The Canadian Judicial Council is being urged to investigate a judge on the Tax Court of Canada who allegedly intervened to block an international scholar from a senior job at the University of Toronto, over concerns about the scholar’s work on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The university’s law dean, Edward Iacobucci, has not denied allegations that a Tax Court judge attempted to interfere in the appointment of Valentina Azarova as director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program. Two former directors of the program made the allegations in writing to him. He has said, however, that assertions that outside influence affected the outcome are “untrue and objectionable.”
The Tax Court itself, in an e-mail to The Globe on Thursday from Sophie Matte, executive legal counsel to Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter, declined to comment on the allegations involving one of its judges.
The judicial council is a disciplinary body for judges. It can act on a complaint from the public, or its executive director can launch a complaint himself. Its potential sanctions range from a reprimand to a recommendation to Parliament that a judge be removed from the bench.
Leslie Green, a law professor at Queen’s University, wrote a letter of complaint to the judicial council on Thursday. He said it is irrelevant whether external influence caused the school to change course. What matters, he said in his letter to the council, is whether a judge attempted to influence a university appointment. It would be “very troubling,” he said, if the attempted influence were related to Dr. Azarova’s research on Israeli occupation.
“It would put the integrity and impartiality of the Court in jeopardy,” he wrote. “Any party or lawyer before it who is Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim could reasonably fear bias.”
The judicial council told The Globe it cannot undertake an investigation into a complaint unless it has the name of the judge in question. Prof. Green did not name the Tax Court judge, but said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that it would astonish him if the CJC felt it had no obligation to investigate allegations that impugn the integrity of a judge, when the court has been named.
The Arab Canadian Lawyers Association has called on the law school itself to file a complaint with the judicial council, since the school would have first-hand knowledge of the judge’s identity, in its view.
Dania Majid calls the judge’s alleged intervention a discriminatory act against Palestinians, raising questions about his impartiality.
“What if an issue comes before him related to a Palestinian charity? I would question his ability to rule on that in an unbiased way,” she said in an interview. She called the events a “stark, open and transparent example of the type of anti-Palestinian racism that is out there in the legal sector,” adding: “It’s causing a great chilling effect in our community. It just rocks you to the core.”
Peter Russell, a political science professor emeritus at the U of T, told The Globe that, if the allegations are true, the judge in question appears to have committed “a very serious misdemeanour.”
“It’s the kind of situation that really requires investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council – there’s quite a bit at stake here for the public interest.”
One leading authority on legal ethics said that the judge appears to have done nothing wrong.
“I don’t see how the judge’s privately expressing to the university an objection to the appointment could be seen as compromising his independence or impartiality in any matter he is called upon to decide,” Gavin MacKenzie, a former treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, and a published author of works on legal ethics, said in an e-mail.
Carmen Cheung and Samer Muscati, former directors of the human rights program, alleged in a letter to Mr. Iacobucci last weekend that a Tax Court judge had expressed concern to the administration about Dr. Azarova, the hiring committee’s unanimous choice for the job, after which, they said, an offer to her was rescinded. They did not name the judge.
Eugene Meehan, a former executive legal officer at the Supreme Court of Canada, said the Tax Court had acted appropriately in remaining silent on the allegations while events take their course.
“No point in throwing someone in front of an oncoming bus when there may ultimately be no bus,” he said.
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