Federation of faculty unions claims privacy breach in Natalie Knight dismissal

FPSE asks Langara president if confidential information was provided to Ministry of Post-Secondary Education

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By EMILY BEST and SARAH AMY LEUNG

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC announced late Monday it intends to hold Langara College accountable for its role in what it called an “abuse of power” that led to the dismissal of English instructor Natalie Knight.

In a public statement, FPSE claimed the B.C. Ministry of Post-Secondary Education had access to confidential employment information on Knight and advance knowledge of the rationale for Knight’s termination before it happened.

“Details of which could have come only from Langara College,” said FPSE, which represents some 10,000 members from 20 independent faculty and staff unions in B.C.’s public and private post-secondary institutions.

Specifically, FPSE said the ministry appeared to know the details of a letter of expectation issued to Knight in January when she was reinstated following an investigation into pro-Hamas comments she made at a downtown Palestine rally last fall.

Requests unanswered by the college

The organization said it has asked Langara College three separate times — including at Knight’s termination meeting — to provide reassurances that no personnel details were shared with the ministry.

FPSE said it also asked Langara College president Paula Burns “explicitly” in an email that it has also released publicly.

“But we have yet to receive a response,” it said.

The Voice reached out to Langara College for comment but did not hear back by publication time.

“In our view it would be a violation of Langara’s obligations under FIPPA if they shared our member’s personnel records or information about the employment relationship with the Minister or Ministry officials,” said FPSE Executive Director Michael Conlon, referring to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Conlon said FPSE had nothing beyond that to add to its public statement.

Former minister’s involvement

FPSE has accused the former minister Selina Robinson of inappropriately intervening to ensure Knight was terminated. It said Robinson’s “intrusion” into Langara College’s internal affairs was “unprecedented.”

The organization said it was “perplexed” to hear B.C. Premier David Eby claim Robinson was uninvolved in Knight’s termination. 

However, FPSE said it was “pleased” that Eby accepted Robinson’s resignation Monday related to a backlash from controversial comments she made during an online forum Jan. 30 that Israel was founded on “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

“Now that Ms. Robinson has stepped down, we will focus our attention on ensuring that Langara College is held accountable for their role in this abuse of power,” FPSE said. 

Knight was placed on paid leave last fall after publicly calling the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israeli citizens “amazing” and “brilliant” at a protest downtown. She was quietly reinstated Jan. 18, following an investigation that found she was “not clearly outside the bounds of protected expression.” Knight announced her reinstatement at another pro-Palestine rally at the Langara-49 Station and Langara campus on Jan.23, declaring her return a victory. 

Two days later, Robinson tweeted her displeasure at Knight’s reinstatement, and said she had met with Langara officials to express her concerns for the college and broader communities.

The following day, the college terminated Knight, saying she breached the conditions of her return. FPSE and the Langara Faculty Association have insisted Knight was reinstated without restriction or discipline under the collective agreement. However, FPSE is now saying there was a letter of expectation. 

The LFA has declined to comment on FPSE’s latest statement.

Neither Knight nor Robinson has responded to inquiries from the Voice.

With files from — Jamie Mah

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