spent in Iran as an adult and her unwillingness to answer questions has led to major credibility issues in my mind.
And because I’m skeptical, I’ve been asking a lot of questions.
I’ve written more than a dozen articles — news reports and opinion pieces — uncovering facts and sharing my analysis about this evolving controversy.
While we at the Sun have been following this story closely, some other journalists have decided to ignore it.
Because these journalists appear to fall into the first category — sympathetic with Monsef and not skeptical — they seem to have decided facts are somehow irrelevant.
Some have decided it’s their job to attack me for asking questions.
For example, on Tuesday evening, CTV reporter Glen McGregor began berating me on Twitter for my interest in this story.
He claimed Monsef is a victim of “a clearly Draconian law” passed by Stephen Harper.
This is Liberal party spin, and it’s simply not true.
The law that may have been broken in Monsef’s case was passed in 1974 and has not substantially changed since.
But CTV’s top political reporter is using incorrect information to defend a cabinet minister and attempt to shame another journalist.
Likewise, Justin Ling, a popular blogger for the entertainment website Vice, also chimed in to criticize me.
In response to one of my recent news stories on Monsef, Ling wrote on Twitter, “many of us have researched the hell out of this story and, partisans be damned, decided it’s not newsworthy.”
Moments later, however, Ling claimed it remained unknown if Monsef’s passport contained incorrect information.
That information is not unknown.
Monsef’s office told me her passport incorrectly lists Herat, Afghanistan as her place of birth and other media have reported it as well.
Vice readers are left in the dark because Ling hasn’t taken the time to ask Monsef basic questions or read up on the story before deciding, “it’s not newsworthy”.
That is not “researching the hell out of this story.”
It’s pretending facts don’t exist.
Even if a journalist is sympathetic to Monsef, they shouldn’t let their feelings get in the way of the facts.
I didn’t go to journalism school. My background is in economics, international law and immigration policy.
As I’ve written before, I was former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney’s press secretary from 2011 to 2012.
But in my time working as a journalist, I’ve learned that when a story doesn’t seem to add up, we should ask more questions.
Monsef’s story doesn’t add up.
So, despite the hecklers who occasionally sound like Liberal spin doctors, I’m going to ask more questions and try to get to the bottom of the Monsef controversy.