MP Maryam Monsef born in Iran, not Afghanistan
Cabinet minister Maryam Monsef, who has frequently been touted as Canada's first Afghan-born member of Parliament, now concedes she was actually born in Iran.
Monsef, 31, says her mother told her of her true place of birth last week, after The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife inquired about her early life. Monsef had been under the impression that she was born in Afghanistan, although she did spend parts of her childhood living in Iran. She came to Canada as a refugee with her widowed mother and two younger sisters in 1996, after her mother fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban.
The cabinet minister has often said she was born in Afghanistan, and news headlines frequently refer to her as the "Afghan-born MP."
In June, Robert Fife, then host of CTV’s Question Period, asked Monsef in an interview if she was born in Afghanistan.
"I believe I was," Monsef replied.
Also in June, U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Monsef's Afghan heritage in a House of Commons speech during his visit to Ottawa.
Monsef says, she now knows she was born at a hospital in Mashhad, Iran, in an area with a large Afghan population. She says her mother never told her she was born in Iran because she didn't think it was important.
"For her, it wasn't a big deal," Monsef told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday, in her first broadcast interview following the revelation. She added that her mother has apologized repeatedly in the last week. She also said, in that part of the world, citizenship is cultural and patrilineal, so there was never any doubt when she was born that she would be considered an Afghan citizen, not an Iranian one.
"All these years, Iran certainly didn't accept us as citizens. We were always Afghan," Monsef said.
Monsef says the surprise does not make her an Iranian citizen.
"Not much has changed, but something inside has changed," Monsef said.
The Liberal MP says, while she's struggled to come to grips with the news, she was initially upset with her mother for not correcting her much-publicized story. But now, Monsef says, she's only angry with herself.
"I'm mad at myself because I actually have no right to be angry at her," Monsef said, explaining that she had to remind herself that her mother was caring for three children in a war zone at the time, and had to make a lot of difficult choices to survive.
"What wouldn't you do?" she said.
"You tell your story so many times that it becomes a story, and not your story," she said. "I forgot what we gave up to come here (to Canada). I forgot what she gave up to come here."
Monsef, who is the Liberal MP for the riding of Peterborough-Kawartha and serves as the Minister of Democratic Institutions, says she is focused on her work.
A spokesperson said Monsef listed Herat, Afghanistan as her place of birth when she applied for a Canadian passport so she "will be taking steps to see how she can rectify this unintentional error."
In a statement released Thursday morning, Monsef said, "Because I know my story has resonated with many Canadians, I wanted to take the time today to clear any misconceptions this may have unintentionally caused."
Monsef explains that her parents moved to Iran because they were "no longer safe" in their hometown in Afghanistan. However, they did not remain in Iran because they "did not hold any status there and like the thousands of other Afghan refugees, we were not afforded all the same rights and privileges given to Iranian citizens.
"After my father's death, we travelled back and forth between Afghanistan and Iran when the security situation permitted it."
Monsef says in the statement that, as a Canadian, she feels "a tremendous deal of responsibility in upholding all that this great country has allowed me to become. This includes accountability to the public and transparency."