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'Fired for expressing views?': Canadians split after Air Canada removes pilot for posting Palestine protest photos

Air Canada took swift action, but Canadians have freedom of expression laws that can protect them, experts say

Warning: Images and details in this story are offensive in nature and may be disturbing for readers. Discretion is advised.

Air Canada took one of their Montreal-based B787 first officers out of service on Monday after discovering posts that allegedly showed the pilot fashioning Palestinian colours in the wake of recent devastation in Israel.
Air Canada took one of their Montreal-based B787 first officers out of service on Monday after discovering posts that allegedly showed the pilot fashioning Palestinian colours in the wake of recent devastation in Israel.

Air Canada took one of their Montreal-based B787 first officers out of service on Monday after discovering posts that allegedly showed the pilot at a demonstration, holding signs that said "F*ck you Israel. Burn in hell" and "Hitler is proud of you."

Social media posts and accounts of Mostafa Ezzo were first flagged by a Middle East analyst and an online group called Stop Anti Semitism, self-described as a leading non-partisan American-based organization, on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The group posted a couple of pictures that allegedly featured Ezzo at pro-Palestine rallies holding anti-Israel signs and claimed them to be from Ezzo’s social media accounts.

Stop Anti Semitism then followed up the post with another, this time mentioning that Ezzo had “deleted LinkedIn and other socials” while asking Air Canada if the posts violated the company’s policy.

A few hours later, Air Canada denounced the posts as “unacceptable” and shared the latest development with the staff in a post on X.

“We are aware of the unacceptable posts made by an Air Canada pilot. We are taking this matter very seriously, and he was taken out of service on Mon, Oct. 9. We firmly denounce violence in all forms,” the airline stated.

An Air Canada spokesperson told the Toronto Sun, who first reported the incident, “We did this because this individual’s opinions and publications on social media do not represent Air Canada’s views in any way. This person has never been authorized to speak publicly while identifying themselves as an Air Canada employee.”

Does removed pilot have any rights?

Employment Law experts Professor Rafael Gomez of University of Toronto and Randy Ai stressed the importance of Ezzo utilizing his resources well, starting off with benefitting from work unions.

The first thing is if the workforce is unionized...and I know that some Canada employees are unionized. They should speak with the union and file grievances since they are your legal representatives,” the Founder of Randy Ai Law Office told Yahoo News Canada.

A union will help settle it internally or take it to an arbitrator who may find him deserving of being paid damages," said University of Toronto Professor Rafael Gomez.

The Toronto-based experts also shared their thoughts on their being ‘cause’ behind Air Canada’s decision and Ezzo’s right to a severance package.

"It's sort of a quandary for a company. The company could have grounds to let him go without any pay and say they have cause," Professor Gomez told Yahoo News Canada.

"Employer has the right to terminate you but a severance package must be given," said Randy.

Randy explained that usually there’s a protocol followed in assessing a termination of any employee by their employer which requires a proper analysis.

Really egregious comments which can be seen as an attempt to defame can create a cause to fire. However, that still needs to take into account a bunch of other factors. For instance, owing to reputational damage in the public, employers may terminate employees because of political affiliations. But then there’s a lot that can favour the employee as well.Randy Ai, lawyer

“Like was it their first offence? If the person has been a good employee and if there has been no disciplinary record, even if they have been a ‘racist’ so to speak on this one occasion, does that constitute cause? If there are multiple posts then maybe, yes. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what is ‘cause’. The person should certainly be warned but should they be terminated or taken out of service right away?"

The news of an Air Canada pilot being taken out of service quickly spread on the internet, enraging many Canadian users on X.

Social media reacts to Air Canada pilot's removal

Canadians were split on Air Canada's moves with some thankful for its swift action to remove the pilot while under investigation:

Others accused the company of challenging freedom of speech and called out a 'double standard':

Freedom of speech at work: Are you protected?

The issue raises concerns over the value of freedom of expression in Canada and if the country’s employment laws provide much protection in such a sensitive matter.

"Canada has Freedom of Expression, yes, but unlike the U.S. it has a check on it. Hate Laws, Speech Laws, etc."

"If there's something defamatory on the image it can qualify as hate speech and then the employment law won't protect you. Perhaps, that becomes a valid and contested point from the employer side," Professor Gomez told Yahoo News Canada.

“Freedom of Expression can only go so far. It has its limits. The exercise of FOE is being quite curtailed. General public can interpret the comments in whatever way they want. A comment that might be made in the confidence of a colleague in the lunchroom may be viewed entirely differently on social media," said Randy.

—With files from Canadian Press and Toronto Sun