Around 50 students stormed the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) all-candidates meeting on January 22 to protest the disqualification of three prospective candidates running in the upcoming SCSU elections. The protest devolved into scuffles, leaving Chief Returning Officer Mahir Zuber injured, and SCSU Internal Coordinator Arthi Velupillai seeking medical attention for an arm injury.
The uproar was spurred by damning allegations made toward SCSU executives and staff regarding the upcoming election period. In line with a petition currently circulating online, the protesters are calling for a freeze on the election until five concerns are resolved.
Protesters forcefully entered SL232, in the UTSC Student Centre, around 5:00 pm where the all-candidates meeting was being held.
The protesters were led by Deena Hassan, the current VP Operations at the union, and Ray Alibux, who were both executive candidates. Both Hassan and Alibux were recently disqualified from running in the election.
The students entered the room chanting, “Freeze SCSU elections.” Despite vocal rejections from others in the room at the time, Hassan and Alibux climbed on top of the conference table to protest. Campus Police were then called to the scene.
Hassan, speaking from the conference table, claimed that she told SCSU President Sitharsana Srithas in October that she intended to run for President. According to Hassan, Srithas did not support her intentions.
“I asked her to at least stay neutral, because that is her job,” alleged Hassan. “But no, my president helped the other team under the table to help them win next year.”
Srithas denied these allegations.
Hassan also claimed that the union’s Executive Director, Kavita Siewrattan, encouraged Hassan not to seek a presidential bid.
In an email to The Varsity, Siewrattan responded, saying that “Hassan came to me and expressed frustration of students running in the election being permitted to join our volunteer group or being hired by the SCSU. I told her that she could not bar students from getting involved with the organization.”
The protest came two hours after a meeting of the SCSU’s Election and Referenda Committee, which upheld Hassan’s disqualification.
“They’re trying to disqualify me before the all-candidates meeting, so I can’t contest,” Hassan said at the protest.
Srithas would not comment further on the comments made by Hassan.
The SCSU Elections and Referenda Committee released a statement on January 22 confirming that the CRO had “followed due process” when Alibux and another prospective candidate were deemed ineligible to run on the grounds that they did not collect the number of valid member signatures required.
Executive candidates are required to collect 100 signatures from the SCSU membership, which includes all undergraduates at UTSC. The enrolment status of the signees are confirmed by the university’s Vice-Provost Students Office. In this case, there were “allegations of improper process being followed,” according to the statement, so the invalidity of the signatures was verified a second time by the university.
According to the statement, Hassan was disqualified over an “abuse of power,” where the CRO received multiple photos over the course of two days of Hassan wearing a sweater indicating her position on the union while collecting nominations. This is a breach of the SCSU Elections Procedure Code.
This is not the first time that Hassan has been accused of abusing her position in relation to the spring elections.
During the November 20 SCSU Board of Directors meeting, Director of Philosophy Seyed Ali presented an email sent to him by a member about alleged misconduct on the part of Hassan.
“The letter stated that [Hassan] violated multiple Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) campaign rules including campaign preparation within the Union office and conducting elections meetings in their office during their office hours,” read the meeting minutes. “[Hassan] also accused the person who sent the letter and their friends of libel and slander. The sender of the email would like the Board to be aware of these issues and to take action to ensure that SCSU Executives are not abusing their power and office space for their own personal benefit. SCSU Executives should serve the interests of the students that they represent.”
Later in the November 22 meeting, four speakers, identified as Joseph, Nicole, Nash, and Madina, were granted speaking rights to discuss the email. Joseph identified himself as the sender.
Nicole stated that she and the three others were planning to run in the spring union elections, and that “they want to ensure that the Elections next year will be played fair and that the SCSU Executive is not abusing their power.”
Joseph went on to state that Hassan violated the election bylaws, and that she “told false rumors about Joseph and his 3 friends who are present at this meeting,” according to the minutes of the meeting.
Nash and Joseph went on to allege that students had been “contacted out of the blue, told to come to the SCSU Office and meet with [Hassan] in her office during office hours” to discuss running for the SCSU.
“The student told Nash that they did not want to get involved in the politics of the SCSU, they wanted to say no but they felt pressured and unable to say no because they were in this office environment where they did not have power in the situation,” according to the minutes.
The petition, called #freezescsuelections, began circulating on change.org on the evening of January 21.
“We, the undersigned students of the University of Toronto Scarborough,” the petition reads, “demand that the current electoral process for the 2018 Board of Directors and Executive election for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union be immediately put on hold.”
As of press time, the online petition had over 450 signatures.
UTSC Campus Police were not able to provide comment on the protest, citing the absence of an official with the authorization to make statements and the fact that officers were still involved in the ongoing situation.
Zuber and Hassan did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment by press time.