Over a week has passed since the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections concluded, and the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) continues to issue and overturn demerit points.
The ERC has the ability to overturn or modify demerit points issued by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) or issue demerit points itself in the event that the CRO does not issue any.
The members are Law Director Aidan Fishman, St. Michael’s College Director Georgina Merhom, Victoria College Director Garnet Lollar, Vice-President University Affairs Cassandra Williams, Vice-President External Matthew Thomas, and Vice-President Professional Faculties Ryan Gomes, who is the ERC Chair.
Candidates also have the ability to appeal ERC decisions to the Appellate Board, a group of four Faculty of Law students and three upper-year first entry undergraduates who were confirmed by the UTSU Board of Directors.
An ERC ruling from March 20 regarded incidents of alleged bribery by executive members of the Chinese Undergraduate Association at the University of Toronto Mississauga (CUA UTM). These took the form of ‘red envelopes,’ virtual credits sent in the WeChat messaging app that amounted to $0.06 CAD each.
A maximum of six of these envelopes could be sent to any user, and screenshots revealed that CUA UTM executive members used these credits to incentivize people to vote for Demand Better.
The complaints regarding this incident claimed that this was an intentional breach of Elections Policy, and that this constituted a violation of the Elections Procedures Code (EPC), which prohibits distribution of goods.
Since CUA UTM publicly endorsed Demand Better, the ERC questioned whether the four executive members conducted this behaviour on behalf of the rest of the 88-member executive team, and whether CUA UTM directors were non-arm’s-length individuals of Demand Better.
While the Chief Ruling Officer (CRO) originally issued three demerit points to each Demand Better candidate involved, the ERC believed that the meager value of the red envelopes did not constitute a strong enough incentive, and that the actions of four executive members did not reflect the views of the entire team.
In addition, a CRO ruling gave all Demand Better candidates two demerit points, alleging that a Demand Better campaigner had posted graphics about the UTSU on social media over a month before the campaign period.
The graphics had similarities with Demand Better campaign materials, including “colour scheme, design, and slogan.” The CRO alleged that this violated rules against pre-campaigning.
The ERC subsequently overturned the points, citing that the material was up for less than five minutes and had “significant differences” with Demand Better’s campaign material.
We the Students
ERC Ruling 27 described an unnamed club complaining about a We the Students post misrepresenting the club’s views. The club’s representative stated that their president was approached by We the Students and declined to endorse them, but that We the Students posted a flyer on Facebook indicating the club’s endorsement anyway.
We the Students did not automatically take the post down, but edited it later when they cleared up that the UTM chapter of the club endorsed them. The slate did not issue a public apology.
The ERC ruled that this was a violation of the EPC, specifically a misrepresentation of facts.
More evidence was necessary to determine whether this misrepresentation was intentional. In correspondence with clubs, it became evident to the ERC that the implicated club explicitly refused to endorse We the Students and that the slate used the name “University of Toronto” on their promotional materials.
All We the Students members were issued six demerit points.
A revised ruling on March 24 decreased each of the accused’s demerit points to four after the ERC obtained further evidence regarding the intentionality of this act. This was due to We the Students’ contesting argument that while they acknowledged their wrongdoing, the mistake was unintentional. Even though the ERC did not change its opinion, it took these efforts into account. Since the accused acknowledged their mistakes and accepted the facts of the case, the ERC decided to rule less harshly, pursuant to EPC Article VI.3.k.
In two separate rulings on March 21 and March 24, the ERC dismissed the cases of two individuals accused of electoral misconduct with the intent of aiding the We the Students campaign.
The second was against an alleged unauthorized campaigner — Charlotte Mengxi Shen — who was accused of posting campaign messages on WeChat in favor of We the Students, in violation of the Elections Procedures Code Article VI, section v. The CRO originally assigned all of We the Students five demerit points.
The ERC ruled that there was no substantial proof that We the Students endorsed Shen’s post, even though We the Students Vice-President Internal and Services candidate Jackie Zhao liked Shen’s post on Facebook and overturned the ruling.
Based on this one post, the ERC did not think it was pertinent enough and overruled the CRO’s ruling.
We the Students presidential candidate Andre Fast denied that Shen had any involvement with the campaign.
On March 23, the ERC presided over a complaint about Vice-President University Affairs-elect Carina Zhang’s use of Chinese campaign materials without translations. The CRO issued her five demerit points.
The ERC found that these materials were sent to several people on WeChat as part of private conversations and therefore were not obviously privy to the translation rule that mandates that campaign materials be translated into English when distributed.
However, a violation was recorded because of the similitude of the template sent to each WeChat recipient, since Article VI.1.f.ii of the EPC states that this rule applies to “private communications that follow a common template.”
Since this was Zhang’s first violation, the ERC adjusted the number of associated demerit points to four.
Last year, Zhang, who was initially elected as Vice-President Internal, was disqualified following a series of ERC rulings also relating to non-English campaign material without translations, in addition to the rest of her slate. The Varsity has reached out to Zhang for comment.
Disclosure: The Varsity’s Comment Editor, Teodora Pasca, is a member of the Appellate Board.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled Garnet Lollar’s name. The Varsity regrets the error.