OTTAWA — Maryam Monsef, like all her Liberal cabinet colleagues, was careful to step around a direct question about U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.
She might have actually had to be more nimble than most, because the question was not about his views on climate change, trade, immigration or any of the other issues likely to keep Canadian politicians and public servants awake at night.
Maryam Monsef is sworn in as Minister of Status of Women during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan 10, 2017. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
This question was about his views on women — including his disrespectful comments and the accusations of sexual misconduct — and how that shapes how she views her new role as minister for status of women, where working to increase gender quality and decrease the gender-based violence is central to her mandate.
Still, after she began by describing the strength of the long-lasting relationship between Canada and the U.S., she decided, in a way, to let herself go there.
"It is an important time for women and girls, not just in Canada, but around the world," Monsef said Wednesday in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"It is an important time for women and girls, not just in Canada, but around the world."
She said that's one reason why she is grateful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked her to take on this portfolio, which she describes as a key priority for the Liberal government. She was moved out of her previous role as the minister for democratic institutions after she was criticized heavily for her handling of Trudeau's promise to change the electoral system in time for the next federal vote.
"I believe Canada plays a really important role on the issue of gender equality," she said.
"There are countries around the world who are looking to Canada to provide leadership and I know that as a nation, just like we do with various issues, we will be at the table in making sure that the values that are important to Canadians are reflected in conversations and in decisions," said Monsef, who came to Canada as a refugee.
'I am just as Canadian as you are'
Monsef told The Canadian Press that she has not yet finished the paperwork that arose after she learned last year — through questions from the Globe and Mail — that she was actually born in Iran, not in Afghanistan as she had been told by her mother.
She said she would provide an update on that when she has one, but in the meantime, she said: "I am just as Canadian as you are."
Monsef also said Canada is not perfect when it comes to gender equality.
She remembers realizing that when she attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2013, where she spoke about the importance of involving young women in the movement to address gender-based violence.
Taking new role seriously
"I was so proud to represent Canada, the country of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and all the ways we do well by women and girls and including men and boys," she said. "But at that same gathering, I truly understood that the conditions for indigenous women and girls to succeed were not quite there yet."
Monsef said she is bringing that experience with her this year, when she leads the Canadian delegation to the same gathering.
"I take that responsibility very seriously," she said.