Doorstep Postings: Bitter battles over antisemitism at Ontario school boards (featuring Michael Teper)

This is the fifth in a series of opinion columns on Ontario’s 2022 municipal elections, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee Alexandra Lulka, who currently represents Ward 5 in North York, recently spoke out on The CJN Daily.

The podcast hosted by Ellin Bessner was Lulka’s first such interview ever since she took to social media to call out a 100-page email sent by TDSB employee Javier Davila, which promoted the use of violence and terrorism against Israeli Jews.

She couldn’t give a lot of background about the people who brought forward a (failed) vote to censure her after a report from the TDSB’s integrity commissioner claimed that her post perpetuated negative stereotypes of Palestinians, or the gritty details of the back and forth before, during and since. 

She cannot—but Michael Teper can. 

Teper, a lawyer who’s registered as a third-party advertiser for the municipal election in Toronto, has been an active part of the back-and-forth since Davila sent the email back in May 2021. He’s also a vocal supporter of Lulka’s re-election bid.

It wasn’t always this way for Teper. “I had no political involvement since before last year,” he says. “It wasn’t until I saw the content of [Davila’s email] on Facebook that I took action.” 

After reading the post, he sent a complaint to the Ontario College of Teachers that led to Davila’s suspension—a suspension that was later overturned.

“Davila continues to keep them on his own blog, brags about them on his go fund me page, and has not expressed any regret over their content.”

Later, he came across a blog posting from a former superintendent of schools which alleged that TDSB education director Karen Falconer was “pressured” by Jewish trustees to suspend Davila, leading to a second complaint.

“She deleted parts of the accusation, but left most of the post intact,” said Teper. “It led to an informal sanction.”

Teper is now a co-complainant with B’nai Brith in another College of Teachers action against the reinstated Davila, this time alleging professional misconduct. 

“There have been no calls for the withdrawal of the material that he circulated at this time.”

Indeed, more people seem to be jumping off the sidelines and getting involved in the affair. One teacher on Teper’s radar is one Ann Marie Longpre, who tweeted solidarity with Davila and supported a November 2021 walkout of over 200 students “for the TDSB to stop silencing calls to #FreePalestine.”

“Ms. Longpre has the right to say whatever she wants,” Teper says, “but what she doesn’t have the right to do is involve her students.”

In February of this year, Davila popped up again at an event for law school students associated with the TDSB. Teper says he was listed as a TDSB representative. 

“I called and asked, did the TDSB authorize him as a representative? The answer came back, and no, he was not authorized.” This led to Teper filing yet another complaint against Davila. 

Teper is also monitoring developments in Ottawa, where he’s received reports from community members of a land acknowledgement which was linked to a speech about Israel, where Palestinians were spoken of as the Indigenous people of the area—plus a demonstration involving students where a placard was displayed with the slogan “From The River To The Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.”

“There was a professional-development session in the Ottawa area where [former Liberal MP, Minister of Justice, and Attorney General] Irwin Cotler was scheduled to speak, but was later disinvited,” Teper tells me.

“I submitted an FOI and obtained a memo between senior staff saying that his appearance was inappropriate because he approved of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The official reason given was that there was a miscommunication and one of the board representatives hadn’t asked for his attendance.” 

Michael Teper’s next step is to appear at the OCDSB on September 13 to correct the record. We’ll follow up next month to see how that develops. 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.