PETERBOROUGH, Ont. (CityNews) ─ The federal Liberal candidate who sparked controversy by using the term “brothers” in her pointed challenge to the Taliban says she is furious about being labelled a Taliban sympathizer.
Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, used a government briefing last month to make an impassioned appeal directly to the Taliban to allow Afghans to flee the country and respect the rights of others who are left behind.
“I want to take this opportunity to speak to our brothers, the Taliban,” she said in a remark that caught attention on social media and on the campaign trail.
“We call on you to ensure the safe and secure passage of any individual in Afghanistan out of the country. We call on you to immediately stop the violence, the genocide, the femicide, the destruction of infrastructure, including heritage buildings.”
The candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha later clarified the phrasing.
“Muslims refer to one another as brothers and sisters,” she said. “Rest assured, I continue to believe deeply that the Taliban are a terrorist organization.”
Monsef questioned again about referencing the Taliban as “our brothers” and asked if she wants to backtrack the comment. She says “Muslims refer to one another as brothers and sisters. So rest assured I continue to believe deeply the Taliban are a terrorist organization”#cdnpoli
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) August 25, 2021
Monsef says the accusations directed at her since the Aug. 25 video was widely shared online are preposterous.
“Those men killed my father, and that I have been branded by a fringe group as a Taliban sympathizer is absurd and is hurtful to my family and particularly to my mother, and I hate that,” Monsef told CityNews.
“This was the last day of the emergency evacuation and I had spent months working on this file and days on the phone with young women hiding behind cars and saying, ‘I’m behind a car at such and such petrol station, can someone come and get me?’ And I had to say, ‘no I’m sorry, if you can make it to the airport there may be a way.’
“And in that moment I tried to speak to those men in a way that they would understand, in a way that I thought would help. I was just trying to save lives and I hate that that gave license to people who have no idea what it’s like to be people like me.”
Monsef was born in Iran to Afghan parents during the height of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Her family came to Canada as refugees in the 1990s after having fled Afghanistan once the Taliban came to power in Herat, where they had returned to live at the time.
Now Monsef is running again under the Justin Trudeau Liberals in a riding she won in 2015 and again in 2019.
“My vision for my community and my country is we finish the fight against the pandemic,” said Monsef. “We bump up our vaccination numbers.”
The predictive nature of Peterborough-Kawartha
Peterborough-Kawartha is home to roughly 120,000 residents − a mix of rural and urban voters.
And when it comes to federal elections, the region has a reputation to act as a crystal ball.
“People here are pretty proud of the fact the riding is a so-called bellwether riding always votes federally, ends up putting in the governing party into power in this riding,” said David Sheinin, a professor at Trent University. “With one exception in the early 1980s.”
Four of the candidates in the riding are women: Monsef, Joy Lachica (NDP), Chante White (Green) and Michelle Ferreri (Conservative).
“We have a jobs strategy, a good job strategy this is connected to our fight for climate action based on the climate emergency,” said Lachica.
Added White: “The Green Party definitely made climate change its main priority because climate change is the overarching theme that has its hands in all the different sectors.”
Conservative candidate Ferreri agreed to an interview with CityNews but cancelled at the last minute.
The four women do have one male contender in the mix: Paul Lawton of the People’s Party of Canada.
“We will ensure freedom from mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports by opposing these mandates and other authoritarian measures imposed by provincial governments,” said Lawton.
Other election issues that are top of mind for residents of Peterborough-Kawartha are health care and the opioid crisis.
—With files from The Canadian Press