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The Jackman Law Building at the University of Toronto is photographed on Oct. 14, 2020.

Carlos Osorio/The Globe and Mail

The University of Toronto has launched an inquiry into the search for a new director for the law faculty’s International Human Rights Program, which led to controversy, resignations and allegations of political interference.

The university has hired former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson to conduct what it calls an impartial review, expected to be completed by mid-January. The review will be delivered to the dean of the law faculty, the university’s head of human resources and the provost. Several critics noted Wednesday that the conduct of some of those same administrators may come under scrutiny.

Prof. Patterson’s findings will be made public, the university said, but it did not commit to publishing the entire report, citing personal information as a potential obstacle.

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Kelly Hannah-Moffat, the university’s vice-president of human resources and equity, said law dean Edward Iacobucci had requested such a review this fall. She said she agreed “that an impartial review would be useful.”

The review was announced a day after nine members of the law faculty made public a letter in which they complained the dean had acted in a “high-handed” manner in this affair.

The controversy erupted last month following the aborted hiring of a new director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program, or IHRP. 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Azarova has said she was offered the position on Aug. 11 and accepted the offer on Aug. 19, only to see the offer rescinded in early September.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 that an offer was made to Dr. Azarova and denied that he rescinded the offer because of political interference from a judge.

The program’s advisory board and a member of the search committee subsequently resigned those roles and the future of the program was cast into doubt.

The Canadian Judicial Council, a disciplinary body, is looking into complaints about Justice David Spiro related to allegations that he attempted to influence the hiring process. Justice Spiro has provided fundraising advice to the university and his extended family has donated millions.

Prof. Patterson is tasked with producing a narrative of events around the search committee process and the basis for the decision to “discontinue the candidacy of the search committee’s preferred candidate,” as Prof. Hannah-Moffat put it in a memo.

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“I have also asked her to provide her conclusions on whether existing university policies and procedures were followed in this search, including those relating to confidentiality obligations in the search process,” Prof. Hannah-Moffat wrote.

No one is obliged to speak to Prof. Patterson, she added.

David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said there are a number of problems with the proposed review. It’s not independent, he said, and some of the administrators to whom the consultant will report are involved in the affair.

“It’s hard to see it being an impartial review when these are the people you’re reporting to,” Mr. Robinson said.

He added that the two most important questions – whether Dr. Azarova was offered the job as she claims, and the substance, if any, of the judge’s alleged intervention and the dean’s response – are not specifically addressed in the terms of reference.

Samer Muscati, a former director of the IHRP, asked why it was the vice-president of human resources and not the university president announcing the review. He also questioned whether a former university president, rather than someone from outside the university system, ought to be leading the review.

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“Ultimately this needs to be truly independent and released publicly – not to university administration that are implicated,” Mr. Muscati said.

James Turk, director of the centre for free expression at Ryerson University in Toronto, said the administrator who commissioned the report has already publicly defended the actions under investigation.

“The report is to be given to three people who should be among those being investigated. It is remarkable that a university, and in relation to its law school, would set up such a process that is contrary to basic aspects of procedural fairness,” Prof. Turk said.

David Dyzenhaus, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Toronto, said the reputation of the law school and the dean have been “dragged through the mud,” and so an inquiry is a timely idea. He said he is troubled, however, by allegations that a judge learned of the candidacy of Dr. Azarova.

“If confidentiality is breached, it’s usually considered reason enough to cancel a search” at the University of Toronto, said Prof. Dyzenhaus.

He said he and many colleagues consider the dean is a person of integrity and are inclined to believe him.

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“I, and I think the majority of my colleagues in the law faculty, have known from the start that our dean is a person who is not only a person of integrity but actually a kind of stickler for integrity so when he made a statement saying that he had made the decisions he made on proper grounds, we were inclined to believe him.”

The report is not due until after Mr. Iacobucci is scheduled to depart the dean’s job. Mr. Iacobucci announced in February his plan to step down by the end of 2020 in order to pursue research and return to the professoriate.

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