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Act NOW to Support a Jewish Trustee under Attack

TDSB Headquarters in Toronto (Wikipedia)

Dec. 05, 2021

TORONTO — B’nai Brith Canada is standing in solidarity with a Jewish trustee of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) who is facing persecution for speaking out against antisemitism.

In May, in the midst of a controversy over materials distributed by TDSB equity advisor Javier Dávila, trustee Alexandra Lulka took to social media to express concern and call for a full investigation by the TDSB. In addition to being Jewish herself, Lulka represents Ward 5 – York Centre, which has the largest Jewish population of any TDSB ward.

For her efforts, Lulka was subjected to a complaint before the TDSB Integrity Commissioner, whose report has been placed on the agenda for Wednesday’s Board meeting. The Commissioner cleared Lulka of allegations of harassment, improperly influencing a TDSB investigation, and maliciously or falsely defaming the reputation of a TDSB employee.

However, the Commissioner’s report does accuse Lulka of discriminating against Muslims and Palestinians, and recommends that the Board censure her for this. Bizarrely, the Commissioner reached this conclusion even though Lulka never referenced Muslims or Palestinians in her comments, and the person whose actions she was criticizing, Dávila, is neither Muslim nor Palestinian. Moreover, the Commissioner found that some of what Dávila distributed “could reasonably be considered to contain antisemitic material, references, or allusions” and that “materials contained in the links support the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews.”

The TDSB retained two lawyers as “Independent Investigators” to probe the allegations against Lulka. One of them, Morgan Sim, has repeatedly referred to Jews as “white,” and expressed a staunch position in favour of Valentina Azarova, an academic whose denial of a position at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law sparked a controversy in 2020 and 2021. Dávila himself has linked the Azarova saga to the furor sparked by his own actions.

“This latest TDSB report is a brazen attack on the rights of every Canadian Jew,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “Jewish trustees elected in large part by Jewish constituents have a fundamental right to condemn materials of the sort described by the Commissioner. Moreover, the report is deeply legally flawed, and raises a reasonable apprehension of bias.

“If Trustee Lulka is censured for simply doing her job, then the message sent by the TDSB is that Jewish perspectives are not welcome and Jewish safety is irrelevant.”

The Commissioner’s report notably lacks any analysis regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, notwithstanding that Lulka’s Charter right to freedom of expression is being assailed, and the courts have consistently held that the Charter applies to the actions of the TDSB as a public body.

In one particularly chilling passage of the Commissioner’s report (page 45), she alleges that Lulka was only allowed to condemn the antisemitic portions of the materials if she did so while also “appropriately characterizing other materials as important, positive pro-Palestinian discourse.” It is not clear why the Commissioner felt entitled to order a Jewish trustee – or any trustee – to endorse a pro-Palestinian political position.

The Integrity Commissioner’s broadside against Lulka fulfills a prescient warning that B’nai Brith made back in 2017, when it chided the TDSB for adopting an overly broad definition of Islamophobia that could muzzle criticism of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Though the TDSB formally withdrew that definition after B’nai Brith’s exposé, it appears that the Commissioner is still misusing the concept of Islamophobia as a cudgel to punish those who speak out against antisemitism.

In order to safeguard our rights as a community, B’nai Brith urges all Canadians of conscience to email TDSB trustees in advance of Wednesday’s meeting, asking them to reject the unjust censure of Trustee Alexandra Lulka.