UTGSU strikes Executive Elections Investigation Committee to evaluate validity of 2020 elections

Two candidates alleged that defamatory email violated election bylaws, influenced results
From left to right: Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow LEFT: SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
RIGHT: COURTESY OF THE MERCATUS CENTER
From left to right: Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow LEFT: SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY RIGHT: COURTESY OF THE MERCATUS CENTER

During the May 19 council meeting of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), members voted in favour of striking an Executive Elections Investigation Committee (EEIC) to investigate the validity of the recent 2020 executive elections.

This decision follows an appeal by two unsuccessful candidates, Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow, who alleged that an email circulated to UTGSU members defamed them as racist and sexist candidates. Hill and Velay-Vitow allege that the email violated UTGSU election bylaws and potentially caused them to lose the election.

A motion to strike the EEIC was first discussed at the April 28 meeting of the UTGSU, though it was not on the agenda. The UTGSU had a special meeting on May 16 to vote on the motion, but the UTGSU tabled it until the next meeting on May 19, when it was passed. 

We have spent altogether too much time trying to strike a simple investigatory committee,” Velay-Vitow wrote in an email to The Varsity, referring to the three meetings during which versions of the EEIC motion were discussed.

At the June 1 meeting, the council decided that the four members of the committee will be chosen randomly from all UTGSU members, excluding members of the UTGSU council. There will be one member from each of the four academic divisions, and each member will receive a $100 stipend. The UTGSU chose this process in an attempt to ensure members do not have conflicts of interest.

According to the motion that struck the EEIC, the committee will investigate “the impact UTGSU bodies may have had on the fairness and legitimacy of the election.” The EEIC will not have the power to overturn the results of the elections or replace current executives, but it could potentially give recommendations on how to change UTGSU bylaws and practices surrounding executive elections in the future.

The EEIC is set to report at the June meeting of the UTGSU. 

Claim of defamation

Hill and Velay-Vitow submitted a complaint to the Elections and Referenda Committee immediately following the elections. Initially, the Elections and Referenda Committee denied the claim on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to prove that the email and subsequent Facebook posts affected the election results.

Hill and Velay-Vitow then submitted an appeal to that decision. They claimed that an email sent to UTGSU members entitled “GSU election: vote today to defeat racist, sexist candidates,” which asked members not to vote for Hill and Velay-Vitow, constituted defamation. They also cited similar Facebook posts from candidates and others involved in the UTGSU.

The appeal suggests that the UTGSU’s Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Caucus may have distributed the defamatory email, though the BDS Caucus denies involvement in writing or distributing the email. 

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