By Anastasia Blosser, Dexter LeRuez and Gabriela Silva Ponte
The Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) has filed a $375,000 lawsuit for various damages in relation to the April 2023 election against three past students’ union members.
The TMSU is seeking $100,000 for damages for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, civil fraud and civil conspiracy, according to a statement of claim filed by the union and obtained by The Eyeopener. A breach of fiduciary duty is when an individual fails to fulfil their responsibility to act in the interest of another person or group.
The union is also seeking $75,000 for other aggravated and punitive charges as well as $200,000 in special damages.
The three defendants are Joel Kuriakose, Areesha Qureshi and Muhammad Maaz Rashid, who all served on the TMSU Board of Directors (BoD) between May 2021 and March 2023.
In the statement of claim, the TMSU alleged that “throughout 2023, and possibly for longer, the Defendants actively and intentionally colluded to undermine the integrity of the 2023 TMSU General Election” and therefore “caused significant harm to the organization.”
As previously reported by The Eye, the 2023 TMSU election was deemed “irredeemably compromised” by the TMSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee. A byelection is set to take place in the fall.
“Their actions have not only caused direct financial harm to the TMSU but also reputational damage, loss of trust and potential legal consequences,” the statement reads.
The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants’ actions were “characterized by bad faith, dishonesty, and disloyalty.”
It states that they breached their contracts and “knowingly colluded to undermine the integrity of the Election for their own personal benefit and, over the course of several months, coached other students to do the same.”
Kuriakose served two terms as a member of the Board of Directors (BoD) until “the Board voted to confirm his automatic and mandatory removal due to lack of meeting attendance,” on March 1 2023, according to the statement of claim.
As previously reported by The Eye, Kuriakose tried to resign prior to his impeachment, citing that his time at the TMSU had been “quite difficult.”
In an email to The Eye, TMSU vice president operations Spyros Zarros confirmed that Kuriakose submitted a letter of resignation while the Board was in an active vote to consider his position abandoned.
Qureshi served as vice president equity on the Board from May 1, 2022, until her resignation. As previously reported by The Eye, Qureshi resigned from the role on March 3, 2023.
She cited a toxic work environment as part of the reason for her departure.
“I hope that my resignation sheds some light on constant mis-management and political in-fighting at the TMSU,” Qureshi said in her emailed statement to The Eye.
Muhammad Maaz Rashid served as a director on the Board from May 2021 to April 2022.
Rashid ran for Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science director in the 2023 TMSU election as a member of the Metropolitan Engineers slate. He was elected acclaimed.
The statement of claim says Qureshi and Kuriakose were the “primary organizers and instigators of the group’s activities to undermine TMSU’s elections.” It adds that Rashid was fully aware of the misconduct, actively participating in the “continuing collusion” throughout February, March and the beginning of April 2023.
The statement alleges that on Jan. 23, 2023, a WhatsApp group chat was created by Qureshi. By Feb. 4, 2023, the chat included candidates from the Team Revolt, Team Ignite, Team Revive and Team Empire slates of the TMSU’s 2023 election.
According to the statement, the WhatsApp group included the three defendants, 11 candidates, three individuals who were not eligible to run in the election because “they failed to meet nomination requirements” and two others.
The 11 candidates in the group chat were vice president education candidate Abeeha Ahmad, vice president student life candidate Kareena Bhatia, vice president operations candidate Mahira Shoaib, vice president equity candidate Trevohn Baker, Creative School director candidates Yanika Saluja and Aditi Roy, Ted Rogers School of Management director candidates Vitaliy Yushvaev and Winston Ly, Faculty of Science director candidate Aneesh Katyara, Faculty of Arts director candidate Lara Loncar, Faculty of Engineering director candidate Muhammad Maaz Rashid and International Student Representative director candidate Hussain Salim Kakajiwala.
According to the statement, “Ms. Qureshi and Mr. Kuriakose provided assistance to all the candidates in the Group Chat.”
Examples of the alleged assistance outlined in the lawsuit include “booking meeting rooms for the group to discuss election plans and progress, hosting virtual meetings, initiating group meetings and/or calls, helping candidates meet deadlines and complete required forms, vetting candidates’ materials prior to submission, assisting with graphic design for campaign materials, and seeking funds to subsidize professional headshots for the group’s candidates.”
Section 8.1.43 of the TMSU’s Elections Procedures Code states that “No two (2) or more Candidates may have their campaign benefit from the same Non-Arm’s Length Party, unless the Candidate’s are registered to the same Slate.”
The statement alleges that Kuriakose and Qureshi provided assistance to all members of the group chat, who were from various different slates, thus breaking the aforementioned bylaw.
According to the statement, “despite having to fill out and sign official slate declaration forms, the candidates that participated in the Group Chat did not disclose that they were all working together.”
The statement further cites multiple instances of Quershi and Kuriakose encouraging the group chat members to take precautions to hide their involvement with each other. These instructions included organizing when each person could speak and leave meetings, ensuring various members would not raise suspicion by being seen together and coordinating when the students should submit their nomination forms.
During a mandatory online training session for students interested in running in the 2023 elections, one member of the group chat lost their connection and requested someone tell the meeting’s host to bring them back into the call. Kuriakose allegedly responded to this message saying “Absolutely not not tryna get exposed again…Email rianna…I can’t expose our relationship we got too many Reddit allegations against us.”
The statement alleges that Qureshi and Kuriakose “attempted to undermine the TMSU’s electoral process by colluding to win the election so they could install individuals who had been previously disqualified from running.”
According to the lawsuit, Kuriakose allegedly told the group chat that if the members involved in the group chat were elected, they could work together to impeach current TMSU president Marina Gerges and appoint Qureshi instead.
“The thing is now that if u guys win majority we can take marina [Gerges] down…There is no need to panic cuz I feel like u guys are a strong team and we are still going to be here for u guys …. It’s just we been enduring a lot of losses lately…And the time is shit for our team…But with persistence and the motivation to win we can capture every seat there is on the board…And u guys can impeach marina as directors and bring Areesha back,” reads a message from Kuriakose included in the lawsuit.
As previously reported by The Eye, Gerges was not re-elected to her position at the TMSU despite running unopposed.
However, she has since been appointed interim TMSU president until the next election, as previously reported by The Eye.
The statement of claim also alleges that “the Defendants used confidential TMSU information to send anonymous election-related emails and further their other election-related misfeasance.”
It outlines an email sent to a large number of Toronto Metropolitan University students on March 20, which used confidential TMSU information obtained by the defendants during the “course of their duties as directors.”
As previously reported by The Eye, the information included a full official transcript of Gerges’ court sentencing after she was charged and arrested during her term in office.
“The email, which was unsigned, was sent from a Gmail account and appeared to have been sent to the recipient email@example.com, making it appear as if the email had been distributed via an official TMSU listserv email. The listserv email, however, was fake,” the statement alleges.
“The students who received the email directly had been bcc’d on the message, and the individual student emails used to form the bcc distribution list had been taken from confidential TMSU emails and documents,” it further reads.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants planned to use TMSU funds for their own personal benefit if elected.
Kuriakose and Qureshi discussed plans of booking retreats to Cuba or a ski resort “on board money,” according to the statement. It also details a plan between Qureshi and several other students to give themselves pay raises once elected.
Qureshi, Kuriakose and Rashid have until May 14, 2023 to prepare and file a statement of defence.
No court dates have been scheduled as of this time.