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Minister Maryam Monsef correcting documents after birthplace revelations

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef recently learned she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is going through the process of correcting official documents as opposition MPs raise concerns about the Liberal government's vetting process for cabinet ministers.

Ms. Monsef said she only learned last Thursday that she had been born in Iran and not Afghanistan after inquiries from The Globe and Mail about her birthplace.

"In recent days, my mother told me for the first time that my sisters and I were in fact born in Mashhad, Iran," she said in a statement Thursday after The Globe published the revelation. "My sisters and I asked my mother why she never told us we were born in Iran. She told us she did not think it mattered."

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Read more: Heralded as Canada's first Afghan-born MP, Maryam Monsef shocked to discover truth of roots

Read more: From refugee to cabinet minister, Maryam Monsef tasked with electoral reform

Ms. Monsef built her political career out of her dramatic story as a refugee from Afghanistan, and the Liberals heralded her as Canada's first Afghan-born MP and cabinet minister.

In an interview on CTV's Your Morning on Thursday, Ms. Monsef said "there is some paperwork I am working on" but she did not provide details on whether she was talking about immigration and refugee documents. Her press secretary said her passport will be corrected.

"Until recent days, Maryam Monsef believed that she was born in Afghanistan. As a result, when she applied for a Canadian passport, she listed Herat, Afghanistan as her place of birth," Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said in a statement. "Now that she has learned that this is incorrect, she will be taking steps to see how she can rectify this unintentional error."

Ms. Monsef also corrected her birthday on her parliamentary website, which had been listed as November, 1985, to a year earlier.

Opposition MPs were reluctant to question Ms. Monsef's explanation for why she never knew where she was born, but asked why her Iranian birthplace was not discovered during the cabinet vetting process by the Privy Council and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

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"I'm sure there's a birth certificate somewhere," NDP MP Charlie Angus told reporters in the House of Commons foyer. "Certainly there's questions about someone sitting at a cabinet table and nobody tapping her on the shoulder and saying, 'Woah, wait a minute. Your story doesn't quite add up here.'"

In a tweet, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel questioned whether Ms. Monsef's birthplace was accurately represented on her refugee and citizenship applications, saying there would be "serious consequences" if it wasn't. Speaking to The Globe and Mail Thursday, Ms. Rempel said the minister has some explaining to do.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said the story has clearly caused Ms. Monsef great distress.

He said that it would be good to learn more about Ms. Monsef's background, but added that unless she "knowingly misled" Canadians, he doesn't think it's a major issue.

Fellow cabinet ministers defended Ms. Monsef and the government's vetting process Thursday.

"All I know about the vetting process, for me they went through even my sock drawer, so it was pretty comprehensive from my point of view," said Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.

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Ms. Monsef, the youngest member of the Trudeau cabinet, has acknowledged that her narrative as an Afghan refugee gave her an unusual prominence, which even U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted in his June address to Parliament.

"Because my story resonated with many Canadians, I wanted to take the time to clear any misconceptions this may have unintentionally caused," she said in her statement.

The Prime Minister's Office also provided a detailed timeline of Ms. Monsef's life that showed she was born and lived until age 9 in Iran. The family moved to her mother's family home in Herat, Afghanistan in 1993 and then fled the Taliban in 1996, ending up in Canada where they claimed refugee status.

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About the Authors
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More

Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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