Howard Levitt: Students who signed petition condoning Hamas should have to answer for their decision

Anti-Semitic letter at TMU’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law has rightfully been met with outrage

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One of my partners sent me the following note this week:

“I trust that the first question that we will ask any potential new hire or student from Toronto Metropolitan University is whether or not they signed the letter condoning Hamas. They should also be advised that if they lie in response to that question it is grounds for dismissal for cause.”

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Some law firms are cancelling job interviews with students who signed the anti-Semitic letter in question, an Oct. 20 petition directed at TMU’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law that declared support for of “all forms” of Palestinian resistance and denied Israel’s right to exist. After all, what law firm would want to hire a racist, let alone a student whose name would now feature prominently when it is searched on Google, thereby causing embarrassment to the firm that employs them?

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Many of these 74 TMU students are deleting their social media presences, hoping they will not be found out. But if they are not clearly identified, all other students at the law school risk being tarred with the same brush, with law firms fearing that they might have been one of the signatories.

TMU, whose milquetoast initial response enraged much of the legal and broader community, is now saying that it will hire an investigator and follow that person‘s recommendations.

That is unsatisfactory. I have discussed the scam of workplace investigations many times in these pages, and there are three salient points. First, it is often merely an excuse to punt the matter months down the road, hoping the story will be forgotten and the scandal averted. Second, those ordering investigations often hope the probe provides the appearance of actually doing something, when nothing significant is done. Finally, all too many investigators write the report desired by those who hire them. Why? In order to receive future assignments.

And what is there to investigate? Either the student intended the anti-Semitism they signed their names to and should never be practising law. Or they signed it without reading it and, again, should not be practising law.

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For the sake of their fellow students, as well as our polity, those 74 should be expelled. There is a requirement to provide a hearing before expulsion can occur and they have to consider their representations, should they make any. But it is difficult to envisage a likely scenario where at least a year’s suspension would not be warranted insofar as they are aspiring to be lawyers and the Law Society has a good character provision required for admission.

That takes us to the anti-Semitic rallies. The more moderate ones often trumpet the line, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” For those uninitiated in Middle East politics, that means purge the Jews from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea — i.e. all of Israel. Others have been more vicious, with explicit anti-Semitic cheers, such as the “Gas the Jews“  heard at an event in Australia.

Remember, these paroxysms of joy arose immediately upon learning of the massacre of Israeli civilians, well before Israel’s response. It is not as if there is any ambiguity.

Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said in an recent interview that the Oct. 7 attack against Israel was just the beginning, vowing to launch “a second, a third, a fourth” attack until the country is “annihilated.” If Israel lets up in this war as it has in the past, Hamas will regroup, learn from its mistakes and the mass murders will be much greater next time.

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As I have written, any Canadian employee in a client, public-facing or managerial position, who attends rallies featuring hate speech, can be fired for cause without severance for jeopardizing the reputation of their employer by their association. And if any of them sue, I will personally represent that employer for free.

Israel has no practical choice but to fight this war, but others do have a choice.

Unfortunately, the terrorist supporters, much as they are a minority, are ascendant, taking over federal ministers’ offices and parading boldly through our streets. They are tearing down posters asking for the return of the hostages, ripping mezuzahs off of homes and threatening many of your Jewish neighbours. Right here in Canada. Despite our hate speech laws, the police are nowhere to be found.

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What can and should we do?

1) Sue universities, employers and unions that participate in hate speech or are openly racist.

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2) Remind employers and universities that they are legally obliged to provide a safe environment. If they continue to fail to do so, sue and boycott them.

3) Encourage provincial governments to defund those universities who do not exercise their authority to put an end to rallies involving hate.

4) Circulate the names of the 74 students at TMU and others attending openly anti-Semitic rallies so that employers will know not to hire them.

Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices employment law in eight provinces and is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada.

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