Any time the federal government hands out one of the many grace-and-favour appointments it has in its storehouse of vote-attracting enticements, you have to think the job interview goes something like this:

Q: Do you speak any of the official languages?

A: Yes.

Q: Have either you or your relatives, or people similar to you or your relatives, driven other people off their land, knowingly or unknowingly, even in previous centuries?

A: I don’t think so.

Q: You’re in. The pay is $100,000, you can work from home and we make no effort to track how you’re doing. Does that suffice?

A: Um, I guess. Is there a pension?

The latest example of this casual approach to vetting is Birju Dattani, the new head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Dattani, who’s heralded as the first Muslim and “racialized” person to hold the job, previously served on human rights bodies in Alberta and the Yukon. His official appointment asserted he was arriving at “a pivotal time for the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” and brought “a wealth of both professional and personal lived experience to this role.”

Problems arose soon after. Jewish groups raised questions about tweets and appearances Dattani had made in the past, arguing they reflected antisemitic views. That set off a back-and-forth between Muslim groups and Jewish organizations, widening the sort of acidic divide human rights organizations are meant to narrow.

Justice Minister Arif Virani’s office initially said it was unaware of the posts, which it claimed Dattani hadn’t disclosed. Later it admitted he had in fact disclosed the information, leaving it unclear who knew what and why no action had been taken. Only now is a “formal, independent review” underway.

If Virani needs help in sorting out the mess he faces, he might seek advice from Anthony Rota, who managed to invite a former Nazi to attend a House of Commons event honouring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, where he was treated to a standing ovation.

Or maybe Rota’s not the guy to ask: he lost his job as Speaker when it became clear no one had bothered to check deeply enough into Yaroslav Hunka’s background to discover he’d been a member of a wartime Nazi unit.

Before Virani and Rota, there was Ahmed Hussen, the housing, diversity and inclusion minister whose office didn’t do much of a job vetting consultant Laith Marouf before he was named to an anti-racism project that had been granted $133,000 in government funding.

If it had, it might have come across comments on his Twitter account referring to Jews as “those loud mouthed bags of human feces” who would “return to being low voiced bi—es of (their) Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters” after “we liberate Palestine.”

Hussen purported to be surprised by the revelations and demanded an investigation to “look closely at the situation,” which his vetting team — if there was one — obviously hadn’t done. Only later did he admit he’d been alerted to the comments a month before they became public. He just hadn’t said anything about it.

Given that many of the problems associated with Dattani, Hunka and Marouf were lying there on the internet waiting to be googled, it shouldn’t have been difficult for even a moderately determined search team to find them.

Sloth seems the likely culprit. When a government hands out money as readily and unquestioningly as this one does, asking questions about where it’s going and who’s being hired must seem largely irrelevant.

When Amira Elghawaby was named as Canada’s first special representative on combating Islamophobia in 2023, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was so enthused he released the news himself. Elghwaby was cited as “an award-winning journalist and human rights advocate” who “has had an extensive career supporting initiatives to counter hate and promote inclusion.”

It only took days for someone to draw attention to an article she’d written suggesting a “majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” Those and other comments she’d made about Quebec earned her a public rebuke and led to her making an embarrassing public apology.

Apart from inertia, there’s the not-implausible suspicion the prime minister and his cabinet see such appointments mainly as convenient means to attract support from targeted voting groups. How better to show you care about an ethnic, cultural or religious community than to hand some cash and a fancy title to one of its members?

That being the motive, no one wants to look too closely at the recipients’ record, which carries the danger of discovering something. Everyone has potential embarrassments if you look closely enough, why bring it up if you don’t want to find any?

That was certainly the case with the granddaddy of all Liberal hiring fiascoes, when the prime minister — bedazzled by the prospect of a celebrity governor general —  picked former astronaut Julie Payette to represent the Crown in Canada.

Though a respected and accomplished Canadian, Payette had a worrying history in previous post-astronaut jobs, where she was accused of berating and belittling staff, bringing some to tears with her imperious behaviour.

Three-and-a-half years later, when a scathing report into her treatment of staff members forced her to step down, Trudeau admitted no one had contacted her previous employers to check on her suitability before she was named to the post, but promised he’d examine ways to avoid similar fiascoes in the future.

“Obviously the vetting process that was in place was followed, but obviously we’re going to also look at ways we can strengthen and improve the vetting process for high-level appointments,” Trudeau said at the time.

“We are looking right now at processes that can be strengthened as we move forward and we will have more to say on that as we make decisions.”

That was three years ago. Maybe he’s still working on it. In the meantime, a course for ministers and staff on the mysteries of the Google search tool wouldn’t be a bad idea.

National Post