When I learned that Defence Minister Peter MacKay had married this woman – Nazanin Afshin-Jam – and started hearing a little bit about her, I immediately wanted to know more about her. The newspapers trumpeted her beauty, her acting and singing career, her life as a beauty queen. If you read a bit further, you understood that Ms. Afshin-Jam was Iranian born and a human rights activist with a strong voice of her own.
You might have taken a step back and wondered what this human rights activist and this minister in the Harper government have in common…
This week Afshin-Jam did an interview with a journalist from the Charlottetown Guardian who asked her about Omar Khadr. She said that Khadr was a child soldier and a Canadian citizen – all facts – and should be brought back to serve his sentence in Canada.
The story, of course, became that the ‘minister’s wife’ was voicing an opinion that went against all PMO talking points on the case.
Afshin-Jam spoke out on the stories coming out of her interview. She was upset because she was being referred to as the minister’s wife when she is her own person with her own identity – which I totally agree with. But she also said that the reporter was trying to get her to criticize the government. The reporter, Jim Day, says she could have declined to answer his questions.
The problem I’m having here is that Afshin-Jam can’t have it both ways. She is the minister’s wife and she also has opinions that clearly don’t mesh with government policies. As a human rights activist with a connection to the Middle East she should have expected to be asked questions about Khadr, whose transfer has been in the news for the past week. As a human rights activist and the minister’s wife, she should have prepared herself to answer such questions. She has no reason to stop answering questions about her passion for human rights and she has no right to expect people to ignore the fact that she happens to be married to the country’s Minister of National Defence.
She should be allowed to speak her mind, but she cannot also expect that people won’t question what Peter MacKay’s feelings might be when she does.