B.C.’s post-secondary minister accused of pressuring Langara to dismiss instructor over Hamas comments
Posted February 1, 2024 8:21 pm.
Last Updated February 1, 2024 8:47 pm.
The Federation of Post Secondary Educators (FPSE) is calling for the resignation of Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson, saying that she wrongfully intervened in the termination of Langara College’s Natalie Knight over her comments about the ongoing war in Gaza.
Knight, who had been teaching English at Langara for the last five years, was suspended for praising the “determination and ingenuity, only eclipsed by the amazing, brilliant offensive rage on October 7,” of six Palestinian political prisoners who had escaped from Gilboa prison in Israel.
After an internal investigation, Knight was reinstated by the college. The FPSE says although Knight’s words may have been offensive to some, they are not considered a hate crime and should be protected under free speech.
“That comment was made off of work time,” said FPSE executive director Michael Conlon. “It’s really a freedom of expression issue.”
The FPSE is accusing Robinson of pressuring Langara into terminating Knight, claiming that the college shared private files with the minister.
“The minister made some comments that make it pretty clear that she was familiar with the letter of expectation as well as the internal investigation,” it said.
Knight was reinstated on Jan. 24, and a day later, Robinson said in a post on X, “I am disappointed that this instructor continues to have public post-secondary platform to spew hatred and vitriol. I have met with Langara College leadership to express my concerns. They agreed that everyone deserves to feel safe.”
On Jan. 26, the college announced it had parted ways with the instructor.
“The Minister continued to press for her termination,” Conlon said. “The notion that a minister would intervene directly with a college and call for the termination of a tenured faculty member is highly inappropriate and unprecedented. We will assist the Langara Faculty Association in grieving this unjustified termination.”
The FPSE says it didn’t take the decision to call for Robinson’s resignation lightly.
“We’ve been around for 50 years and have never called for the resignation of a minister before,” it said. “She’s using and abusing her ministerial powers to silence political views that don’t agree with her own.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education put out a statement saying Langara College made the decision independently, and Robinson was only notified after it was made.
In a panel discussion hosted by Jewish organization B’nai Brith on Tuesday, the minister once again condemned Knight’s behaviour.
“She got called out by me, she got called out by the Jewish community,” Robinson said. “She decided to go out and celebrate once again that you can say whatever you want and there’d be no consequences, and that gave them the ability to actually fire her.”
Robinson is also dealing with separate backlash for comments she made about the history of Israel during the same panel discussion. In it, she claimed that before Israel was settled by its modern population, it was just a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”
“There were, you know, several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy,” she said. “It couldn’t grow things. It didn’t have anything on it.”
SFU professor and Middle East expert Adel Iskandar called her comments factually wrong. He said the idea that nothing was on the land before the British mandate that proposed the Jewish settlement in the mid 20th century is a “fundamentally colonialist narrative.”
In a statement posted on X, Selena Robinson said she apologizes for her “disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land’.” Robinson said she understands that this flippant comment has caused pain, and she apologizes without reservation.