Nine professors at the University of Toronto law school are calling dean Edward Iacobucci’s actions in the aborted hiring of a new director of the International Human Rights Program “high handed” and “rule by fiat.”
The professors wrote to University of Toronto provost Cheryl Regehr asking her to ensure that a new dean of law, expected to be hired in the coming months, will not “exercise authority in ways destructive of the culture of inquiry, learning and accountability.”
The signatories say their aim is to shed light on governance failures at the University of Toronto.
The university did not respond by press time Tuesday to questions from The Globe and Mail addressed to Mr. Iacobucci, Dr. Regehr and university president Meric Gertler.
The controversy stems from the aborted hiring of a new director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP). Dr. Valentina Azarova has said she was offered the position on Aug. 11 and accepted the offer on Aug. 19, only to see the offer rescinded in early September.
Allegations surfaced that a judge on the Tax Court of Canada attempted to block the appointment over concerns about Dr. Azarova’s work on the subject of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Mr. Iacobucci has denied in a statement that an offer was made to Dr. Azarova and denied that he rescinded the offer because of political interference from a judge. He has not denied the administration was contacted by a judge.
The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), a disciplinary body, received multiple complaints about Justice David Spiro, who has provided fundraising advice to the university and whose extended family has donated millions, related to allegations that he attempted to influence the hiring process.
On Tuesday the CJC said the allegations are now before Chief Justice Kenneth Nielsen of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. Chief Justice Nielsen has the authority to ask Justice Spiro and Tax Court Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter to comment on the allegations; he may also retain an investigator to conduct confidential interviews. If he decides the complaints may warrant removal from the bench the review of Justice Spiro will continue.
The letter to the provost, made public Tuesday, accuses the university of taking the approach of “deny, deflect blame and move on.”
It calls the dean’s public explanation of the decision not to hire Dr. Azarova, which referred to “legal constraints on cross-border hiring,” pretextual.
“That the Dean of Law could act in such a high-handed manner in the IHRP appointment process, without fear of being called to account for his decision, is a sign of a decayed collegial environment. It also speaks to a failed vision of governance at the Faculty of Law,” the letter states.
“Our object in this letter is to call out this high-handed manner of governance for what it is – rule by fiat. It cannot be that our judgment and powers of critical reflection should be trained on all other institutions of power but must be turned off at the University gates.”
The signatories to the letter are Prof. Vincent Chiao, Prof. Anver Emon, Prof. Mohammad Fadel, Prof. Ariel Katz, Prof. Trudo Lemmens, Prof. Jeffrey MacIntosh, Prof. Denise Reaume, Prof. Kent Roach and Prof. David Schneiderman.
Mr. Iacobucci has said this will be his last term as dean. A replacement has not yet been named. The letter’s signatories express concern that they have “no voice” in the selection process and add that Dr. Regehr has foreclosed the possibility of discussion about the merits of shortlisted candidates.
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