The North Star


Political interference in firing of Vancouver educator

B.C. fails to protect free speech, minister’s resignation demanded

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On January 26, Langara College in Vancouver terminated pro-Palestinian instructor Natalie Knight for alleged "antisemitism" and "celebrating violence against civilians," even though she had just returned to work following a long forced administrative leave. This decision followed pressure from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and NDP Minister of Post-Secondary Education Selina Robinson. 

As previously reported in North Star, Knight was targeted in a “manufactured media firestorm” and sidelined from her job for an October 28 speech at a Palestine solidarity rally, in which she lauded the resilience of the Palestinian people and praised their resistance to 75 years of Israeli colonization and occupation. 

Langara College took 12 weeks to re-instate Knight, despite the fact that an opinion of the Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee of the College, requested by the Langara Administration, and obtained by North Star, found:

"Dr. Knight's remarks represented an exercise of her protected expression rights under the [Langara College] Statement of Principles [on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression] and that her remarks did not fall into any of the categories of expression that are not protected under the Statement of Principles." 

Despite receiving the Advisory Committee's findings on November 14, 2023, Langara College Administration delayed Knight's reinstatement until January 18, 2024. The reinstatement coincided with a demonstration by United in Struggle, an organization co-chaired by Knight, and followed the display of posters for the action on the College campus.

In her demonstration speech, Knight declared her reinstatement without disciplinary actions or conditions as a victory, stating, "[this] means we won. It means I did nothing wrong. It means none of you are doing anything wrong."

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Canadian pro-Israel lobby group, issued a press release on January 24th calling for Knight's firing and accusing her of antisemitism in response to media reports from the January 23rd demonstration. CIJA recently condemned the Canadian government for voting with the majority of countries for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

On January 25th, BC's NDP Minister of Post Secondary Education, Selina Robinson reposted CIJA's press release on Twitter/X, saying "I am disappointed that this instructor continues to have a public post secondary platform to spew hatred and vitriol. I have met with @Langaracollege leadership to express my concerns for the Langara and broader communities. They agreed that everyone deserves to feel safe." 

On January 26th Knight was informed that she had been fired as an instructor at Langara College.

The same day, Knight's union, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE), along with the Langara Faculty Association (LFA), issued a joint statement condemning the firing and the Minister's political interference, saying "the timing and meddling by the Minister in the process taint the College’s actions and fatally undermine the notion of institutional independence.”

Their statement continues:

"While we understand that some members of the community may be offended and distressed by the remarks made at these demonstrations, the remarks, as evidenced by Langara’s own report, are clearly protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and do not constitute hate speech. It is shameful that a post-secondary institution would attempt to police protected speech under external pressure instead of supporting academic freedom and freedom of expression." 

Today, FPSE and the Canadian Association of University Teachers have sent a letter to BC NDP Premier David Eby, calling for Minister Robinson's resignation and accusing her of "regulating speech" on the basis of her "self-appointed 'moral authority'". The letter states:

"The Minister is sending a clear message to all of our members: 'I will use my power as Minister to have you fired if you express political views that differ from my own'. The Minister also makes a mockery of the long-held principle of institutional autonomy and the democratic principle that post-secondarty institutions should not be controlled or manipulated by government."

Premier David Eby and BC's NDP government have yet to respond to the call for Minister Robinson's resignation.

Knight's firing is part of a larger pattern of crackdowns on people who speak out in support of Palestinian liberation, and particularly those who uphold Palestinian's right to resist Israeli colonization and occupation. A list of 17 prominent cases (as of November 27, 2023) has been compiled by Davide Mastracci at The Maple.

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