MP Karygiannis accused of berating civil servants

Controversial Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis is the focus of complaints by Canadian government officials over allegedly verbally abusive behaviour, CBC News has learned.
Toronto Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, shown outside the House of Commons in Ottawa in February 2006, is the focus of complaints from Canadian government officials. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Controversial Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis is the focus of complaints from Canadian government officials over allegedly verbally abusive behaviour, CBC News has learned.

Immigration officials have complained that Karygiannis, the MP for Ontario's Scarborough-Agincourt riding, has used what they call unparliamentary language on multiple occasions in dealing with staff and takes an aggressive tone with civil servants.

Reached by CBC News, Karygiannis said he suspects there is an orchestrated campaign to smear him.

"I've had a good working relationship with the civil servants going back to 1988. I can probably get things done that a lot of other members [of Parliament] cannot get done because I contact them and say I need your help, and the help is always there," he said.

"You don't get re-elected time and time again because of the work that you do if you don't look after your constituents. And people will not look after you and not be helping you if you're not nice to them."  

A spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wouldn't confirm the complaints. She pointed to an incident at a House of Commons committee meeting in 2009 when Karygiannis accused a departmental official of not wanting to admit black immigrants into Canada.

"We cannot release details of Mr. Karygiannis’s interactions with departmental officials without his consent," Candice Malcolm wrote in an email.

"It is already public that Minister Kenney wrote a letter to the chair of the Citizenship and Immigration committee after Mr. Karygiannis was verbally abusive toward CIC officials when they appeared to answer questions.

"We expect anyone dealing with civil servants, especially members of Parliament, to show the same level of respect and decorum with which they would want to be treated. Yelling and/or use of profane language toward civil servants by members of Parliament is not acceptable.

History of controversial remarks

Karygiannis, the Liberal party's multiculturalism critic, is hosting 19 cultural groups this weekend for meetings in Ottawa with Liberal MPs to talk about issues they face.

But some major cultural groups in Canada are boycotting the meetings and demanding Karygiannis be forced out of his portfolio, alleging he holds controversial views that make him unsuitable for the job.

The groups point to statements made by Karygiannis that they say make him an offensive pick.

CBC News has obtained a letter from B'Nai Brith Canada, a leading Jewish group, as well as press releases from Macedonian, Turkish and Chinese groups, demanding Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae replace Karygiannis in his role.

Rae wasn't available Friday for interviews.

The letter and statements are, in part, in support of complaints by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement International, who noted a 2011 event in Toronto where Karygiannis used a derogatory word to describe Macedonians.

Karygiannis says he was referring to a term that's used in Greece to describe Macedonians from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"The Macedonians of FYROM in Greece are referred to as Skopjans. That's a statement which is true. That's how they're referred to," Karygiannis said.

He's also championed causes that have split cultural communities, including successfully pushing Parliament to pass a motion that "acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity." Karygiannis says he's willing to sit down with anyone and talk.

"If they don't like it, then they will say OK, let's do a number on Jim. Well, that's fine. But my motto is respect, accept, celebrate and embrace."

Anita Bromberg, general counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, says the organization is concerned about some of the positions Karygiannis has taken.

"Our point today is that multiculturalism is a call for a united front, for bringing communities together ... where he's been so divisive in the positions he's taken, then we are suggesting to the Liberal Party that they reconsider whether he's the best representative of putting forth that aim."