By Edward Djan and Thea Gribilas
Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students are hoping for an apology after Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) president Marina Gerges sent confidential student information to TMU student group executives.
Gerges sent a mass email to student groups prior to the July 26 Board of Directors (BoD) meeting with several documents detailing the confidential information of students approved for the transit and emergency grants meant to be heard during an in-camera session—a meeting only BoD members are privy to.
Documents included full names of students, email addresses, full home addresses and in two cases, filled out cheques that were addressed to students.
The Eyeopener contacted some students involved in the leak. Among those who responded to The Eye, none were aware of the leak.
“I found out about it through The Eyeopener,” said Kaitlyn Alexander, a TMU biomedical sciences graduate. “To say it was upsetting is a bit of an understatement.”
Gerges told The Eye in an email that she meant to send the documents to the students group director’s email rather than the shortcut address created to send mass communications to campus students groups.
Gerges said she “deeply regrets this error” and that she “immediately asked recipients to delete the email,” although she did not mention contacting students affected by the leak when asked for comment.
Alexander said she deserves an apology for the TMSU leaking information that she did not consent to being distributed, along with an apology for not being forthcoming with information surrounding the leak.
“If they realize that student information [was shared without consent] they should have been the first people to contact these students,” she said.
Gerges said the documents sent to student groups remain confidential.
According to TMSU bylaw 8.13, BoD members are not allowed to share information discussed in-camera without the permission of the board. Bylaw 8.15 also specifies that if voted by a two-thirds majority of the board to be in violation of bylaw 8.13 that, “the [offending party] shall face consequences to be decided upon by resolution of the Board.”
In 2020, former BoD member David Jardine was impeached after it was alleged that they shared confidential information discussed in-camera. Gerges said her actions do not compare to Jardine’s, adding that, “the inadvertent sending of email correspondence to an incorrect email address, then immediately alerting recipients and asking them to delete it, is not the same.”
To Alexander, the issue is the student’s union not taking ownership of their mistake and contacting students involved.
“It’s just sad, because at the very least, if something was done wrong, you want to have ownership of that,” she said.
Another student who was contacted by The Eye and who asked to remain anonymous so as to not disclose her financial status, said in an email, “it really sucks that our student union essentially announced that we’re all struggling financially to one another.”
“It was embarrassing to not see any of my classmates’ names on the list of contacts—it’s hard enough being poor, now I know I’m the poorest in my cohort,” she added.
She said she wants an acknowledgement of the mistake and an apology.
“I would appreciate an apology more than anything,” she said. “I think that one of the most important parts of leadership is being aware of your mistakes; this is something that, unfortunately, none of our [student’s union] presidents have had.”
Esther Deng, a masters student studying professional communications, believes the students’ union should be doing more beyond an apology for those who had more than their email address shared.
“If [the leak] was just a name and email, maybe an apology would be nice. But if it’s an address, another type of compensation [would be warranted],” said Deng, adding that in some cases, financial compensation may be necessary.
“If something happened to you, then they should help you compensate and make sure that your life doesn’t change because of this issue. I think it should be a case by case.”
However, Deng also believes that this is a TMU problem and not just a TMSU problem. She said she thinks the school should step in to ensure the safety of students and their information. She added that she is concerned about the possibility of that information being used maliciously.
The university sent a statement to The Eye in which they said they are aware of the incident and “will continue to monitor the situation, and work alongside TMSU to address issues where appropriate. The Toronto Metropolitan Student Union (TMSU) is a separate and independent organization. It is the role of the TMSU to address matters through its own policies and procedures.”
The statement went on to read, “The TMSU’s most important obligation is to its membership. In instances where concerns around governance arise, we expect that the TMSU is able to address this with its membership, and we have communicated this expectation to them.”
“I know a lot of people have been hacked regardless of their information being sent out. It just terrifies me a little to have their [student’s] information out there and they can’t change anything,” said Deng.
The documents also featured several emails detailing communications between former TMSU financial controller, Harj Grewal, and members of the TMSU about missing financial information, including missing pay stubs and reimbursements for student groups not being filed.
In one case a Nursing Course Union member was requesting a reimbursement of $150 that was first requested in December. At the time of the follow-up email sent by the course union, it was May.
In another case, Soccer World TMU requested a reimbursement that had been first filed three months prior.
A separate set of emails detailed where a $1,080,000 cheque would be safekept, after Maharaj stated that she did not have the deposit book. Deposit books are typically used to ensure that no deposits are left unaccounted for.