A Freedom of Information request into the hiring and dismissal of Hassan Diab at Carleton University in 2009 sheds light on the chain of events that led to his termination in a firestorm of controversy.
Diab was a suspect in a 1980 synagogue bombing in Paris when it was revealed in the media that he had been hired as a contract instructor in sociology in the summer of 2009. He was dismissed that same day. Diab was extradited to France in November 2014. He was released from a French prison on Jan. 12 after charges were dropped and returned to Ottawa on Jan. 15.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) made the Freedom of Information request after Diab was dismissed in 2009. In Ontario, Freedom of Information allows members of the public to ask public-sector organizations for information they hold. The request uncovered emails among university officials over hiring Diab to cover a full-time professor who was ill, what to tell the public about dismissing him, and some discussion about how to handle communications once the media spotlight turned on Carleton. Most of the correspondence centred an the events of July 28.
Diab was arrested by the RCMP in November 2008 after he was accused in France of killing four people and injuring dozens more in the synagogue bombing. In March 2009, he was granted bail under strict conditions that included electronic monitoring, a curfew, and a promise not to leave his home unaccompanied. He was not restricted from working.
On July 15, John Osborne, Carleton's dean of arts and social sciences, emailed Stephen Green, the assistant director of human resources, noting that a sociology professor had taken medical leave and the department was scrambling to find someone to cover an introductory course and was proposing Diab as a replacement.
"Clearly he has the qualifications to step in and teach the course," said Osborne. "Is there any legal reason to preclude him from doing so?"
In a July 16 response, Green noted that hiring Diab "could cause harm to the reputation of the University." The email was cc'd to Peter Ricketts, the provost and vice-president. Ricketts responded: "I suspect the threat to the reputation of the university is small unless he were to be extradited while he was teaching the course — which of course would put us back into the same situation we are now in. The concern that this may happen would be another reason to find someone else if at all possible."
The documents show Osborne signed Diab's contract on July 16. Diab signed on July 21.
On July 28, this newspaper reported that Diab was to resume teaching at Carleton. Under his bail conditions, he would be required to travel to and from the university with his court-appointed surety and common-law spouse Rania Tfaily. However, once at the university, Tfaily will not be required to remain with Diab. There was immediate reaction, both condemning the hiring and supporting Diab.
A flurry of emails among university officials tracked the course of events as they unfolded that day.
At 1:40 p.m., Jacques Shore, then chairman of the board of governors, forwarded an email he had received from Jewish Canada at 12:39 p.m. to Carleton's then-president, Roseann Runte. The email included a news release from the Jewish advocacy group B'nai Brith.
"The conditions of Diab's bail do not allow him to leave his home alone or to own a cell phone, but Carleton officials believe that it is fine for them to make him a member of their faculty?" the release said, quoting B'nai Brith's Canada's executive vice president Frank Dimant. "The last place in the world where this man belongs is a university classroom, in front of impressionable students."
In a note to herself, Runte noted at 4:15 p.m. that the message from Shore was the first occurrence she could find of receiving electronic communication of anything from B'nai Brith.
Meanwhile, at 3:46 p.m., the director of university communications, Jason MacDonald, forwarded a statement on Diab's status, which would be sent to the media. "In the interest of providing students with a stable, productive academic environment that is conducive to learning Carleton University announced today that a full-time faculty member, with direct experience teaching introductory sociology (SOCI 1002) will replace the current instructor, Hassan Diab, immediately. No further comment will be made regarding this issue."
At 4:01, Ricketts sent a draft of the letter of termination to be sent to Diab. The letter said the university had found a full-time faculty member to take over the course and added that Diab would be compensated for the weeks he taught the course. (In an email dated the following day, Ricketts's office said Diab would be paid $1,477 for the work he had done so far, but the office wanted to pay him for the total contract, which was $4,431.)
Meanwhile, Runte and the communications department were anticipating meeting the media face-to-face. In a July 29 email to MacDonald, Runte discusses the possibility that media might be present at a planned meeting between herself and sociology professors. She asked whether it would be possible to invite the department to the Tory building or "somewhere where we could control admission," then adds that might not be a good idea.
"Or we could meet the department and refuse to speak with them if media are present? That might be hard to enforce ... I think it might not be good to be faced with cameras if our goal is not to comment."
James Turk was executive director at CAUT when Diab was dismissed. Now director at the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University and an adjunct research professor at Carleton, Turk said the email trails merely clarifies what was already known about Diab's termination.
"There was nothing that had changed about his ability to do his job. It was simply responding to public pressure led by B'nai Brith."
Decisions about who teaches should be made on professional, not political grounds, said Turk. "The judge said it was OK for him to continue teaching. The university said it was OK for him to continue teaching. There was no suggestion of anything inappropriate. They simply caved to public pressure."
In response to questions from this newspaper, Carleton said Diab's employment was ended for administrative, non-disciplinary reasons and the university managed the dismissal the best way it could. "Diab was paid in full and Carleton preserved his seniority. The decision was based on classroom safety concerns and minimizing disruptions to students. CUPE 4600 launched a grievance on Diab's behalf and there were five days of hearings in 2009. The grievance was dropped by the union on Dec, 3, 2009 and the matter was settled," Carleton said in a statement on Friday.
If the same scenario with a different instructor were to happen today, would the university handle it differently? this newspaper asked Carleton.
"Ensuring student safety in the classroom and across campus guided decisions taken in 2009," a spokesman responded. "Safety would always be a paramount priority in any similar circumstance."