Joint FPSE–LFA (Local 14) Statement on Member Termination
If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. [Stalin] was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. … If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.
We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the arbitrary termination for cause of Langara College faculty member Dr. Natalie Knight. As was widely reported in the media, Dr. Knight was put on paid leave pending an investigation by the College into remarks she had made at a rally on October 28, 2023, regarding the war in Gaza. After an exhaustive investigative process, including consideration of a thorough, thoughtful internal report by the College’s Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee that rigorously examined these matters in the context of Langara’s policies on academic freedom and the Charter right to freedom of expression, the College found that Dr. Knight had not violated any Langara policy. On January 18, 2024, Dr. Knight was reinstated without restriction or discipline under the collective agreement.
On January 23, Dr. Knight participated in a lawful demonstration and informed participants that she had been reinstated to her role without any discipline under the collective agreement, both of which were factually correct statements. Dr. Knight also made comments related to the ongoing war in Gaza. Approximately 72 hours after that demonstration, and without a fulsome investigation or due process, Dr. Knight was terminated for cause today, January 26. Langara President Paula Burns announced the termination to the Langara community, the media, and the public prior to providing a written letter of termination to our member.
Dr. Knight’s termination comes one day after the Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, Selina Robinson, used her X account to share a statement by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) reiterating its call for Dr. Knight’s termination. The Minister added a comment in which she accused Dr. Knight of spewing hatred and vitriol, despite the College having found otherwise; expressed her disappointment that Dr. Knight continued to be employed by the College; and revealed that she had met with Langara College leadership prior to the termination. This was an unprecedented and inappropriate intrusion into the institutional autonomy of Langara College and an astounding statement for a Minister to make about a faculty member at an institution under her jurisdiction. The timing and political meddling by the Minister in the process taint the College’s actions and fatally undermine the notion of institutional independence.
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.
In its initial investigation, Langara College was guided by the principles of freedom of expression, natural justice, and institutional autonomy. External pressure clearly prompted Langara College to revisit this principled approach. Charter rights, labour law, and academic freedom should not be subject to political interference, and it is a difficult day for due process and the idea of colleges and universities as independent of government control. Post-secondary institutions fulfil their societal role most effectively when they allow space for difficult, even painful conversations. Langara College failed the entire community today by failing to allow for that space.
Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia
Michael Conlon, Executive Director
Langara Faculty Association (FPSE Local 14)
Pauline Greaves Aylward, President
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 19 public and 5 private sector institutions.