Northern Birthers

The birther political scandal broke out in Canada this week. Of course we had to give it our own unique twist, so as not to be accused of copying the United States.

Down south there have been persistent rumours that President Barack Obama was not born in the US, which would disqualify him from becoming president. Proof of his birth has been offered, which satisfies most people, but the rumours persist to the point they have been part of this year’s presidential campaign. (I’m not sure it really matters anymore; the man only has a little more than 100 days left in office.) Our scandal involved a federal cabinet minister who was not born where she had said.

This is actually no big deal here. Unlike the US, we don’t have any restrictions on our politicians being eligible for office based on their place of birth. It doesn’t matter where you were born, it is citizenship that counts. ‎But I digress.

This scandal, if there is one, is not about place of birth. .Since most Canadians probably couldn’t find Iran or Afghanistan on a map, it doesn’t make any difference where she was born. What is important is what was knowingly placed on the public record. Did the cabinet minister lie to Canadians?

She says she only found out the facts of her birth after being approached by a newspaper reporter. She then called her mother and was told that yes, she had been born in Iran, not Afghanistan.

Needless to say, the news was embarrassing. Afghan refugee makes good was a huge political narrative for the governing Liberals. Even Barack Obama mentioned her story on a visit to Canada in June. Since the story broke she has not shown up in the House of Commons to answer questions.

Borders can be fluid in that part of the world, especially during conflicts. I could believe the woman’s story that because her parents were Afghan she has always been Afghan and she was never told the circumstances of her birth. I can believe she was too young to comprehend the implications of the family’s various moves before she came to Canada 20 years ago. It sounds at least possible if not plausible. But for me there are two huge unanswered questions.

The first is: why was the reporter asking? There must have been information received from someone to inspire the question. It was a specific one – were you not born in Iran and not Afghanistan? The question led her to call her mother and question her. I wonder what was said to cause her to question what she had always believed to be true. It would take a lot for me to question the facts of my birth. Unless I already knew the story was false.

The second unanswered question is, when did she find out about her Iranian birth?

I can discount the claims from hometown political opponents who say they always knew she wasn’t born in Afghanistan. After all, they said nothing earlier. But I notice that in a television interview last spring she hedged on the subject saying she “believed” she was born in Afghanistan.

I don’t “believe” I was born in Ottawa. I know it. I know it from my mother. I know it from talking to people who were there at the time. I know it from official documentation. It is a matter of fact, not belief. By hedging in her answer last spring, it looks to me like she knew her story was false and decided not to tell the truth because the truth wasn’t part of the political narrative.

That’s where the scandal comes in, if there is scandal at all in this situation. Canadians deserve better than a cabinet minister who would choose to lie to them. Someone who will not tell the truth about something as trivial as her birthplace probably can’t be trusted to be truthful about the big issues. And that is profoundly disturbing.

Politicians do not score well on the trustworthiness scale to start with. This situation doesn’t help things. However, I doubt our Canadian birther scandal, unlike its American counterpart, will still be part of the political landscape eight years from now. Or even eight weeks from now.

Unless it turns out she was really born in Kenya like Barack Obama.


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