Photo via Daily VICE
A couple weeks ago, Montrealer Steve Maman was being feted by media around the world for helping free 128 Yazidis and Christians from enslavement by Islamic State militants (IS), garnering him the nickname "Jewish Schindler."Donations to his non-profit group the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) through his now defunct GoFundMe page ballooned to more than $580,000.But over the last week, Maman has been fighting off doubts about his work on various fronts, chief among them, as VICE News first reported, from a group of Yazidi leaders and experts that called on him to provide evidence of his rescues.
Now, the person Maman has said helps him carry out his work in Iraq is denying he has ever collaborated with CYCI.In interviews with VICE News and other media outlets, Maman has repeatedly said he is working with the help of The Reverend Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad, and his contacts on the ground in Iraq. A recent post on CYCI's Facebook page says: "There are equal endorsements between CYCI and Canon Andrew White, who work closely together on this mission."In an interview with the Morocco World News, Maman is quoted as saying that White is "instrumental to my success" and that "[t]ogether we have saved more than 102 children so far, and it increases every day.""Our contacts come from Canon Andrew White, his security team that's been with him for the past 18 years," Maman told Fox News.However, a statement released Tuesday by White's group, the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), directly contradicts that claim.
"There have been a number of reports in the news regarding Canadian businessman, Steve Maman, and his organization, the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI). Some of these reports have inaccurately made a connection between CYCI's activities, as publicized by Mr. Maman, and FRRME's Founding President, Canon Andrew White," the statement, signed by the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the group, says.
"Steve Maman is a personal contact of Canon Andrew White, who has expressed support for the aims and objectives of CYCI. However, FRRME does not collaborate with CYCI either financially or in terms of practical assistance. To date, no material support has been given to CYCI by FRRME, nor is there any intention to provide material support in the future."In an email to VICE News on Tuesday, White confirmed: "I have not worked with him he is a friend."
In a subsequent post on his Facebook page, however, White spoke in glowing terms of Maman.
Maman has said that his key contact on the ground in Iraq is a man named Dawood — whom he said is associated with White — and he has shown images of Dawood with people Maman says he rescued.In a June 10, 2015 letter from White with FRRME letterhead addressed to "Friends," White writes that he "would like to totally and strongly recommend to you the unique work of Mr. Steve Maman in support of his unique work in standing with the suffering minorities in Iraq."When VICE News interviewed White last week about the letter from the Yazidi group, the reverend dismissed any concerns about Maman's work."I couldn't care less what they say," White said by phone. "They're not on the ground doing it. Of course people will say this. They say this all the time. And I'm not going to argue. Now people are being killed doing it. We're not in here just to mess around with journalists," he concluded before hanging up.
According to CYCI's website, the girls rescued by Maman's team are "sent to Canon Andrew White's IDP [internally displaced person] camp in Kurdistan."A spokesperson for the UNHCR in Duhok told VICE News in an email last week that "all IDP camps in Kurdistan region of Iraq are run by the authorities" and that the UNHCR did not know of any camps "run by Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad or Canon White."Gill Rosenberg, a Canadian-Israeli woman known for being the first Western woman to fight with Kurdish forces against IS after serving jail time for a phone scam, told VICE News in a phone interview on Tuesday from Iraq that Maman invited her to participate in one of his liberations earlier this month. She said she has since cut ties with him.Rosenberg wouldn't go into many details about why she stopped working with Maman, but said that "there's very little transparency and I can't be involved with something that isn't transparent" and "there are a lot of question marks, let's put it that way, and I wasn't getting the answers that worked for me so I had to part ways.""There were a lot of discrepancies. And I just didn't feel comfortable."Yet, Rosenberg believes that Maman's operation is legitimate. "I do believe that he's helping people here and I wish him the best of luck in his mission," she said. "But not having the paperwork is a huge problem … if there's no documentation and evidence, I can't attach my name to it."
Related: 'Jewish Schindler' Tells Critical Yazidi Leaders to Stop Talking About HimAs for Maman's group, VICE News confirmed with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) spokesperson Philippe Brideau last week that CYCI is not a registered charity, despite the fact that it claims on its Youtube and Facebook pages that "official tax deductible receipt can be issued" for donations. CYCI is a non-profit corporation, which is different. Only groups officially registered with the Canada Revenue Agency can issue tax receipts.VICE News called Maman's group last week to find out what it was telling prospective donors about its charitable status and its ability to issue tax receipts.The representative, who said his name was Sam, said it "absolutely" issues tax receipts and "we would send you the receipt by mail."In a later phone call, VICE News spoke to another representative, who did not give his name, who confirmed that CYCI was a registered charity. "We are an official charity and yeah you can get a tax deductible refund." That representative added, "I would suggest that you actually email us because there's the person who's in charge of actually sending those receipts to everybody … let them know you'd like to make a donation and you would like a tax deductible receipt and they will explain to you the steps and make sure to get that to you."Maman has continuously defended the integrity of his operation and insists he has sufficient evidence to support his claims. He told VICE News in a text message early Wednesday morning that "our charity is registered with canada and is posted in our photos on cyci."Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne