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Alberta premier supports U of A firing sexual assault centre director who signed letter questioning sexual violence against Israelis

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Alberta's premier says she "unequivocally" supports the University of Alberta's decision to fire the director of the school's sexual assault centre over the weekend.

The dismissal came after the director signed a letter questioning claims of sexual violence against Israeli citizens.

"This decision goes in the direction of making sure all women on campus feel they will be heard when they go to the centre, because antisemitism of any kind can't be tolerated," Premier Danielle Smith said in Edmonton on Monday.

The open letter calls on Canada to urge for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East. It also calls sexual violence by Palestianians an "unverified accusation."

The director of the U of A's Sexual Assault Centre, Samantha Pearson, co-signed the letter on behalf of the centre.

Samantha Pearson on Alberta Primetime on 2014.

On Saturday, University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan issued a statement, which read, in part:

"I want to be clear that the former employee’s personal views and opinions do not in any way represent those of the University of Alberta. 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. We recognize the historical and ongoing harms of antisemitism and commit to doing all we can as a university to advance a world free of prejudice and discrimination."

The CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) says she was shocked and saddened to see the letter.

"It just went against everything that sexual assault centres across the province believe in and have believed in for 50 some years," Mary Jane James told CTV News Edmonton. "We support survivors, we believe them regardless of circumstance."

James said SACE and the U of A will work together with student volunteers to provide additional supports to anyone harmed by the controversy.

"The damage is done, we can't undo it," she added. "But what we can do is move forward together and heal together and make sure that survivors are the one and only priority right now."

In the statement, Flanagan said the university has appointed an interim director.

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