Federal cabinet minister Maryam Monsef says she has experienced “a range of emotions” since discovering earlier this week that she was not born in Afghanistan, as she has always believed, but in Iran.
The Democratic Institutions minister made the discovery after The Globe and Mail began looking into her early life in the Middle East and subsequent move to Canada as a young girl.
The narrative of Monsef as a successfully integrated refugee and the first Afghan-born MP has been a central one for the Liberal government since it won power last fall. Monsef was even singled out by U.S. President Barack Obama during his address to Canada’s Parliament this summer.
WATCH: Maryam Monsef singled out by U.S. President Barack Obama
But as the Globe dug deeper, Monsef’s established past seemed to unravel.
“In recent days, my mother told me for the first time that my sisters and I were in fact born in Mashhad, Iran, approximately 200 kilometers from the Afghan border,” the minister said in a statement released early Thursday.
Reached by Global News later in the day, Monsef said “it’s been a rather difficult week and my otherwise neat and tidy refugee story, I have found out, is a bit more complicated than I had thought.”
Monsef said she now wants to clear up any misconceptions about her early life. After her parents, both Afghan citizens, were married in Harat, Afghanistan, the security situation deteriorated. No longer safe in their home town, Monsef’s parents escaped to Mashhad, Iran.
WATCH: Afghan cabinet minister Maryam Monsef’s refugee story changes. Vassy Kapelos reports.
“While we were technically safe in Iran, we did not hold any status there and like the thousands of other Afghan refugees, we were not afforded all of the same rights and privileges given to Iranian citizens,” Monsef’s statement read.
“After my father’s death, we travelled back and forth between Afghanistan and Iran when the security situation permitted it.”
WATCH: Maryam Monsef dedicates life to serving Canada after fleeing home country
Confronted with evidence of Monsef’s true birthplace, the minister said her mother told her and her sisters that “she did not think it mattered” where they had been born. Under Iranian law, the girls were Afghani and not considered Iranian citizens despite being born in that country.
“(My mother) said while in our culture it’s who your parents are, it’s their nationality that determines your citizenship, and legally you were born an Afghani citizen, you were born in a hosptital in Iran. We did that because it wasn’t safe, we did that because we wanted to make sure you’d be born in a place where there’d be access to medical care but also there wouldn’t be fear for security.”
After Monsef’s father was killed in the ongoing conflict in the region, the family moved to Peterborough, Ontario.
Former MP challenges story
Former Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro wasn’t buying Monsef’s explanations, however.
Del Mastro served as the MP for Monsef’s current riding from 2oo6 until November 2014, when he resigned after being convicted of violating the Elections Canada Act by exceeding campaign limits, then attempting a cover-up.
In a Facebook post Thursday, Del Mastro said the minister had turned her own mother into a scapegoat.
“I have known the truth regarding her birth place as well as many other things as yet unreported for several years,” the former MP wrote.
“I learned of it all initially indirectly through a person who identified herself as a former close personal friend and confidant of Ms. Monsef with whom Maryam told the truth. I find it stunning that in her explanation … that she scape goated her mother, a person that she describes as her ‘hero.'”