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News / Academic freedom must be part of judicial review

News / Academic freedom must be part of judicial review

CAUT has applied to intervene in the appeal of a Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) decision from last May to not establish a Committee of Inquiry regarding Justice David Spiro’s alleged interference in the hiring of Valentina Azarova as Director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. The CJC found that "while the judge made serious mistakes, these were not serious enough to warrant a recommendation for his removal from office."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, along with two academics and several other organizations, have requested the Federal Court judicially review the CJC's decision.

In partnership with the Centre for Free Expression, CAUT has sought intervenor status to ensure that issues of academic freedom will be considered as part of the judicial review.

"One of the biggest harms that can happen in the university context is to infringe upon or chill academic freedom,” said Sarah Godwin, CAUT general counsel. “That didn't find its way at all into the CJC’s reasonings, and that's a big concern."

Last April, CAUT censured the administration of U of T, a rare step only taken three times since the late 1970s.

At issue was an allegation that Spiro, a tax judge whose family are significant donors, sought to use his influence to block Azarova's appointment, which was abruptly rescinded.

Godwin says the censure motion triggered important changes in U of T's policies. The University offered Azarova the job again last September, but she declined.

While some of the submissions to the CJC review of Spiro's conduct cited issues of academic freedom, the final decision made no mention of this issue. The appeal will be heard on April 25 and 26. Godwin says CAUT's application for intervenor status will be decided at some point before the hearing. 

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