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Vancouver school goes to court over anonymous email

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The Supreme Court of British Columbia has forced Shaw Communications to hand over information about one of its customers, after a complaint was filed about an anonymous email that levelled numerous allegations against the Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT) day school.

The email was circulated among members of the school community on Jan. 27, using the pseudonym “Benjamin Abramson,” a name that is unfamiliar to people at VTT. The email claimed, among other allegations, that VTT allowed students to ride in a faulty school bus, didn’t provide sufficient security for the school and mismanaged school funds.

The school confirmed that it then went to court to request that Shaw provide the IP address of the subscriber who sent the email, in order to sue the person for making “false and defamatory statements,” and leaking sensitive documents.

Chethan Lakshman, a spokesperson for Shaw, confirmed that it received a court order on Feb. 1 requesting subscriber information for an IP address and has complied with the order. However, he stressed that the IP address would not necessarily lead to the individual behind the account. Rather, “it associates an IP address to a Shaw customer account, which may be a business establishment hotspot, such as a bar, restaurant, café, etc.”

Jennifer Shecter-Balin, VTT’s director of communications and admissions, confirmed that Shaw complied with the request, but declined to comment on what was revealed.

In an attempt to mitigate the damage from the anonymous email, which accused the school of fostering a “toxic environment,” VTT head of school Cathy Lowenstein and board co-presidents Shane Brown and Shawn Lewis sent a lengthy email to the school’s mailing list, which refuted the claims.

“We know there are people who have genuine questions or concerns, as well as others who are tempted to believe that if there’s smoke, there must be fire. We understand that and respect your need for answers and desire for transparency,” reads the email. “It is important for you to know that the allegations in the email are either grossly misleading, simply untrue or taken out of context.”

For example, Abramson’s email claimed that one day, the doors were not working on the school bus, but VTT decided to use it anyway. However, according to school administrators, VTT actually made “alternate transportation arrangements” for 70 students that day. All of the buses that VTT uses are regularly inspected and maintained, they said.

VTT’s email also outlined the various security measures the school has undertaken to ensure the safety of students and staff, including audits and upgrades undertaken by third-party experts and the recent hiring of additional security personnel during the day, as well as extra guards on evenings and weekends.

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Lowenstein, Brown and Lewis also argued against the allegations of financial mismanagement and inflated salaries. They said that the school has managed to reduce operating expenses, improve services and operate at break-even or better, all while keeping tuition increases to a modest 1.75 per cent.

As for the inflated salaries, “while we cannot discuss individual compensation for privacy reasons, we can tell you that the claims about VTT salaries are inaccurate and, in many cases, maliciously exaggerated.”

The anonymous email made other claims that were not addressed in VTT’s response, including allegations that VTT harasses teachers, violated human rights laws by firing an employee for a health condition and engages in nepotism. Abramson’s email also included files that allegedly contained correspondence and notes from school employees.

“The email was clearly intended to cause maximum harm. We stand by VTT’s incredible staff, and their family members, who were targeted by this attack. We are working closely with legal counsel and the appropriate authorities to investigate this attack on our VTT community. We will provide a further update when we have more information to share,” VTT’s email stated.