Updated: Oct 7
The Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law (CAMWL) is deeply concerned by the actions of the Tax Court of Canada (Tax Court) involving a judge who was under investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC).
Justice Spiro, a federally appointed judge to the Tax Court, was under investigation by the CJC after allegations arose that he interfered in the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s decision to hire Doctor Valentina Azarova due to her work on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.1
CAMWL sent a letter of concern to the university and joined other groups in filing a complaint with the CJC regarding Justice Spiro’s actions.
The CJC launched an investigation, and while the investigation was underway, Justice Spiro continued to preside over matters before the Tax Court. However, according to recent news reports, the court decided to secretly bar Justice Spiro from presiding over any matters involving counsel, representatives of litigants or litigants who are Muslim or of the Islamic faith.2
This decision of the Tax Court is ill-informed, divisive, and harmful to Canadians as a whole for the reasons we have outlined below:
This decision compromises confidence in the judiciary and in the administration of justice. It creates the perception that Justice Spiro is unable to maintain impartiality before all parties appearing before him. It also raises the question of how Muslims, in particular, can have faith in an institution that was effectively secretly profiling them and barring them from appearing before a certain judge.
This decision raises significant concerns about the Tax Court’s application of its decision to bar Justice Spiro from presiding over matters involving counsel, representatives of litigants or litigants who are Muslim. It is unclear how the court determined whether these parties were Muslim. We are concerned about whether assumptions were made related to names and appearances, or whether questions were asked about religious beliefs or affiliations before, or during appearances in court. All of these scenarios are inappropriate, and amount to acts of Islamophobia, racism, discrimination, and stereotyping by the court.
This decision perpetuates the inaccurate and divisive trope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue between the Jewish and Muslim communities, which, in turn, perpetuates Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia since it pits religious communities against each other.
This decision further highlights the urgency with which courts and institutions, including the CJC, must take steps to diversify their membership. It is appalling to think that no one at the Tax Court, and none of the individuals at the CJC who would have been aware of the decision to screen and ban Muslim parties from appearing before Justice Spiro, appear to have raised any concerns about it.
We call on the Tax Court to do the following:
Provide an explanation as to why a decision was made to bar Justice Spiro from presiding over any matters involving counsel, representatives of litigants or litigants who are Muslim;
Provide an explanation as to how the court determined which counsel, representatives of litigants or litigants were Muslim, and also advise how many were screened; and
Re-assess the policies, practices, and guides that informed the court’s decision to bar Justice Spiro from presiding over matters involving counsel, representatives of litigants or litigants who are Muslim.
It is evident that whatever considerations guided the Tax Court’s decision to secretly profile and ban Muslims from appearing before a judge, the ultimate result is that such considerations were ill-informed and rooted in Islamophobic ideas and stereotypes.
Endorsed by: Organizations:
Arab Canadian Lawyers Association
Canadian Association of Sikh Lawyers
Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario Siddiqui Law Office - Professional Corporation Individuals:
Paul Jonathan Saguil, Past Chair of LSO Equity Advisory Group and Past Chair of OBA Equality Committee
Kris Statnyk, Lawyer
Professor Leslie Green
Raed Hawa MD Aziza Hirsi Jouman El-Asmar, EL-ASMAR LEGAL INC. The list of endorsers is being updated periodically.