University of Alberta fires Sexual Assault Centre head who signed letter calling Hamas rape reports 'unverified accusation'

“The University of Alberta stands firmly and unequivocally against discrimination and hatred on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected categories,” Flanagan wrote, specifically identifying antisemitism

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The University of Alberta says it has fired the director of its campus sexual assault centre after she signed an open letter calling reports of sexual violence during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel an “unverified accusation.”

University president Bill Flanagan issued a statement Saturday afternoon, saying that “effectively immediately,” the director of the U of A Sexual Assault Centre “is no longer employed by the university.”

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The centre and its director, Samantha Pearson, were listed as signatories to a petition from Ontario MPP Sarah Jama and Victoria Coun. Susan Kim, which called on MPs who support a humanitarian cease fire in Gaza to resign in protest.

The letter took particular issue with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who it said “repeated the unverified accusation that Palestinians were guilty of sexual violence.”

The Jewish Federation of Edmonton quickly condemned the use of the term “unverified accusation.”

“Samantha Pearson, @ualbertasac director, and the @ualbertasac have signed a letter alleging that Israelis were not raped or sexually assaulted by #Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7,” it wrote in a social media post. “Shouldn’t a sexual assault centre believe all victims, and not just the non-Jewish ones?”

International media outlets have since picked up the story, including the Daily Mail and Times of Israel.

Flanagan said the sentiments expressed in the letter are “the former employee’s personal views and opinions do not in any way represent those of the University of Alberta.” He added the use of the university’s name was “unauthorized.” 

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“The University of Alberta stands firmly and unequivocally against discrimination and hatred on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected categories,” Flanagan wrote, specifically identifying antisemitism. 

“The services provided by the university, particularly those supporting the well-being and health of community members, must be open and welcoming to all individuals in our diverse community,” he said. “The new leadership at the Sexual Assault Centre is committed to swiftly implementing the changes required to ensure this university commitment is upheld.”

He called the incident “profoundly hurtful” and said it “may have compromised the trust of individuals in our community. I also recognize the significant potential negative impact given the critical nature of the centre’s work.”

Flanagan concluded by apologizing for the “the hurt and distress this issue has caused members of our community and beyond. As a university, we commit to continued action to restore your trust.”

Postmedia contacted the sexual assault centre for comment but did not hear back.

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According to the Times of Israel, Israeli police are currently investigating reports Hamas members raped women when they breached the country’s borders Oct. 7 and killed around 1,200 people. A police officer told the outlet much of the state’s case would rely on circumstantial evidence given many of the reported victims were killed.

The official said criminal cases could nonetheless be made on video taken from security footage and Hamas bodycams, as well as the physical condition of the bodies and numerous witness testimonies, some of which have been published in the media.

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