By Anastasia Blosser, Dexter LeRuez and Gabriela Silva Ponte
The Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union’s (TMSU) Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) awarded 10 demerit points in the fall byelection.
The Empire Team included presidential candidate Nikole Dan—who has since been elected, as previously reported by The Eyeopener—vice president of equity Hafsa Iqbal and vice president operations Muhammed Awais.
Team Liberate was composed of presidential candidate Trevohn Baker, vice president education candidate Abeeha Ahmad and vice president operations candidate Mahira Shoaib.
Team Vibe & Thrive consisted of presidential candidate Nathan Sugunalan, vice president education Hetu Patel, vice president equity Patricia Doan and vice president operations Aleksander Strazisar.
Team Liberate was also found to be in violation of section 8.1.23 of the Elections Procedures Code for placing posters less than one foot away from Team Vibe & Thrive’s campaign materials.
“The complainant submitted 9 different photos all in different locations,” the ruling reads. “No additional evidence was needed from the Slate since sufficient photo evidence was provided.”
As a result, Team Liberate was awarded five demerit points for multiple Elections Procedures Code violations in the same building or location, according to section 188.8.131.52 of the Elections Procedures Code.
The fall byelection began on Oct. 30 and was held after the spring election was deemed “invalid” due to various bylaw violations and a misconduct investigation, as previously reported by The Eye.
Former Creative School faculty director Gus Cousins was found to be ineligible to run for faculty director.
According to ruling ERC#001GC, Cousins only received 19 nominations for the role.
Section 8.3.1 of the TMSU’s bylaws states that individuals running for a faculty director position must have at least 25 nominations from their faculty.
Accessing staff accounts
According to ruling ERC#006TB, presidential candidate Trevohn Baker, who was formerly employed by the TMSU as the equity coordinator and BIPOC Students’ Collective coordinator, was alleged to have accessed a former TMSU staff account.
The ruling adds that Baker allegedly had “gained access” to the account’s email inbox from Oct. 23 to Nov. 18.
According to the ruling, as a non-employee, Baker was no longer authorized to access the information inside the email account and should have contacted the TMSU if he needed to access information.
“This email contains sensitive student information that could have been used as an advantage in the TMSU by-elections,” the ruling reads.
In the same ruling, Baker contends that he only downloaded the pay stubs and that “other employees” were previously told that their accounts would be archived but still accessible to them.
In the ruling, the ERC states that they view Baker’s actions as a “breach of organizational privacy.” However, the investigation into Baker’s actions found “insufficient evidence to conclude that additional information was accessed.”
The ruling concludes that due to insufficient evidence, the ERC cannot determine whether or not Baker violated election policies and therefore did not issue any penalties.
Accessing members’ voting portals
Three rulings—ERC#003AT, ERC#004MS and ERC#005PP—alleged that presidential candidate Nathan Sugunalan was accessing members’ voting portals, which violates section 184.108.40.206 of the Elections Procedures Code.
According to ERC#003AT, the complainant alleged that Sugunalan approached them on the seventh floor of the library and persistently asked them to vote despite the student being in an online class.
“When the complainant reached the ‘submit’ page they turned off their phone and tried to go back to their class, but the Candidate was persistent that they press the ‘submit’ button,” the ruling reads. “The complainant says that they were able to turn off their wifi and pretended that they pressed the ‘submit’ button to make the Candidate leave, and that the vote did not go through. The complainant states they witnessed the Candidate approach several other students on the 7th floor after their encounter.”
The ERC did not grant Sugunalan any demerit points because it found the claim to be “unsubstantiated due to a lack of evidence and contradictory statements,” as stated in the ruling.
Similarly, ruling ERC#004MS states that the complainant alleged Sugunalan approached them while they were eating lunch in the Podium Building (POD) and presented them with a speech on why they should vote for him.
“The complainant says that the Candidate made them scan a QR code and stood over them while they voted. The complainant alleges that the Candidate interrupted everyone in the POD that was eating their lunch and then proceeded to the library,” the ruling states.
The ERC did not award Sugunalan any demerit points for the same reasons noted above.
Lastly, ERC#005PP‘s complainant alleged that Sugunalan approached them and asked them to vote for him. The complainant also stated that he and his team then proceeded to watch them as they voted.
“The complainant pretended that they voted for him and walked away,” the ruling reads.
No demerit points were given to Sugunalan for the same aforementioned reasons.
Defamation and harassment
Ruling ERC#007MD alleged that there were posters put up around campus of Sugunalan that were defamatory and constituted harassment.
According to the ruling, the posters had the word “predator” written across a photo of Sugunalan. The complainant further wrote that the poster stated “5 women have already complained” against him and that students should “Vote against Nathan Sugunalan, Vibe & Thrive on November 20, 21, 22.”
If the actions were committed by a candidate, they could have been awarded a total of 40 demerit points for violating section 8.1.10 and 8.1.11 of the Elections Procedures Code on the basis of intentional misrepresentation, harassment and defamation.
If a candidate had been awarded the 40 demerit points, they would have been disqualified from the fall byelection, according to section 220.127.116.11 of the Elections Procedures Code.
According to the ruling, the ERC could not rule on this infraction since there was no evidence presented and there was no accused candidate or slate.
Sugunalan submitted a complaint in ruling ERC#0011NS, stating that a video posted online made various allegations towards Sugunalan and violated the Election Procedures Code fair play provisions laid out in section 8.1.9 of the code.
As previously reported by The Eye, a former TMSU employee posted a video to their social media alleging “sexual violence” in the students’ union’s workplace. In a statement sent to The Eye on Nov. 20 by the TMSU, the students’ union said a workplace investigation was conducted but the allegations were determined to be unfounded.
The ruling highlights that a presidential candidate commented, “There is no place for [sexual violence], on campus or anywhere else. Period.” on the video but did not receive any demerit points.
Sugunalan also forwarded various social media posts, a vandalized poster and the aforementioned posters that called him an alleged “predator” as evidence of defamation, harassment, sabotage and malicious or intentional breach of the Elections Procedures Code.
The ruling states the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) was absent, which meant the ERC dealt with this complaint directly. ERC members Marina Gerges, Makeen Syed and Reanna Maharaj declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the consideration of the complaint.
Sections 8.1.10 and 8.1.13 specify that the prohibition of defamation or sabotage does not regulate arm’s length parties. Since most of the individuals involved were either anonymous or could be identified as arm’s length parties, according to the ruling, the complaint was found to be unsubstantiated.
“The Election Procedure Code’s fair play provisions are primarily designed to set conduct boundaries for Candidates and those involved in campaigning,” the ruling reads. “If some of the materials brought forward in this complaint had been tied to Candidates or Non-Arm’s Length Parties, the ERC may have found further Code violations.”
The ruling further said that the ERC did not find that the social media posts constituted harassment, nor that there was evidence of malice or intentional breach of code.
“Freedom of speech is vital during an election, and individuals who step forward to run for leadership positions should be prepared to answer questions regarding their integrity, their record, and their goals for TMSU,” the ruling reads. “The ERC urges all individuals involved in and commenting on TMSU elections to remember that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
According to ruling ERC#008AM, a complainant alleged that a member of The Empire Team approached them inside the Ted Rogers School of Management building to introduce himself and asked if they had voted.
The ruling added that the complainant said that they had not voted. After hearing this, the member of The Empire Team allegedly asked if the complainant would vote for him.
The complainant alleged that they declined to vote for The Empire Team member, who then persisted in attempting to get the complainant to vote for him by saying “it would only take 30 seconds”.
The ruling adds that The Empire Team said they encouraged students to vote before the voting period ended but would only state their campaign points.
“Team Empire stated that they would ask students to listen to a quick pitch about their Slate. Whenever a student said ‘no’ they would leave,” the ruling read.
Ruling ERC#009MS states that the complainant alleged two Team Empire members approached the complainant and their friend in POD at approximately 5:30 p.m. They allegedly asked the complainant if they had voted and who they had voted for.
The ruling adds that the complainant alleged they asked The Empire Team members to leave them alone because they were busy. However, The Empire Team members allegedly did not comply with the complainant’s request.
According to the ruling, The Empire Team said they did not have two members available at the time of the complainant’s allegations, with one member in a physics lab, one studying in the library and another off-campus.
In ruling ERC#0010DF, the complainant alleged that two individuals approached them on the evening of Nov. 21 in the library and asked them to vote for The Empire Team.
In the ruling, The Empire Team said their team members did not go to the library because they knew they couldn’t campaign there.
The ERC determined in the rulings that all three complaints were unsubstantiated because there was a lack of evidence and the candidate and complainant submitted contradictory statements. No penalties were issued.
Approved campaigning materials
Ruling ERC#0012NS alleged that a “large poster” of The Empire Team failed to include the official TMSU election stamp.
“Although the poster does not include an official TMSU stamp, these materials were approved,” the ruling reads.
No demerit points were awarded to The Empire Team for this.
Ruling ERC#002SK includes discrepancies regarding the TMSU-approved hashtag for the fall byelection.
According to the ruling, Team Vibe & Thrive’s post used #TMSUVotes23, which was what candidates were directed to use by the CRO.
However, section 18.104.22.168 of the Elections Procedures Code states that candidates should use #TMSUVotes when campaigning online. Hence, the complainant believed that Team Vibe & Thrive was using the incorrect hashtag.
No demerit points were handed out because this was the correct hashtag candidates were instructed to use.