Academic freedom at the University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is under censure by the Canadian Association of University Teachers for misconduct by the former Dean of Law (and other administrators) in blocking the appointment of Valentina Azarova to the Directorship of its International Human Rights Programme.

I support the censure.

Among many other works, Azarova published peer-reviewed research on human rights and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Lands. She was the unanimous choice of the faculty search committee. But after having been warned by wealthy alumnus (and sitting federal judge) David Spiro, that his friends at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs would not welcome Azarova’s appointment, then-Dean Edward Iacobucci blocked it.

Law faculty resigned from committees and university posts. Students protested. A complaint against David Spiro was brought (by me and others) to the Canadian Judicial Council. (The Council has now reprimanded Spiro, but let him retain his job.)

As I was the first to complain about the judicial misconduct, I have been asked by the press and others for statements. I hope to return to how we are to judge the judges in another post. (The Canadian Judicial Council has been criticized for decades for its Star Chamber-like ‘procedures’.)

But for now, I want to address my colleagues and friends at the University of Toronto, especially those in my subfield (who have all remained publicly silent on this scandal). You are not paying the costs. But your students are: in lost opportunities and evaporating internships as NGOs, community groups, and even law firms refuse to partner with you while you are under censure. You have the power to bring this to end.

7 thoughts on “Academic freedom at the University of Toronto

  1. Yes, please do try to bring matters to light.

    For one thing, HOW did it come to be known that Spiro had contacted (telephoned) Iacobucci? Was the latter’s phone tapped? Was it communicated to others in an email? Did Iacobucci inadvertently tell the hiring panel in some other way? This still seems rather mysterious.

    For another, why not openly discuss how and when law is used as a partisan political weapon, and imperialist tool, as is the case here? Why pretend that this is about the neutral defence of the rule of law and freedom of speech, when it is anything but? What, moreover, is the cost of the loss of relationships with NGOs when those very organisations are themselves tools of imperialism? Isn’t better to instead regain one’s dignity and honour by severing such ties – in the least?


    • The Assistant Dean told the chair of the search committee, and others, that Spiro phoned the admin. Then Spiro admitted it.

      I have no idea what the neutrality of law has to do with this.

      I do not think that many of the NGOs in question are ‘tools of imperialism’. I assume you don’t know any of the facts of the case.


    • He was not ‘vindicated’. Rather, the CJC did not consider that his ‘serious error’ was sufficiently serious that it might warrant firing him, and so decided not to constitute a full inquiry into his admittedly wrong conduct. He was, however, reprimanded for his conduct, and he accepted that he had erred. If you read the record, you will see that Spiro himself writes,

      ‘I begin by acknowledging that I raised a controversial matter with an official of the
      University of Toronto on September 4, 2020 in respect of an appointment, or prospective
      appointment, at the Faculty of Law. In doing so, I made a mistake. I deeply regret that
      My contact with that official led to unintended consequences including raising a question
      about my absolute commitment to impartiality toward all litigants and counsel who appear
      before me in the Tax Court of Canada. I deeply regret that as well.

      HIs admission of wrongdoing, and his remorse, were for the Canadian Judicial Council relevant considerations in allowing him to keep his job, and to avoid a full inquiry.


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