Another Complaint Against Judge in U of T Hiring Dispute

By STEVE ARNOLD

A second complaint has been filed against a Jewish judge accused of interfering in the hiring by the University of Toronto law school of a scholar who has been highly critical of Israel.

Justice David Spiro

The new complaint was filed with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) on Oct. 10 by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, and Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (which supports the BDS campaign against Israel).

It alleges that Justice David Spiro, a judge on the Tax Court of Canada, used his influence to oppose the hiring of Valentina Azarova, a scholar with a record of supporting Palestinian human rights.

“If the allegations against him are true, Justice Spiro’s conduct fails to meet the standard of integrity and impartiality required of a judge,” the association said.

Backers of the new complaint have asked for their issues to be joined with an earlier complaint filed by two law school professors.

Valentina Azarova

The complaints allege that U of T offered to hire Azarova as director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program. The offer was allegedly withdrawn after a university donor complained of Azarova’s history of anti-Israel work.

Law school dean Edward Iacobucci has never denied being approached about the hiring, but has said that while there were initial talks with an applicant, an employment offer was never extended because of immigration difficulties.

Edward Iacobucci

Spiro, who, along with his extended family, has helped U of T raise millions of dollars, was identified as the source of the alleged interference by reports in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. 

For Azarova’s supporters, the affair challenges academic freedom.

“The BCCLA is deeply invested in the resolution of this complaint for two main reasons: to uphold judicial independence and to protect freedom of expression, both of which are crucial to the democratic process,” said Meghan McDermott, Interim Policy Director of the BCCLA.

“As a civil liberties organization, we always fear the chilling effect that public decisions can have on the expressive rights of individuals and the general quality of public discourse. What happened to Dr. Azarova appears to us to fit into an escalating pattern of people being censored or otherwise penalized for expressing their views about the human rights of Palestinians.”     

CJC communications director Johanna Laporte said in an email that the Spiro complaint is “under active review.”

Meantime, the university has appointed Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Ontario Council of Universities, to review how the search was handled and whether any university policies were breached.

Patterson’s report is to be submitted by mid-January. U of T president Meric Gertler has ordered that the final report be submitted directly to him and not to administrators involved in the decision. He promised to make it public “subject only to respecting the privacy of individual candidates involved in the search process.”

He said he has followed the controversy with “deep concern.”

“Any suggestion that academic freedom has been violated must be treated with the utmost gravity. It is also critically important that the integrity of our search processes be upheld,” Gertler wrote.

James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, said the moves taken by Gertler are “a good step” but don’t fix the real problem.

“Clearly, the U of T felt a lot of public pressure because of its mishandling of this,” Turk said in an email. “The only proper solution is to restore Prof. Azarova’s job offer.”