By Jesse McLean and Adrian Morrow
A leading candidate in the Ryerson Students’ Union election is being accused of making racist and sexist comments by her political opponents.
Naomi Cowan, a Ryevolution candidate for the board of directors, alleges that Rebecca Rose, who is running for VP education on the rival Renew RSU slate, made the comment after both parties had finished speeches in Kerr Hall on Jan. 31.
Cowan said that after she and slate mate Ibrahim (Abe) Snobar spoke, Rose yelled “At least we’re audible.” Cowan took the comment as a jab at her and Snobar’s accents.
Cowan, who was born in Jamaica, filed a complaint with Chief Returning Officer Paris Cameron-Gardos.
“As VP education, [anti-racism work] would be her job,” Cowan said. “How can someone in that position, how can you say that?”
Rose, a former RSU president, denies the comment had anything to do with race.
She told the Eyeopener that she had an altercation with Snobar, in which she told him “at least we enunciate,” referring to Snobar’s mumbling, and not his or Cowan’s accent.
Cowan also alleges Rose’s slate mate Mal Sampa apologized to her on Tuesday for Rose’s comment. Sampa denies this.
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” he said. Rose’s competitor for the VP education spot, Heather Kere, also alleges Rose called her a “bitch” on the first day of campaigning after a dispute over postering space outside the library.
Kere submitted a complaint, which she says has been forwarded to Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention office.
However, Rose, an outspoken feminist, says she never uses the word “bitch.” Cameron-Gardos said he could not comment on either situation, other than to say they were under investigation.
He added that if another university agency, such as security, is involved, he will issue a more severe punishment.
This is just the most contentious incident in what’s becoming a bitter election campaign.
Several candidates are accusing Cameron-Gardos of arbitrarily doling out more than 20 reprimands in the past week.
The numerous violations, compounded with alleged dirty tricks by other candidates, have even prompted one slate to drop out of the race, saying the election is tainted.
“We’re challenging the election as a whole, it’s unethical. It doesn’t merit fair results,” said Griffith d’Souza, who announced his withdrawal on Feb. 4 with fellow candidates Robert Paskowitz, Ben Flynn and Adam Hader.
The team denounced Cameron-Gardos for punishing trivial violations as well as other candidates’ childish campaign tricks.
One slate has been penalized three demerit points for using “permanent and adhesive tape,” while another candidate received an identical punishment for physically blocking opposing candidates from putting up posters.
So far, the election’s 50-odd candidates have earned a total of 143 demerit points.
“[Candidates] are not trying to win on their own merits. They’re trying to win by disqualification,” Paskowitz said.
Snobar, whose Ryevolution slate has been charged with the most infractions, says the high number of infractions result from the CRO’s arbitrary approach.
“I think the reasons we got demerit points were legitimate, but I also think the severity might be changing based on who is getting the points,” he said.
Unlike past years when candidates received a sheet listing possible infractions and their punishments, Cameron-Gardos sent an e-mail to candidates with hypothetical violations and subsequent demerit points.
“Each punishment is made on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I didn’t want to give a list of punishments so people committing offences can know how much they can do without being disqualified,” he said, adding the method also prevents candidates from entrapping one another for violations.
However, the slate withdrawing from the election disagrees, arguing that the method leaves candidates vulnerable to the CRO’s bias.
“If I’m at 17 demerit points, and he doesn’t like me, he can give me three and I’ll be gone,” Flynn said.