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 The offer was allegedly withdrawn after a university donor complained of Azarova’s history of anti-Israel work.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.”

Ontario Passed the Entire IHRA Definition, Government Says

Nov. 3, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Ontario’s government has flatly rejected claims that it dropped words linking criticism of Israel to antisemitism from a new order defining Jew-hatred in the province.

The Ontario Legislature

In a sudden move last week, the Progressive Conservative government cancelled public hearings on Bill 168, which adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for Ontario. Instead, it passed an Order in Council approving the bill as law.

Opponents of the IHRA definition at first accused the government of trying to short-circuit debate by circumventing public hearings. In the days following the order, however, they suddenly claimed Ontario’s Order in Council dropped the most contentious clauses from the IHRA wording.

In an email to the CJR, a spokesman for Government House Leader Paul Calandra said the Ontario standard endorses the entire IHRA definition, including the “illustrative examples” that opponents found objectionable.

Owen Macri said the government moved “swiftly and immediately” to cancel public hearings and impose the IHRA definition by Order in Council after “a heinous act of antisemitism” at a Canadian war memorial in Ottawa last month.

“This government does not need a committee study to know that antisemitism is deplorable and fundamentally wrong,” he wrote. “We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedom.”

He also rejected arguments that cancelling hearings on the bill was undemocratic.

“We disagree fundamentally with the idea that it could ever be anti-democratic to condemn antisemitism,” he wrote. “The Government of Canada and other national governments have adopted the Working Definition of Antisemitism and have similarly done so as a decision of government.”

Approved in May 2016, the IHRA document defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition includes 11 “illustrative examples” of antisemitism meant to guide governments in using the document. According to those standards, antisemitism could include Holocaust denial, accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations, claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavor, comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, and holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.

As the bill enacting the new definition wound through the legislative process – it passed second reading last February and headed to committee – opponents, including groups like Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and others, argued that the examples made the definition nothing but an attempt to silence their criticism of Israel.

In one critique, for example, IJV activist Sheryl Nestel argued, “First, we don’t believe the goal of the IHRA [working definition of antisemitism] is to address antisemitism. We believe its goal…is to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism.”

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, among others, have also opposed the definition and its examples as an infringement of academic freedom.

In the days following the Order in Council, however, opponents claimed to have been told by Conservative MPP Kaleed Rasheed (Mississauga East-Cooksville) that only the main text of the IHRA definition, not the examples, had been adopted.

Rasheed was quoted as telling a Zoom meeting with CJPME and other community groups: “Rest assured, the definition as adopted by the Order in Council does not include the IHRA definition’s illustrative examples.”

CJPME president Thomas Woodley declared in a news release: “This reveals that the Ontario government made a decision that its adoption of IHRA should not be used to silence political expression about Israel.”

Going forward, Woodley continued, “anyone who refers to the IHRA definition must recognize and respect the fact that the examples related to Israel have not been adopted by Ontario, and they are not applicable to evaluating speech in Ontario.”

The CJPME statement was later removed from its website after Rasheed denied making the claim. He told CJR in an email “This is not accurate and does not reflect my views or comments…”

York Centre Conservative MPP Roman Baber also noted the content of what Ontario had approved.

“The Order in Council explicitly provides that the ‘Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.’ The Illustrative Examples helped form the Plenary’s definition, are referenced in the Plenary’s definition, and are therefore part and parcel of the definition,” Baber told the CJR via email.

The claim that the Order in Council was selectively worded was also taken up by four Arab-Palestinian groups, which sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford thanking him for not including the definition’s illustrative examples, which they alleged “allow for criticism of the State of Israel to be labelled as antisemitism.”

Palestinian-Canadian groups “should be honest with their constituents about what has occurred,” responded B’nai Brith Canada wrote CEO Michael Mostyn in a statement on Oct. 30. “The Government of Ontario has adopted the leading definition of antisemitism, and has recognized that certain attacks on Israel can and sometimes do cross the line in Jew-hatred.

“The sooner they and all Ontarians internalize this fact, the better.”