Ryerson University fires TA over alleged anti-Semitic statements at Toronto mosque

Ryerson University has fired a teaching assistant in connection to alleged anti-Semitic remarks made during prayers at a downtown Toronto mosque.

Teaching assistant accused of making the remarks calls termination 'active matter' with Ryerson union

In a statement issued Wednesday, the university said it learned last week "that a teaching assistant had made disturbing, anti-Semitic comments off-campus" in the summer 2016, and took "appropriate action." (Facebook)

Ryerson University has fired a teaching assistant in connection to alleged anti-Semitic remarks made during prayers at a downtown Toronto mosque.

The move comes after the mosque apologized for prayers made by what it calls a junior employee. The apology was in reference to "an inappropriate supplication that was offensive to those of the Jewish faith" during prayers at Masjid Toronto in 2016.

The mosque has said it suspended the employee.

​Ayman Elkasrawy confirmed on Wednesday he was suspended by the mosque pending an investigation, and that he was fired by Ryerson, where he had been a teaching assistant.

"With respect to Ryerson, the University has informed me that my position has been terminated," Elkasrawy told CBC Toronto, calling the situation "an active matter" with the university's union. According to his LinkedIn profile, Elkasrawy had been a TA at the university since September 2013.

Last month, Toronto police confirmed they were investigating a complaint of hate speech inside the mosque. On Wednesday, spokesperson Mark Pugash said that investigation remains ongoing.

  No charges have been laid against Elkasraway, and Pugash would not confirm that he is the subject of the investigation.

'Disturbing, anti-Semitic comments'

In a statement issued Wednesday, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said the university learned of "disturbing, anti-Semitic comments off-campus" last week, and immediately referred the incident to the university's Human Rights Service, Human Resources department, and its legal team. 

"As a result of this review, the university has taken appropriate action," the statement reads.

"Independent of this review, Ryerson engaged with numerous organizations, students, faculty and staff about this situation – we understand how something of this nature can impact the climate for our Jewish students and our Jewish community. We continue to be committed to broadening education and awareness of anti-Semitism and we remain actively engaged in addressing any anti-Semitism in our community.

Ryerson wouldn't say if it had any direct evidence of the comments allegedly made by Elkasrawy, but said it does not condone any actions counter to its core values of diversity and inclusion.

More than a dozen people gathered outside a mosque in the heart of downtown Toronto last month with loudspeakers and banners in hand, shouting slogans about banning Islam as Muslims gathered to pray inside. (Facebook)

​Masjid Toronto made headlines last month after a group of demonstrators gathered on its doorstep with loudspeakers and banners in hand, shouting slogans like "Islam is hate!" and "Muslims are terrorists!" while worshippers prayed inside. That incident, which is being probed as a possible hate crime, remains under investigation, Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said Wednesday. 

In a statement, Jewish advocacy group B'nai Brith says the organization sent a letter to the university on Feb. 21 demanding that the employee be fired, alleging he called to "purify the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews."

'No place for someone who believes that Jews are filth'

Neither police nor the mosque, nor Elkasrawy himself, would confirm the specific words alleged to have been uttered.

"There is no place for someone who believes that Jews are 'filth' to deliver lectures or grade assignments at a Canadian university," Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B'nai Brith Canada, said in a statement. 

​"We hope that this action by Ryerson administration will serve as a turning point in what has been a difficult year for Jewish students on that campus, and commend the administration for dealing with this serious matter," Mostyn said. 

After news of the alleged remarks surfaced, the mosque issued an apology, saying it "condemns all forms of hate and racism towards any faith group or others and is committed to offering a safe spiritual space for all congregants."

Imam Hamid Slimi is an interfaith leader in Toronto who has invited rabbis to address his congregation and has addressed synagogues himself.

Slimi told CBC Toronto he was shocked to hear of the alleged remarks, "especially in Toronto, which is a leading city in interfaith, diversity and acceptance."

Imam Hamid Slimi is an interfaith leader in Toronto, who has invited rabbis to address his congregation and has addressed synagogues himself. (Barry Smith/CBC)

"We must denounce any anti-Semitic act or statement whether in a sermon or a prayer," he said, calling the remarks "unacceptable."

"The rise of Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe and North America should thrust us to work more collectively against all forms of hate and prejudice in the true Canadian spirit of respect and acceptance of one another."

Creating 'bonds of understanding'

"We do not see our relationship with the Jewish communities through the Middle-east conflict but rather through the Canadian spirit of respect and common good in addition to the historical connection through our Common father Abraham (Peace be upon him)."

For its part, Muslim Association of Canada spokesperson Memona Hossain says the remarks were made by a junior employee and that the mosque is investigating.

"We know who made the comments and we have suspended the employee," said Hossain.

Hossein also said the organization extended an apology to leaders of the Jewish community including the Toronto Board of Rabbis for the incident.

In an email to CBC News, Rabbi Debra Landsberg of Temple Emanu-El confirmed the mosque had reached out to them about the incident.

"We are just at the start of our conversation," said Landsberg. "I cannot yet say where they will take us, but am glad that they reached out."

"I hope we are able to create bonds of understanding that strengthen both of our communities."