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Amnesty International suspends relationship with U of T over CAUT censure

Four-year partnership will be paused until university addresses outstanding concerns regarding hiring scandal
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U of T’s Faculty of Law has received a lot of criticism over the alleged rescinded offer of employment for Azarova. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
U of T’s Faculty of Law has received a lot of criticism over the alleged rescinded offer of employment for Azarova. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

After a four-year partnership, Amnesty International, a non-governmental human rights group, has announced that it will suspend its relationship with U of T in support of the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) censure of the university. The censure was put in place over a hiring scandal in the Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP), where it is alleged that external pressure from a donor influenced the decision to terminate the candidacy of Dr. Valentina Azarova for the position of director of the IHRP. 

A report commissioned by the university confirmed that a sitting tax court judge expressed concern to an assistant vice-president over Azarova’s candidacy — allegedly due to her writings on Israel and Palestine — though the university maintains that this did not influence the decision.

Amnesty International has worked with the law faculty to provide opportunities and fellowships for students. U of T is one of the seven universities that collaborated with the organization through the Digital Verification Corps program, which trains students in the practice of open source research for human rights and accountability. In the past, they have worked on verifying videos of conflict zones in Sudan.

Amnesty International has expressed that the suspension of the relationship will be in effect until the CAUT censure is lifted. 

Letter from Amnesty International 

The letter — signed by Joanne Mariner, Director of the Crisis Response program at Amnesty International; Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada; and Sam Dubberley, head of the organization’s evidence lab — expresses concern over the events leading to the termination of Azarova’s candidacy.

Amnesty International previously threatened to discontinue its relationship with the IHRP last September, citing a “serious reputational risk” for Amnesty should U of T not provide a full transparent explanation of events surrounding the termination of Azarova’s candidacy. It also called on Edward Iacobucci, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the time, to conduct an independent external review and publish its findings. 

Although the university did commission a review of the situation, conducted by former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Albert Cromwell, the Amnesty International letter stated that they found the conclusion of the review unsatisfactory.

Following his review, Cromwell wrote that he “would not draw the inference” that external influence affected the termination of Azarova’s candidacy. However, the CAUT and Amnesty International found the conclusion incompatible with the other facts in the report.

The letter also demands that “a sustainable roadmap for the future of the IHRP” be put in place as a condition to end the suspension.

In an email to The Varsity, Dubberley wrote that Amnesty International “regrets having to take this decision” and that it recognizes the impact that it will have on students that have dedicated their time to global human rights movements. He lamented that this will remove U of T from an international network of universities and that students will lose opportunities. However, Dubberley noted that “[it] is the actions of the University administration that have led to the censure.”

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote that the university regrets the loss of their relationship with Amnesty International. “We have enjoyed a highly productive relationship with Amnesty International and very much hope to resume this relationship in the future,” they wrote.

Censure movement continues to gain momentum

This update comes as an increasing number of speakers at U of T have pulled out of events, leading to a slew of cancelled programming on campus, including most recently a number of events cancelled or postponed in solidarity by U of T’s Department of History. Boycotts have increasingly moved beyond the initial scope of the censure, with non-academic groups and individuals participating in the boycott. 

A number of campus groups have also recently released statements in solidarity with the censure, including the Arts & Science Students’ Union, the Equity Studies Students Union, the U of T Law Union, and the Muslim Students’ Association.

Editor’s Note (May 19): This article has been updated to include comment from U of T.