Unauthorized photos from a University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) meeting were used in flyers for the campaign of Conservative University-Rosedale candidate Karim Jivraj. According to a statement released by the UTSU, Jivraj attended the meeting where photos were taken uninvited, and that he did not seek sufficient consent to use the photos for his campaign material.
Aidan Swirsky, a University College student who appears in the photo, explains that Jivraj did ask to take some candid photos, for the purpose of putting them on a Facebook post, but that he did not give permission to use them in a campaign flyer. “[This] was not believed by us to be construed as an endorsement, nor did we expect it to be included in campaign literature,” he said.
Farah Noori, a member of the UTSU Board of Directors for UTM who appears in the photo alongside Swirsky, also did not consent to having the photo used. “I told him I felt uncomfortable and asked the photographer… to try not to include me in them. Not only did the Conservative candidate disregard my specific request, he didn’t mention that the pictures were for his campaign material for the federal election.”
Jasmine Denike, UTSU vice president, external and the chair of the Community Action Commission (CAC) meeting at which the photos were taken, has requested that these flyers no longer be distributed and that Jivraj’s campaign managers issue an apology to the students who appeared in the photo.
Given that the CAC meeting took place a month before the federal election was called, Denike was unaware that Jivraj was a confirmed candidate for the University-Rosedale riding and she said that she mistook him for an UTSU member and U of T student. Therefore, she did not feel that she could ask him to leave the meeting.
“I understand now, after the July Board of Director’s meeting, that it was in my right as chair to have him and his colleague removed from the meeting, but at the time I was unsure of my role as chair of the CAC,” Denike said, adding that the meeting in question was also her first time as the chair.
Denike condemned the use of these photos. “By using photos without the consent of all of the people in them, you are silencing them and using them. At an event like a UTSU Commission meeting, where students want to have their voices heard in the decision making process of events and campaigns, to use them without asking their consent for a campaign that they may or may not support is wrong and practically slanderous. These flyers are targeting the students in the photo and attaching them to the Jivraj campaign despite the political affiliations of the students in question,” she said.
“Student rights are being completely bypassed in this move to gain young votes. Again, by not giving these students the opportunity to give their consent to the photos being shared, especially in such a large capacity, their voices are being silenced and their faces are being used to represent a campaign that they may or may not support.”
Swirsky cited the commonality of election candidates taking photos with their constituents in order to present themselves as engaged. “I thought they would be simply used for the purpose of Mr. Jivraj presenting himself as getting engaged with the constituents of his university-centric riding of choice; this happens all the time within political use of social media platforms, and usually includes appearances by constituents, who, whether supporters of the candidate or not, are just happy to have been approached and have had their opinions considered by a candidate,” he said.
On the other hand, Noori said that she is “extremely offended” to be included in the pictures. “The fact that he took my picture, knowing that I was uncomfortable with it and then neglected to inform those of us present about his intentions shows how misleading his campaign is.”
Swirsky added that while he believes Jivraj meant well, he also asserted that Jivraj’s campaign was at fault for the non-consensual usage of the photo because it implies an endorsement from those present. “This should serve as a lesson for any candidate running in a university-centric riding to know their surroundings and be incredibly careful because electoral politics and university politics do not let such gaffes off easy,” Swirsky said.
Noori described the use of her image as “violating” and said that the incident conflicts with the struggle of building a consent culture on campus. “We are working to create a culture of gaining consent before engaging in actions with others. When someone denies consent, you shouldn’t go ahead with the act. This Conservative candidate disregarded my refusal to consent.”
Jivraj’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.