Ultra Vires


Editorial Comments on the IHRP’s Future

Reflections on the Director hiring controversy

Dear Readers,

The start of the 2020-2021 academic year was already going to be difficult for us all considering the challenges inherent to this global pandemic. We, as Rights Review Magazine’s Editorial Board, did not expect our home, the International Human Rights Program (IHRP), to be under threat from our own Faculty. We are dedicating our first editorial comment of the year to address our serious concerns with the decision to rescind Dr. Valentina Azarova’s offer to join our program as the new Director. 

On September 17, news broke in both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail revealing allegations against Dean Edward Iacobucci that he rescinded Dr. Azarova’s offer of employment after a phone call with a sitting judge in the Tax Court of Canada. The Dean insists that these allegations are false. However, the entire IHRP Hiring Committee and the entire faculty advisory board have resigned in response to the decision not to hire Dr. Azarova. On September 18, it became public that Research Associate Vincent Wong also tendered his resignation, not just from the Committee but from the Faculty entirely, citing concerns over the lack of transparency, abuse of process, potential judicial impropriety, and academic freedom.

We unequivocally stand behind the well-supported understanding of Vincent Wong and those close to this case: that Dr. Azarova was offered the position; that the Faculty initially supported this decision; that immigration lawyers were preparing her travel to Toronto; and that suddenly and without explanation the Dean reneged and rescinded this offer. There is good reason to believe based on the facts that external influence played a role in the Dean’s change of heart. If true, it is unacceptable that the administration would allow outside pressures to corrode the due process and internal decision made by the IHRP Hiring Committee and faculty advisory board. 

Equally alarming is the allegation that Dr. Azarova’s scholarship on Israel’s human rights abuses and occupation of Palestinian territories was the key cause for concern. Just this past year, the IHRP spearheaded the Media Freedom Model Laws Project, calling attention to how freedom of speech around the world is increasingly being menaced in a disturbing and unchecked fashion. Speaking truth to power, as Dr. Azarova has done with her conscientious criticisms of Israel’s illegal settlements, is something that ought to be celebrated at the Faculty, not scorned. To rescind an offer of employment without providing proper reasons is to offend the IHRP’s integrity and progressive leadership. The allegations that external influence from a donor was behind this decision further tarnishes this integrity. Under no circumstances should high-placed alumni donors affect hiring decisions at the IHRP or the Faculty, writ large.

The lack of transparency surrounding this process and vacancies in the IHRP leadership also overly burden the sole remaining staff member, Research Associate Ashley Major. Human rights work is already a taxing field of the law: vicarious trauma, financial precarity, and burnout are all well-documented challenges for legal professionals committed to meaningful work. That Vincent Wong felt it necessary to resign in light of this situation, and that the IHRP is left with a single staff member to shoulder its heavy workload, is unacceptable. The conduct of the Faculty administration thus far demonstrates a lack of consideration for IHRP staff and, by extension, the important advocacy training that the program provides students. 

We stand behind the statements provided by the Students’ Law Society and the group of IHRP students and alumni calling for transparency and prompt resolution of this instability in the IHRP. As the student-led magazine that has closely worked with the IHRP for 12 years, Rights Review has reported on the program’s illustrious history and worked directly with the brilliant staff and student network connected to the IHRP. We are concerned about the impact of these events on the efficacy of the IHRP. We call on the law school’s administration to consider the effects of their decision on the quality of IHRP’s human rights advocacy offerings to the student body and to work out a swift and just solution. Together, we root our work in principles of justice, freedom, and transparency. The alleged conduct of Dean Iacobucci, if true, fails to uphold these values and must be righted immediately.


Rights Review Magazine Editorial Board 2020-2021

A version of this letter appears on Rights Review’s website here.

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