PCO says it didn't search new human rights chief's online aliases, blames 'administrative oversight'

The Privy Council Office (PCO) says it did not search the aliases Birju Dattani, the new head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, used to make controversial social media posts.

A spokesperson for the PCO said in a statement to CBC News on Monday that "an administrative oversight resulted in the aliases not being searched by PCO."

In June, Dattani was named the CHRC's chief commissioner, making him the first Muslim or racialized person to head the organization.

Shortly after his historic appointment, national Jewish organizations cited what they described as antisemitic social media posts made under the name "Mujahid Dattani" and a controversial appearance on a debate panel in the U.K.

As the secretariat serving the federal cabinet and the prime minister, the PCO is responsible for background checks for all Governor-in-Council appointments.

"The aliases were also not reviewed nor shared with security partners who conduct background checks," a spokesperson for the PCO said. "After this oversight was discovered, PCO shared the aliases with its security partners who are now completing necessary reviews."

The spokesperson added that the PCO would be reviewing its background check process in this case and that neither the existence of Dattani's aliases, nor any forms containing his aliases, were shared with the Prime Minister's Office or the justice minister's office.

"This is consistent with our usual practice in these types of appointments, which this incident has caused us to review," the spokesperson said.

Justice Minister Arif Virani's spokesperson confirmed last week that Dattani disclosed an alias to "public servants as part of the security assessment of Mr. Dattani." The minister's press secretary, Chantalle Aubertin, said the name was not provided to Virani's office.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) accused Dattani of posting articles on X, formerly Twitter, that compared Israel to Nazi Germany. The posts and Dattani's account appear to have been deleted.

CBC News has not seen the alleged posts. Dattani himself has said he did not compare Israel to Nazi Germany. He said he did share without comment an article comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of prisoners in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War, adding that he didn't agree with the article's argument.

In 2015, Dattani also spoke on a panel in the U.K. alongside a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic fundamentalist group that seeks to establish a new caliphate and opposes Israel's existence.

Dattani said he was unaware of the other panellists' affiliations and had never met them before.

His lawyer, Muneeza Sheikh, told CBC News in an email that her client "disclosed all information requested of him by the government" and has no insight into how the information was used or to whom it was given.

"We are not losing sight of the core issue which is my client's appointment in this role," Sheikh said. "We maintain that the allegations are utterly baseless and that an investigation around the same will confirm that there is no basis to question my client's suitability as Commissioner."

When asked about the issue on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that "we need to do better and the Privy Council needs to do better."

Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman called on the prime minister to "immediately fire" the new human rights commissioner and accused the government of avoiding "accountability for appointing a Human Rights Commissioner with a long history of anti-Israel statements and a record of justifying terrorism."

"First they said they didn't know, then they revealed they knew about his online aliases, and now they claim they didn't even perform background and security checks with the information they had," Lantsman said in a media statement issued Monday.

"It's clear the Justin Trudeau and his Justice Minister are seeking to blame everyone but themselves."