Iran or Afghanistan? Canada still can't sort out where cabinet member was born

The scandal over Canada's "minister of democratic institutions," Maryam Monsef, continues to deepen.  Originally, her story was that she was born in Afghanistan in 1985.  Now it appears she was born in Iran in 1984.

According to all publicly available information, the office of the prime minister of Canada (PMO) was not aware of any of these discrepancies until last week when staffers read about the revelations in a report from the Globe and Mail.

One of two options is available: either (1) Canada's national security services failed to properly vet a cabinet minister or (2) Canada's national security services informed the PMO that Monsef's public history was false, and the PMO suppressed this information from the Canadian public.

Since the initial story broke on Monsef's past, more questions have arisen that need to be answered.

In her official statement released in response to the Globe and Mail's report that she was actually born in Iran, not Afghanistan, Monsef made the following claims:

Following my parents' wedding in Herat, the local security situation became untenable. The town was severely damaged by war and thousands were killed. No longer safe in their home town, my parents decided not to take risks and went to Mashhad, Iran, where they could be safe – with the hope of soon returning to the place their families called home for generations. While we were technically safe in Iran, we did not hold any status there.

And yet, according to an article published in IranWire on November 11, 2015 by Shima Shahrabi, a freelance journalist, "[w]hat would have happened had Maryam Monsef remained in Iran? Although she had legal residency, and even if she had been able to get a university education, she would not have been able to become a cabinet minister."

The "legal residency" that Monsef apparently held in Iran according to Shahrabi's report is very different from "not hold[ing] any status there" as Monsef's statement claims.

So which is it?  Did Maryam Monsef hold legal residency in Iran or not?

Then there is the narrative attempting to be woven about Monsef's birth certificate:

It might help to know that in Afghanistan, citizenship papers and birth certificates and the official registration of births and deaths are the exotica of faraway places. One is born "in the time of the pomegranate harvest" or some such thing, or one's birth date is recorded as the first day of the year, if you are even aware of the year you were born. Especially during the terror time – the years of Monsef's childhood – it was not as though you could pop into a local government registrar to inform the world of a baby's birth.

Except according to the PMO, there is "a detailed timeline of Ms. Monsef's life that showed she was born and lived until age 9 in Iran."  If Monsef was born and lived in Iran until age 9, why are we looking to Afghanistan for her birth certificate?  The Globe and Mail has also stated that Monsef "was born at the Imam Reza hospital in Mashhad, Iran."

Surely Iran must have a detailed birth record of Monsef.  Authoritarian regimes such as Iran are known for many failings, but the keeping of records for those born in large, relatively modern research and teaching hospitals within the nation's second largest city that also functions as a regional capital, as well as a "capital of Islamic culture," is not likely to be one of them.

A UNICEF report on "Birth registration in Iran: An analysis of the state of relevant laws" yields the following insight:

Iran adopted a Birth Registration law in 1918. The law stipulates that all births must be registered within 15 days. The Ministries of Interior, Justice and Foreign Affairs all have responsibilities for the implementation of the law.

If Monsef was indeed "born at the Imam Reza hospital in Mashhad, Iran," there must be a registered birth certificate.  Even the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Islamic Republic of Iran states that "according to the paragraph 5 for the infants of foreign parents the certificate of birth are issued."

Consequently, the laws of Iran appear to unequivocally show that Monsef should have an Iranian birth certificate.  Where is it?

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper from Prince Edward Island in Canada, Monsef apparently said that "if I did have an Iranian background we would have been able to settle in Iran."  This again conflicts with the statement in Shahrabi's article that Monsef appears to have held "legal residency" in Iran coupled to Monsef's own claim that her family was "technically safe in Iran."  Legal residency plus technical safety, especially when added to the naturalization options discussed below, qualifies as "able to settle in Iran."

The Guardian's article continues to add questions:

Monsef's story of fleeing her native Afghanistan was a central part of her campaign when she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Peterborough in 2014. Mayor Daryl Bennett said he recalls one debate during the campaign, where Monsef described herself as a person "of Persian descent" – not Afghan. It gave Bennett pause that she didn't mention Afghanistan.

On March 23, 2016, Bryan May, the Liberal Party member of Parliament for Cambridge, Ontario, tweeted to Monsef: "Nowruz Mubarak to all my Persian friends including @MaryamMonsef."  Even earlier, on November 7, 2015, the Persian Language Foundation congratulated Monsef: "Congratulations2 @MaryamMonsef #Canada's 1st #Persian #Farsi speaking #cabinet #minster [sic] 4 #Democtratic [sic] #Institutions."

Monsef clearly differentiated between Persian and Afghani, as evidenced by a June 27, 2014 tweet indicating she is "at a Persian/Afghan wedding" while in June 2012 claiming that "[t]here is a Persian-Canadian in all of us ;)."  As other social media posts have shown, Monsef apparently attempted to travel to Iran in 2004 and did travel to Iran either in early 2014 or shortly beforehand.

Additional confusion is evident about Monsef's potential for Iranian citizenship.  As reported by the Toronto Star, Monsef said that "[w]e were Afghan citizens, as we were born to Afghan parents, and under Iranian law, we would not be considered Iranian citizens despite being born in that country."  In the Los Angeles Times, "[a] biographical timeline provided by Monsef's office noted that a child born in Iran only gains citizenship if the father is Iranian."

Both appear to be erroneous claims.  The Civil Code of Iran (1928, amended 1985) states that "[t]he following persons are considered to be Iranian subjects: ... (4) Persons born in Iran of foreign parents, one of whom was also born in Iran; (5) Persons born in Iran of a father of foreign nationality who have resided at least one more year in Iran immediately after reaching the full age of 18; [and] (6) Every woman of foreign nationality who marries an Iranian husband."

As well, "[p]ersons can obtain Iranian nationality if they: (1) Have reached the full age of 18; (2) Have resided five years, whether continuously or intermittently, in Iran; (3) Are not deserters from military service; [and] (4) Have not been convicted in any country of non-political major misdemeanors or felonies."

Thus, a child born in Iran to foreign parents has clear routes available to naturalization that are not restricted to having an Iranian father, but the process is not immediate and will likely require the individual to wait until reaching the age of majority – which was about a further nine years in the case of Monsef.

Furthermore, what did Monsef mean in June 2012 when she said she was "[c]aught between two worlds: Facing a beautiful sunset in my world in the west and mountain of obligations from the east"?

What mountain of obligations from the east was a current federal government minister under?  Were they benign and positive, or something the Canadian public should be worried about?

The questions continue to pile up, the supposed journalists suppress their critical thinking skills, opposition political parties play ostrich, the PMO peddles "birther" propaganda unworthy of even a banana republic, and the Canadian national security services are silent.

This is what is going on north of the longest undefended border in the world, and the security implications for both Canada and the United States are enormous.

The scandal over Canada's "minister of democratic institutions," Maryam Monsef, continues to deepen.  Originally, her story was that she was born in Afghanistan in 1985.  Now it appears she was born in Iran in 1984.

According to all publicly available information, the office of the prime minister of Canada (PMO) was not aware of any of these discrepancies until last week when staffers read about the revelations in a report from the Globe and Mail.

One of two options is available: either (1) Canada's national security services failed to properly vet a cabinet minister or (2) Canada's national security services informed the PMO that Monsef's public history was false, and the PMO suppressed this information from the Canadian public.

Since the initial story broke on Monsef's past, more questions have arisen that need to be answered.

In her official statement released in response to the Globe and Mail's report that she was actually born in Iran, not Afghanistan, Monsef made the following claims:

Following my parents' wedding in Herat, the local security situation became untenable. The town was severely damaged by war and thousands were killed. No longer safe in their home town, my parents decided not to take risks and went to Mashhad, Iran, where they could be safe – with the hope of soon returning to the place their families called home for generations. While we were technically safe in Iran, we did not hold any status there.

And yet, according to an article published in IranWire on November 11, 2015 by Shima Shahrabi, a freelance journalist, "[w]hat would have happened had Maryam Monsef remained in Iran? Although she had legal residency, and even if she had been able to get a university education, she would not have been able to become a cabinet minister."

The "legal residency" that Monsef apparently held in Iran according to Shahrabi's report is very different from "not hold[ing] any status there" as Monsef's statement claims.

So which is it?  Did Maryam Monsef hold legal residency in Iran or not?

Then there is the narrative attempting to be woven about Monsef's birth certificate:

It might help to know that in Afghanistan, citizenship papers and birth certificates and the official registration of births and deaths are the exotica of faraway places. One is born "in the time of the pomegranate harvest" or some such thing, or one's birth date is recorded as the first day of the year, if you are even aware of the year you were born. Especially during the terror time – the years of Monsef's childhood – it was not as though you could pop into a local government registrar to inform the world of a baby's birth.

Except according to the PMO, there is "a detailed timeline of Ms. Monsef's life that showed she was born and lived until age 9 in Iran."  If Monsef was born and lived in Iran until age 9, why are we looking to Afghanistan for her birth certificate?  The Globe and Mail has also stated that Monsef "was born at the Imam Reza hospital in Mashhad, Iran."

Surely Iran must have a detailed birth record of Monsef.  Authoritarian regimes such as Iran are known for many failings, but the keeping of records for those born in large, relatively modern research and teaching hospitals within the nation's second largest city that also functions as a regional capital, as well as a "capital of Islamic culture," is not likely to be one of them.

A UNICEF report on "Birth registration in Iran: An analysis of the state of relevant laws" yields the following insight:

Iran adopted a Birth Registration law in 1918. The law stipulates that all births must be registered within 15 days. The Ministries of Interior, Justice and Foreign Affairs all have responsibilities for the implementation of the law.

If Monsef was indeed "born at the Imam Reza hospital in Mashhad, Iran," there must be a registered birth certificate.  Even the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Islamic Republic of Iran states that "according to the paragraph 5 for the infants of foreign parents the certificate of birth are issued."

Consequently, the laws of Iran appear to unequivocally show that Monsef should have an Iranian birth certificate.  Where is it?

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper from Prince Edward Island in Canada, Monsef apparently said that "if I did have an Iranian background we would have been able to settle in Iran."  This again conflicts with the statement in Shahrabi's article that Monsef appears to have held "legal residency" in Iran coupled to Monsef's own claim that her family was "technically safe in Iran."  Legal residency plus technical safety, especially when added to the naturalization options discussed below, qualifies as "able to settle in Iran."

The Guardian's article continues to add questions:

Monsef's story of fleeing her native Afghanistan was a central part of her campaign when she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Peterborough in 2014. Mayor Daryl Bennett said he recalls one debate during the campaign, where Monsef described herself as a person "of Persian descent" – not Afghan. It gave Bennett pause that she didn't mention Afghanistan.

On March 23, 2016, Bryan May, the Liberal Party member of Parliament for Cambridge, Ontario, tweeted to Monsef: "Nowruz Mubarak to all my Persian friends including @MaryamMonsef."  Even earlier, on November 7, 2015, the Persian Language Foundation congratulated Monsef: "Congratulations2 @MaryamMonsef #Canada's 1st #Persian #Farsi speaking #cabinet #minster [sic] 4 #Democtratic [sic] #Institutions."

Monsef clearly differentiated between Persian and Afghani, as evidenced by a June 27, 2014 tweet indicating she is "at a Persian/Afghan wedding" while in June 2012 claiming that "[t]here is a Persian-Canadian in all of us ;)."  As other social media posts have shown, Monsef apparently attempted to travel to Iran in 2004 and did travel to Iran either in early 2014 or shortly beforehand.

Additional confusion is evident about Monsef's potential for Iranian citizenship.  As reported by the Toronto Star, Monsef said that "[w]e were Afghan citizens, as we were born to Afghan parents, and under Iranian law, we would not be considered Iranian citizens despite being born in that country."  In the Los Angeles Times, "[a] biographical timeline provided by Monsef's office noted that a child born in Iran only gains citizenship if the father is Iranian."

Both appear to be erroneous claims.  The Civil Code of Iran (1928, amended 1985) states that "[t]he following persons are considered to be Iranian subjects: ... (4) Persons born in Iran of foreign parents, one of whom was also born in Iran; (5) Persons born in Iran of a father of foreign nationality who have resided at least one more year in Iran immediately after reaching the full age of 18; [and] (6) Every woman of foreign nationality who marries an Iranian husband."

As well, "[p]ersons can obtain Iranian nationality if they: (1) Have reached the full age of 18; (2) Have resided five years, whether continuously or intermittently, in Iran; (3) Are not deserters from military service; [and] (4) Have not been convicted in any country of non-political major misdemeanors or felonies."

Thus, a child born in Iran to foreign parents has clear routes available to naturalization that are not restricted to having an Iranian father, but the process is not immediate and will likely require the individual to wait until reaching the age of majority – which was about a further nine years in the case of Monsef.

Furthermore, what did Monsef mean in June 2012 when she said she was "[c]aught between two worlds: Facing a beautiful sunset in my world in the west and mountain of obligations from the east"?

What mountain of obligations from the east was a current federal government minister under?  Were they benign and positive, or something the Canadian public should be worried about?

The questions continue to pile up, the supposed journalists suppress their critical thinking skills, opposition political parties play ostrich, the PMO peddles "birther" propaganda unworthy of even a banana republic, and the Canadian national security services are silent.

This is what is going on north of the longest undefended border in the world, and the security implications for both Canada and the United States are enormous.