The federal government is conducting a “complete review” of funding to an anti-racism group whose senior consultant sent a series of tweets about “Jewish white supremacists,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
The government has put a stop to all funding to the Community Media Advocacy Centre and is putting in place procedures “to make sure this never happens again,” he said at a press conference.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that federal dollars have gone to this organization that has demonstrated xenophobia, racism and antisemitism.”
Last week, Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen, who was also at the press conference, cut $133,000 in government funding to the Community Media Advocacy Centre and suspended an anti-racism project it was overseeing after “reprehensible and vile” tweets posted by its senior consultant, Laith Marouf, came to light.
Trudeau’s comments come as other past funding for the organization is scrutinized.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said this week that he wants money provided to CMAC under the Canada Summer Jobs program in 2018 to be clawed back.
He said a grant application by CMAC for $2,882 under the program, which offers work experience to people aged 15-30 and is run by Employment and Social Development Canada, was reviewed at the time by his constituency office in Ville-Marie, Que.
CMAC was approved to receive that amount, but ultimately only got $795, according to a spokesman for Marci Ien, the minister for women, gender equality and youth, who publicly launched the program this year.
“Not a single cent of government money should go to organizations that harbour anti-Semitic views,” Miller said on Twitter. He said he has never met Marouf, whose views he called “despicable.”
A spokeswoman for Miller’s federal department said “clearly, this organization should not receive additional funding.”
“After funding had been allocated, Laith Marouf made antisemitic comments that are reprehensible and inconsistent with the objectives of the Canada Summer Jobs program,” Miller’s office added.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his organization appreciates Miller’s “clear and unambiguous statement regarding the importance of government funding not going to groups harbouring and espousing antisemitic views.”
“We call on the ministries involved to be transparent and provide details about their investigations into the systemic failures that led to this inappropriate funding in a timely fashion,” he added.
Opposition MPs are calling for a full audit of funding to CMAC from government departments and through federal programs, including for its involvement in proceedings run by Canada’s federal broadcasting regulator.
CMAC describes itself on its website as a non-profit organization supporting the “self-determination of Indigenous, racialized and disabled peoples in the media through research, relationship-building, advocacy and learning.”
The Twitter account for Marouf, a consultant for the organization, is private. But a screenshot posted online shows a number of tweets with his photo and name.
One tweet said: “You know all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, aka 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 (their) Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters.”
Stephen Ellis, a lawyer for Marouf, 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,” Ellis said in an email.
“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 said.
Public records show that CMAC has received about $500,000 in funding since 2016 to act as a public interest group in proceedings run by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The money came from the Broadcast Participation Fund, an independent body that was stood up by the CRTC to pay for public interest groups’ participation in CRTC matters.
In 2021, CMAC also took part in CRTC consultations on regulations amending the accessibility reporting requirements for broadcasters and telecommunications companies.
According to publicly available documents detailing payments, Marouf and his wife, Gretchen King, whose name also appears on CMAC company filings, were both paid for taking part in the proceedings.
They were paid using money from a deferral account held by Bell, which the company agreed to have the CRTC distribute to public interest groups on its behalf. Bell declined a request for comment.
CMAC did not respond to requests for comment.
But Ellis, Marouf’s lawyer, said the centre’s work had been valuable and contributed greatly to the proceedings.
The lawyer said what “is very clear from CMAC’s filing and the CRTC decision is that if it were not for CMAC’s efforts, Indigenous, racialized and women disabilities groups would have been absent from the proceedings to rewrite CRTC policies to comply with the Accessible Canada Act and its clauses reaffirming the intersectionality of oppressions.”
Peter Julian, the NDP heritage critic, is calling for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and CRTC officials to appear at the House of Commons heritage committee when Parliament returns to discuss an apparent lack of “due diligence” before paying CMAC.
“It is obvious there was no vetting at all, and that raises a bunch of disturbing questions,” he said.
John Nater, the Conservative critic for Canadian heritage, also said the minister should answer questions before the committee. “We believe it imperative that the minister provide answers at committee and explain how this was allowed to happen.”
Fellow Tory MP Melissa Lantsman said she will present a petition from her constituents to the House of Commons asking for a public inquiry. She said an independent body should examine all historical funding to CMAC.
She criticized Rodriguez for not speaking out about the tweets. “The most vile thing about this is the silence,” she said.
Rodriguez declined to comment.
Tory MP Dan Albas, who sits on the Commons finance committee, said the government needs to examine all funding of CMAC.
“There has been radio silence over what they are going to do to get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press