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Transit employee suspended for anti-Israel remarks

Tags: News Al Quds Day Avi Benlolo Brad Ross James Pasternak Queen’s Park Toronto Transit Commission TTC
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An off-duty TTC employee spoke to a TV reporter July 26 at Queen’s Park. SUN NEWS SCREEN SHOT

TORONTO — A Toronto Transit Commission employee who made hateful comments about Israel in a televised interview at last month’s Al Quds Day rally at Queen’s Park was given an unpaid, three-day suspension, a source close to the TTC has told The CJN.

The employee’s personnel file was also flagged, and he was warned that a repeat of such behaviour would result in termination, said the source, who declined to speak on the record.

The unnamed, off-duty TTC employee, who did not identify himself on camera, but was wearing a shirt with the TTC’s logo on its sleeve, told Sun News: “There should be a free Gaza, free Palestine. And if they continue, now we will go from here to there and we will kill all the Israel. And we will show the power.”

Details about the disciplinary action were leaked Aug. 20, a day after the TTC board unanimously passed a motion to condemn the employee’s remarks. 

The motion was put forward by TTC board member and Ward 10 city councillor James Pasternak. It called on the board to “condemn in no uncertain terms the offensive and discriminatory remarks made by a TTC employee to the media at a rally at Queen’s Park on Saturday, July 26, 2014.”

It also asked the board to “affirm its view that Toronto is a city of respect and tolerance and that all TTC employees must be held to the highest standard,” and it reiterated the commission’s policy that all employees, both on and off duty “in issued uniform or clothing, equipment or TTC vehicle” are expected to “conduct themselves… in a manner that does not jeopardize the integrity and image of the TTC.”

The motion concluded: “The TTC affirms its view that Toronto remain a destination of respect, tolerance and safety and that the importation of world conflict zones is contrary to these ideals.”

Pasternak said he initiated the motion because “it was vital for us to send an unequivocal message that these kinds of anti-Semitic and despicable comments against Israel and the Jewish community are totally unacceptable. It is an embarrassment for the transit system and for the city of Toronto.”

He added: “We do not buy into the fig leaf of free speech with regard to these comments.”

Pasternak lamented that the employee hadn’t been fired, saying “immediate termination would’ve been ideal, but, unfortunately, [the employee] is protected by a collective bargaining agreement and a warning system, and he’s been given the opportunity to apologize and keep his job.”

Pasternak said he heard from a third-party source that the employee did express “remorse and regret” about his remarks. 

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said the matter was taken extremely seriously. He called the comments against Israel “repugnant” and stressed that they don’t represent the views of the TTC. He maintained, however, that the commission has taken “appropriate disciplinary action,” but “what that discipline is, is something we won’t discuss.” 

Neither will the commission disclose the name of the employee or his role at the transit service, he said.

“We are careful about what we say publicly, because matters of discipline are typically grieved by the union and can go to arbitration,” Ross said. “An arbitrator could rule against us, and that ruling could be because of comments an employer made publicly that may have prejudiced a particular decision on a case… and there are also privacy rights we need to respect.”

Ross said disciplinary cases are dealt with individually and factors such as an employee’s length of service, history and employment record go into any decision.

Following the incident, Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, wrote to TTC chair Maria Augimeri and urged that the worker be fired.

“It seems the TTC has taken the statements of this man seriously and disciplined him accordingly,” Benlolo said of the suspension. “We remain concerned, however, that permitting anti-Semitic organizations to spew their hatred freely will only lead to further incidents of this nature. It’s time for our elected officials and civic leaders to take the lead in combating anti-Semitism, and to let the Jewish community know in no uncertain terms that they stand with us against aggression, intimidation and threats of violence.” 

The union representing TTC workers could not be reached for comment.

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