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If there’s a defining aspect to Justin Trudeau’s tenure as prime minister, it’s his fondness for big promises and soaring rhetoric. But as supporters of electoral reform can attest, those words haven’t always been backed up by deeds. Now, the Laith Marouf scandal is providing yet another reminder — perhaps the most important one yet — that if you’re going to preach something to the public, you’d better be sure you’re practising it.

Marouf, for those who haven’t seen it yet, is an activist and senior consultant with the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), an organization that received $133,800 from Heritage Canada for its work on an anti-racism project. His private Twitter feed was filled with anti-Semitic and anti-French bile, including a description of so-called “Jewish White Supremacists” as “loud mouthed bags of human feces” and a remark that “Frogs” (an anti-French slur) have “much less IQ than 77.” He even referred to Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal MP and the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, as the “Grand Wizard of Zionism.”

When the government found out about this through the press, they cut CMAC’s funding and condemned Marouf’s statements. “Laith Marouf should have never received funding,” Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendocino said during an unrelated press conference. Liberal MPs like Anthony Housefather and Taleeb Noormohamed also came out swinging. “Laith Marouf’s comments are vile, racist & anti-Semitic,” Noormohamed tweeted on Aug. 21. “They’re wrong by any measure, and particularly for someone that’s supposed to be working to help eliminate racism from broadcasting.”

The prime minister, on the other hand, has been weirdly quiet about this. It’s not as though he’s on vacation, given that he’s made impassioned statements about the harassment of journalists and the incident involving Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland over the last week. On August 23rd, during a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he answered a question about it from one of the assembled journalists. On Tuesday, more than a week after the story first came to light, he elaborated a bit on that. "It is absolutely unacceptable that federal dollars have gone to this organization that has demonstrated xenophobia, racism and antisemitism." But the long wait here for a specific statement says one of two things: that he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, or that he thinks it’s a really big deal. Either way, it’s not good enough.

Make no mistake: when it comes to fighting racism in Canada, the Trudeau government has done more than any other that preceded it. But its rhetoric has gone even further, and the gap between those two things is a target the Liberals’ political opponents aren’t about to miss. Conservative politicians and pundits have been all over the government about the Marouf scandal and the hypocrisy it apparently reveals, and it’s hard to disagree.

Yes, the Trudeau haters are using it as cover to distract from their role in, and responsibility for, amping up conspiracy theorists and other disaffected Canadians across the country. But that cover was handed to them by the Trudeau government — and it will be used whenever the Liberals try to push back against racism and antisemitism and those who enable it in the future. This government has a responsibility to be better than everyone else on this file, to lead by example and to give no quarter or comfort to those who would advance or espouse hateful ideas. On all fronts, they failed miserably here.

Going forward, it will be harder for this government to advance programs and policies that tackle racism and discrimination. When it does, it will be besieged by an army of whatabouters who have been resupplied with a powerful new weapon. That doesn’t mean the Liberals should shrink from this fight. But it does mean that it will be harder than it ought to be.

The Trudeau government should listen closely to people like Mr. Cotler, who laid out some suggestions on how to move forward. “The government and the Anti-Racism branch of Canadian Heritage have to determine how the grant was even authorized to begin with, and have to put in place a vetting process and effective protocols to ensure that the funding of organizations, programs and individuals intended to combat racism and hate don’t end up funding organizations, programs and individuals that propagate racism and hate.”

This is a problem that extends well beyond a single branch of one particular government department. It's representative of a broader approach to governance, and governing, that seems to prioritize aspiration over execution. If Trudeau’s Liberals want to fend off the furious attack coming from Pierre Poilievre, they’ll need to raise their game to a whole new level. If they can’t, things like anti-racism work will be one of the many pieces of collateral damage.

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At this point, majority of us would like any progress battling hate, abuse, harassment, public disturbance, ... enforcing parking violations! I welcome a strong response from the PM on this file

This puts you in league with the convoy guys Max who kept ragging on Trudeau to address them simply so they could abuse him? Where's your perspective gone? Which side HAS the most genuine racists, among a depressing assortment of other "deplorables?" That's the bottom line isn't it? This issue just sounds like one of those mistakes of oversight, easily made and immediately rectified, so Trudeau personally having to address it is a moot point I'd say. He's already the whipping boy extraordinaire when it comes to the cons, don't pile on!
I keep saying this but DO try and imagine what it must be like to sit across from the braying conservatives for this long, and it's only grown in intensity. The vitriol has reached a point, as you have just pointed out Max, that we're all starting to imagine them assassinating him? Seriously. I have. What would THAT actually FEEL like? Ask Chrystia Freeland or Jyoti Gondek, or any other women journalists or women in any influential positions. His perceived effeminacy stokes the hatred. Give him a break. He's like Joe Biden, he's done a lot under uniquely difficult circumstances and hasn't been given much credit. Let cons eat their own, not us.
These extreme circumstances make ANY further "bothsidesism" entirely inappropriate. This conservative "movement" is the enemy, straight-up and are way, way worse. Perspective please!

@Tris

Can we assume that you also feel that any criticism of NATO or Ukraine makes a person a Russian stooge? Or that any criticism of the Government of Israel make a person antisemitic? Those who do hold this positions use the same logic that you employ, here.

Am I actually allowed to care about issues like racism and human rights? Or must we just simply fall behind Trudeau, and keep our mouths shut?

Regarding your statement that any criticism of Trudeau is "bothsidesism," my response is that dividing the world into the blackest of black and the whitest of white, that any criticism of Dear Leader is heresy, is actually one of the defining characteristics of the Screaming A**hole crowd.

The willingness to criticize our own is not a weakness, it is not "bothsidesism," it is what makes our side better.

We're already, obviously demonstrably better.
I would suggest that you are speaking from another, more egalitarian time, the one before the conservative party undeniably BECAME the "Screaming A**hole crowd that you describe. Liberals are categorically NOT that. AT all.
That's what bothsidesism is, assuming right and left are both somehow equal, and worthy when that's simply not true.
When I talk about perspective, I speak from having already watched the transformation of the basically reasonable PC party of Peter Lougheed into the overtly religious, rural Reform Party of ham-fisted bozo eruptions.
But those were the good old days; they're now rubbing shoulders with the Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys, Sons of Odin, The Base, etc. and are no longer just dancing around Rebel Media; they sponsored one of the federal "debates."
As I've said before, from the time the internet started I've been just stunned at the level of vitriol against Trudeau where they called him "Turdeau" and "Trudy." I think the latter is germane among all these boys who have grown into smaller men; I see a protracted backlash against women in power. I was also around in the sixties when feminism appeared. Trudeau on the other hand is grooming a woman for leadership, which is what I like about him best, not being into the cult of personality thing at all.

I don't get it. Some agency, hired some consulting outfit, who had this guy on payroll. He then said some gross stuff, very much in public, and the agency sacked the consulting outfit, who probably sacked this guy. Seems like the right thing to have happened.

I don't see how this exposes any policy issues, let alone ones the Prime Minister should be worrying about.

People are saying "But how could this have been allowed to happen?!"
Well, because this isn't a police state. Sure, maybe if the agency had gone over everything anyone in the consulting outfit had ever said on social media, they would have been able to find out in advance that this guy was toxic. Do we really want our government agencies going over everyone's past social media with a fine-toothed comb and rejecting anyone who's ever said anything problematic? If we go that route it won't just be about anyone ever saying anything racist. Nobody would ever get hired who criticized government policy, who sympathized with pipeline blockaders, who supports trade unions, who partied excessively when they were 23 . . .

It is not at all clear what Mr. Fawcett believes was lacking such that he was inspired to write this column. First, he appears to blame Trudeau, then the target changes to the entire government.

Must/should the PM respond to the appearance of every racist within our polite ranks? There were responses from 3 Liberal MPs; not enough?

His implication that the federal Conservative Party has any moral base from which to launch rhetorical cowpies regarding the PMs response to racism is, in a euphemism, suspect.

Amongst the mish-mash of the hastily written prose is this line, appearing out of the blue: "Make no mistake: when it comes to fighting racism in Canada, the Trudeau government has done more than any other that preceded it." On what basis is this claim made?
Mr. Fawcett may wish to look in the mirror when castigating rhetoric with no visible means of support.