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The Jackman Law Building which also houses the Laskin Law Library are part of the Faculty of Law campus at the University of Toronto, photographed on Oct. 14, 2020.

Carlos Osorio/The Globe and Mail

A disciplinary case against a judge over alleged interference in a university hiring process is one step closer to a public hearing that could lead to a recommendation for removal.

Justice David Spiro of the Tax Court of Canada is alleged to have contacted the University of Toronto law school about the hiring of a director for the International Human Rights Program.

The Canadian Judicial Council said on Monday that Associate Chief Justice Kenneth Nielsen of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, vice-chair of the council’s conduct committee, established a five-member review panel – four judges and a layperson – to decide whether a public hearing is necessary to maintain the public’s confidence in Justice Spiro and the judicial system. A hearing could result in a recommendation to Parliament that he be removed.

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The hiring committee’s choice last summer for the job was European scholar Valentina Azarova. But hiring committee chair Audrey Macklin said in a document obtained by The Globe and Mail that a judge of the Tax Court telephoned the law school’s fundraising office to express concern about Dr. Azarova over her “Israel/Palestine work.” Soon after, the school decided not to offer her the job. It denied interference played a role, pointing instead to immigration problems.

Justice Spiro, who was appointed to the Tax Court in 2019, is a 1987 University of Toronto law school graduate, who has advised on the school’s fundraising. His extended family has given tens of millions of dollars to the university and its affiliated hospitals.

The judicial council received complaints from Queen’s University professor Leslie Green, Osgoode Hall Law School professor Craig Scott, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association. There were also complaints from individuals who read about the allegations in the news media, said Johanna Laporte, a council spokeswoman.

Complaints viewed by The Globe say that litigants, lawyers and the public have lost trust in Justice Spiro’s ability to be fair and impartial on certain issues that may come before the Tax Court.

“Any party or lawyer before it who is Palestinian, Arab or Muslim could reasonably fear bias,” Prof. Green’s complaint said.

The university said it could not comment on the judicial council announcement, but noted it has appointed retired Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to do an independent review of the law school’s search process.

Justice Spiro and the Tax Court declined to comment. Dr. Azarova could not immediately be reached.

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