The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election spanned one week, with four slates and multiple independents running for executive and director positions. Allegations of pre-campaigning, transphobia, and cross-campaigning resulted in dozens of instances of demerit points being issued.
The Varsity reviewed rulings from the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) and Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) to see when and where demerits were issued to each slate and independent executive candidate.
The first ruling issued by the CRO resulted in demerit points issued to Reboot for an alleged violation of pre-campaigning rules on March 6. The CRO ruled that Micah Ryu — Reboot’s then-presidential candidate — along with all other executive candidates for Reboot violated the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) for pre-campaigning due to an article published by The Varsity on February 14.
The article discussed the slate’s draft platform, which was obtained by The Varsity through a confidential source and included quotes from Ryu about some platform items. 10 demerit points were issued to the executive candidates.
A subsequent ERC investigation into that ruling maintained the 10 demerit points that were issued to Ryu, along with an additional five demerit points, but later reduced the points awarded to all executive and director candidates.
Also on March 6, Ryu was given five demerit points for pre-campaigning for Reboot in a classroom.
All Reboot candidates also received two demerit points on March 6 for posters and campaign materials that were found overlapping with posters from other slates in the Sidney Smith and Galbraith buildings.
The ruling was appealed and brought down to one demerit point for some candidates.
In an incident from February 27, Ryu was found to have been pre-campaigning while collecting signatures for his presidential candidacy. On March 7, five demerits were issued to all Reboot candidates.
On March 14, the CRO was advised that Alex Bercik, the Reboot candidate for Victoria College director was “engaging in misrepresentation of facts and violating the [sic] fair play.” Bercik was given eight demerit points for misrepresenting the way that election funds are used.
In addition, Reboot was found to be in violation of the EPC’s fair play rules for the moderation of their Facebook page. The slate was found to have been ‘liking’ discriminatory comments about marginalized groups and to have failed to delete abusive comments on their page. Reboot received three demerit points for all candidates.
The ERC ruled against both Vice-President Internal and Services candidate Jessica Leung and Life Sciences Director candidate Avinash Mukkala for allegedly pre-campaigning at a St. George Round Table (SGRT) meeting.
Additional testimony provided by the SGRT showed that the candidates attended the meeting to present their campaign platform, a pre-campaigning violation. Leung and Mukkala received 10 more demerit points each.
Ryu, along with Engineering candidate Riley Moher, received 10 points each for allegedly posting transphobic comments online.
“I don’t know what these alleged ‘transphobic’ comments are, or why the CRO even made a ruling not only after the election, but after I had been disqualified,” said Moher. Moher told The Varsity that he has reached out to the CRO but has not received a response.
Overall, seven Reboot candidates obtained enough demerit points to be disqualified from the election.
Bercik did not wish to comment on the demerit points for the article saying, “I really had a rough time this election and so as a result I want to stay as far away as I can from student politics from now on.”
When speaking to The Varsity Ryu stressed that he is “no longer involved or affiliated with the slate in question.” However, Ryu said that he would be attending the upcoming ERC meeting on March 20.
With regards to demerit points, Ryu said that “overall, the EPC tries to regulate behaviours that are too difficult to apply objectively… Some violations can theoretically cost a candidate 1 demerit point, or an entire slate 20 demerit points, depending on who is the ERC.
“I think even individuals on the ERC realize this, but they, like the incumbants, are so set on a certain perspective of how the UTSU should run that it seems very unlikely that they will fix the electoral process.”
On March 9, the CRO issued 10 demerit points to Mathias Memmel, Demand Better’s presidential candidate. According to the ruling, Memmel was found to be pre-campaigning for “several months” leading up to the election, speaking about the Demand Better platform at SGRT meetings.
Memmel received an additional five demerit points for a conflict of interest, as his invitation to be a member of the SGRT was due to his current position as Vice-President Internal & Services.
The CRO noted that given Memmel’s current position within the UTSU, the pre-campaigning was “especially condemning.” Upon review by the ERC, Memmel was found to have never spoken about his campaign at a formal meeting and the demerit points issued were subsequently removed.
Demand Better allegedly removed competing slates’ campaign materials from the pit of Sanford Fleming. According to the CRO complaint, all candidate posters except Demand Better’s were removed. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Chris Dryden, Director candidate for Professional Faculties, Engineering, orchestrated the violation.
Dryden was issued 10 demerit points for the offence, which were later reversed upon receival of a written confession from another individual.
Demand Better candidates received 10 points each for the use of drone footage that was previously used to campaign for last year’s winning slate, Hello UofT. The CRO had initially ruled that five points be awarded for the use of the material, with an additional five points per day that the footage was in use. The ERC then reduced the ruling to one point each.
On March 15, Demand Better was found to have been in violation of the EPC for pre-campaigning by the CRO. Allegedly, Billy Graydon — the Speaker of the UTSU Board of Directors and a board member of the Engineering Society — was found to have been pre-campaigning.
According to the complaint, Graydon allegedly stated that he was part of the “campaign team so to speak” with the “incumbent slate,” which would prove to be “particularly good for engineers if they get in.” Graydon then allegedly circulated the Demand Better platform.
The CRO ruling did not state when this pre-campaigning occurred but provided all Demand Better candidates with 10 demerit points.
The CRO gave two points each to all Demand Better candidates as Sylvia Urbanik, a campaign volunteer, was found to have been posting prototype campaign material online about the Demand Better platform more than one month prior to the start of the elections.
On March 17, the CRO issued 12 demerit points to all Demand Better candidates after the Chinese Undergraduate Association of UTM (CUA UTM) allegedly offered “red envelopes” to students who shared Demand Better’s campaign material and voted.
The CRO describes “red envelopes” as “a mobile application that allows users the opportunity to provide money in the form of virtual credits … [which] is deposited into a user’s WeChat pay account.”
The CRO also alleges that a CUA UTM executive attempted “to cover up the initial distribution of red envelopes in exchange for votes for Demand Better and sabotage the general campaign of We the Students.”
The Varsity has reached out to Memmel and CUA UTM for comment.
We the Students
Jackie Zhao, current Vice-President Internal with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and Vice-President Internal candidate for We the Students, was given one demerit point for campaign materials.
The CRO report did not give details of the violation, saying that photographic evidence was provided confirming the offence.
The entirety of the We the Students slate was handed one point by the CRO as a supporting “non-arm’s-length party” was found to be covering up posters of an opposing slate. The complaint was received a second time, and the slate was handed an additional point each.
According to the EPC, a non-arm’s-length party is any individual or group that has either campaigned with a candidate publicly, used the candidate’s campaign materials, or performed campaign related tasks on behalf of a candidate.
The ERC ruled seven demerit points be awarded to We the Students for utilizing a table in Sid Smith that was reserved by a club.
An additional five demerit points were issued to We the Students for “failure to comply with spirt and purpose of the elections.” According to the ERC ruling, it is likely that a member of a club used their status to reserve a table on behalf of We the Students.
We the Students appealed the ruling and reduced their demerit penalty to four points each.
In addition, Zhao allegedly failed to provide a notice of a leave of absence to the UTSU for the campaign period. Zhao is a UTMSU designate, and therefore a member of the executive committee. Executive members that do not declare a leave of absence are considered “unauthorized campaigners” by the CRO and EPC.
Zhao received 10 demerit points for the incident.
We the Students presidential candidate Andre Fast told The Varsity that most of the demerit points were received while campaigning at a table in Sidney Smith. Fast said that his slate “[respects] the decision made by the CRO and ERC.”
Fast also stated, “To my knowledge there are currently outstanding appeals before the ERC that appear to be significant and could potentially change the outcome of the election. I along with the rest of the student body will be waiting to see how the ERC handles these appeals.”
No members of the Whomst’d’ve slate received demerit points.
Independent Vice-President External candidate Anne Boucher received 10 demerit points for endorsements from non-UTSU members after posting online about a meeting with the U of T Health and Wellness team.
The CRO found that Boucher “failed to comply with the spirit and purpose of the elections.”
Boucher appealed the ruling and the ERC found that the photo would not be counted as an endorsement. All of Boucher’s points were then reversed.