Harassment, intimidation, and race-baiting are among the complaints brought to the chief returning officer in the UTSU elections, Dave Blocker. Exec candidates are nearly tied for demerit points, with 56 for Change U of T and 55 for Stronger Together, as of Wednesday, March 17. Two board of directors candidates for Change, Jasmine Attfield and Michael Luczak, each have 15 demerit points.
Stronger Together was assigned demerit points for intimidation and aggressive questioning by Anisha Thomas, an ESSU exec, and other supporters; supporters campaigning in unauthorized areas; and improper posting of campaign materials.
The Change slate was given demerits for two candidates intentionally misrepresenting facts. They were also penalized for showing up to a meeting on Friday, March 12 that the CRO deemed to be a Stronger Together campaign strategizing meeting; for registering a complaint about contents of the email invitation that was forwarded to them; and for a video of the meeting taken by Antonin Mongeau, a vocal UTSU critic and EFUT (the French club) alumni chair.
Blocker wrote in two rulings that he was holding the Change slate responsible for Mongeau’s actions, deeming Mongeau a Change supporter. Steve Masse, the presidential candidate for Change, was docked 25 points for going to the meeting Friday. He has a total of 28 demerit points; candidates with 35 points are disqualified.
As of press time, members of the Stronger Together slate and campaign have not responded to phone calls and emails from The Varsity.
Non-U of T campaigners
Toby Whitfield, Ryerson Students’ Union VP finance and services and president-elect, is campaigning for Stronger Together for the second year in a row. In March 2009, Whitfield told the Eyeopener, a Ryerson student newspaper, that he was campaigning because he was friends with the incumbent slate. Darshika Selvasivam, VP campaigns and advocacy at the York Federation of Students, has also been spotted campaigning for Stronger Together. Change campaigners are all U of T students, according to Masse.
Student union leaders from campuses that belong to the Canadian Federation of Students, an umbrella lobby group, have campaigned at each other’s campus elections. In 2008, Maclean’s reported that YFS president Hamid Osman had left Toronto during the York University strike to participate in a CFS-Ontario campaign to have U of O students join the federation. Also in 2008, York University student newspaper The Excalibur reported that Osman and two other YFS execs were seen campaigning in RSU elections for the Renew slate. In 2009, the CFS-Québec deputy chair-elect, Noah Stewart-Ornstein, was shown in a video tearing down seven campaign posters during elections at Concordia University.
Mongeau has accused Whitfield of tearing down EFUT posters. Mongeau has posted a video that shows EFUT posters in the trash and Whitfield walking away from the bulletin board outside Sidney Smith with a poster in his hand, but the grainy video does not clearly show Whitfield tearing down posters. Whitfield has not responded to queries from The Varsity.
Mongeau has a rocky relationship with UTSU. He was voted off the UTSU Clubs Committee in January 2009. Two months later, Mongeau was reprimanded by the CRO at the time, Lydia Treadwell, for hosting a debate while campaigning for the Change slate, though Mongeau disputed the ruling. Mongeau has graduated from U of T.
Toby Whitfield, the VP finance for the Ryerson Students’ Union, campaigns for the Stronger Together slate at Sidney Smith.
The March 12 meeting
On Friday, March 12, Isabel Lay, president of the Equity Studies Students’ Union, sent out a mass email invitation for an emergency meeting to be held later that day. The email begins, “This is an urgent appeal for you to attend an emergency organizing meeting to protect the University of Toronto Students’ Union […] It has become very clear to me after the UTSU electoral debates that our students’ union is in trouble.”
ESSU has officially endorsed Stronger Together.
Lay wrote that Change supporters have been the loudest voices against universal access to education this year, that Change supporters were in favour of Towards 2030, and that one of the Change candidates was “responsible for creating a space for hateful and threatening comments to be directed to the president of the Black Students’ Association.” A spokesperson for ESSU declined to comment further on the email.
The email was forwarded to Change slate members and The Varsity. Masse and Attfield attended, as did Varsity reporters Alex Ross, Andrew Rusk, and Liz Kagedan.
Mongeau filmed the encounter and put the video on YouTube. It shows some Stronger Together supporters asking not to be filmed and others talking to Masse and Attfield, who left after they were told that it was a private meeting. Mongeau refused to stop filming. When Stronger Together supporters decided to call campus police, he provided the phone number.
Both slates filed complaints. Change accused the email as “false, baseless and slanderous allegations against members of the Change team.” Blocker, the CRO, wrote in his ruling that Lay’s email was “a call-out to Stronger Together supporters for a campaign strategy meeting and therefore it is not considered campaign material.” Blocker called the complaint frivolous and handed out a demerit point to each Change candidate.
Blocker gave 25 demerit points to Masse and 15 to Attfield for “violations of harassment, general sabotage of the campaigns of other candidates and failure to comply with the spirit and purpose of the elections.” He ruled that Mongeau fell under non-arms length third party campaigning and that Masse “clearly aided and abetted” in Mongeau’s activities. “It is particularly disconcerting that, after the Change team campaign manager had confirmation from the CRO to not post photos of Stronger Together campaigners that Mr. Mongeau subsequently began releasing youtube videos of a similar vein,” Blocker wrote. “Additionally, the Change U of T team has made no efforts to publicly disassociate themselves from Mr. Mongeau.”
Blocker also instructed the Change team “to have the videos posted immediately removed and for Mr. Mongeau and any other Change supporters to immediately cease interfering in the campaigning of other candidates by videotaping or other forms of intimidation.”
Mongeau is the subject of two other complaints by a Stronger Together supporter who is unnamed. She said she and others felt intimidated and threatened when followed and filmed by Mongeau, whom she said also emailed her and questioned her role in the campaign. Blocker ruled that “if Change candidates do not immediately remove Mr. Mongeau’s videos from the Internet and publicly disassociate with Mr. Mongeau’s tactics of intimidation and harassment, severe penalties will be issued.”
In an email to Blocker and Jim Delaney, director of the office of the vice-provost of student, Mongeau said he was an independent journalist and not affiliated with the Change campaign. He said he refused a request from Simon Miles, a Change campaigner, asking him to remove the videos. “I have never campaigned for the Change slate. I have never been to any meetings of the Change slate. The Change slate is not in any position to ask me anything, let alone infringe on my livelihood,” Mongeau wrote. He requested a meeting with Blocker, which “will be videotaped and may be distributed on the Internet.”
ESSU and Alyssa James
Stronger Together candidate Danielle Sandhu was given five demerit points for the actions of Anisha Thomas, an ESSU exec, and other campaigners. Blocker wrote that “the confrontation between Ms. Thomas, other supporters of Stronger Together, and Ms. James violated generally accepted community standards through intimidating and aggressive questioning of Ms. James.”
Blocker dismissed other complaints of libel and slander against James, and wrote that it was not possible to determine whether harassment through body language occurred.
Change slate candidates Jimmy Lu and James Finlay were each given demerit points for misrepresentation. Lu was docked for saying UTSU execs make $45,000 per year, Finlay for saying Stronger Together’s presidential candidate wanted to take money owed to UTM and spend on the downtown campus. Both were initially given 10 demerit points and appealed. Lu’s demerits were reassessed and lowered to six points, while Finlay’s were upheld.
Darshika Selvasivam (right), VP campaigns and advocacy at the York Federation of Students, campaigns for Stronger Together at Gerstein Library.
The Facebook appeal to Desis
Blocker turned down a complaint by the Change slate, alleging that the Stronger Together campaign has turning the election into a “polarizing race-based issue.”
The Varsity has been forwarded Facebook messages from two Stronger Together supporters who urged support based on race. On March 13, Shozab Raza wrote a general message on Facebook appealing to “desi people of colour.”
“I feel it is contradictory for us, as desis, to support CHANGE,” he wrote, and said Change slate members and supporters “condemned us for taking a stance on such issues as Palestinian Human Rights.” Raza told The Varsity that he was volunteering for the Stronger Together campaign and that it was a private message. “I’m involved in OPIRG Toronto and I’m an ally campaigning for [Stronger Together],” he said. OPIRG has endorsed Stronger Together.
In an email to The Varsity, Raza said he and two others saw UC Lit president Daniel Tsekhman tearing down Israeli Apartheid Week posters in 2009. Tskehman told The Varsity that he did not tear down posters. “When the posters were put up, they were covering UC Lit event posters, so I simply moved them on the board to not cover our events,” he wrote in an email.
Raza also cited a letter to The Varsity by Gabe De Roche that condemned Israeli Apartheid Week on behalf of the U of T Liberals, noting that Change candidate Mike Maher and Change supporter Alex Heuton are execs of the group. “I argue that these attacks against IAW by certain individuals constitutes as a condemnation of Palestinian human rights,” wrote Raza.
Another Stronger Together supporter, Sumaya Ahmed, wrote in a Facebook message, “i think its kinda weird how all but one member is either white, or half whie […] they’re all very privlidged kids, who have probably never wondered if they could be able to pay school or books or foods.”
Blocker ruled that the messages were not intimidating or harassing, and that “the allegation that this private facebook message constitutes unsolicited campaigning is dismissed as no votes were solicited.” Raza’s message solicited volunteering for the Stronger Together slate but simply asked, “PLEASE VOTE.” Ahmed wrote, “dont for change [sic] let me tell you why over coffee.”
Shonith Rajendran and Alex Ross contributed reporting and research to this article.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Antonin Mongeau requested a meeting with Dave Blocker and Jim Delaney. In fact, Mongeau requested a meeting with Blocker and cc’d Delaney on the email. The Varsity regrets the error.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Gabe De Roche’s letter condemning Israeli Apartheid Week was not written on behalf of the U of T Liberals. The Varsity regrets the error.
This article has been updated to reflect Shozab Raza’s affiliation with OPIRG Toronto and Daniel Tsekhman’s response.