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UTGSU investigation committee finds 2020 elections legitimate after defamation allegations

Report gives recommendations for fairness, impartiality in future elections
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Left to right, Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow alleged defamation during the 2020 executive elections.LEFT: SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITYRIGHT: COURTESY OF THE MERCATUS CENTER
Left to right, Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow alleged defamation during the 2020 executive elections.LEFT: SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITYRIGHT: COURTESY OF THE MERCATUS CENTER

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has released the final report from the Executive Elections Investigation Committee (EEIC), which found that the 2020 elections were legitimate but suggested improvements to the overall election system.

Recommendations include creating an “[information technology (IT)] oversight” role, changing the process of appointment for the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), and requiring all campaign materials to be approved and distributed by the chief returning officer (CRO).

This follows Adam Hill and Jesse Velay-Vitow, two unsuccessful candidates in the executive elections, alleging defamation at an April 28 meeting of the UTGSU General Council. They pointed to an email that was circulated to some members of the UTGSU during the election that described the two as racist and sexist candidates.

Subsequently, a motion passed during the May 19 meeting of the UTGSU struck the EEIC to investigate “the impact UTGSU bodies may have had on the fairness and legitimacy of the election.”

Recommendations from the EEIC final report

The EEIC report suggested that future elections focus on increasing voter turnout, selecting members of the ERC randomly, and providing a more established appeals period to address elections concerns more effectively.

One recommendation given by the report was providing a more defined IT oversight role, which would monitor UTGSU emails and websites, and create stricter rules for who can access and use them.

Moreover, the IT oversight role would monitor UTGSU emails and websites and ensure that they are “always linked to specific users.” In the case of the 2020 elections, the alleged defamatory email was sent from a UTGSU-affiliated email, with the identity of the sender remaining classified.

The report also suggested that the roles of the ERC and CRO be better defined and the appointment process modified to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

The report recommended that the CRO role be expanded to include mediating online election materials, which would involve approving and distributing candidate statements and messages. It also suggested that campaign materials be limited to official UTGSU platforms, such as email servers and the UTGSU Facebook page and website.

By requiring campaign materials to be approved and distributed by the CRO, the elections “would at least avoid issues of defamatory emails coming from UTGSU bodies,” reads the report.

Furthermore, the report suggested issuing additional demerit points for candidates who advertise outside of the approved UTGSU platforms, as well as increasing demerits for repeat offenders.

On the topic of any potential defamation, the report suggested that the ERC be in charge of “finding those responsible” and preventing “the efforts to oppose the election of other candidates.” As such, it recommended that no candidate have access to voter contact information.

Reaction from Hill and Velay-Vitow

The Varsity reached out to Hill and Velay-Vitow, the two unsuccessful candidates who appealed the results of the elections in April. Each wrote an email to The Varsity expressing frustration with the report due to its lack of focus on the 2020 UTGSU executive elections.

“They barely commented on the actual proceedings of the April 2020 elections, let alone demonstrated exhaustive investigations of the actions that justified striking the EEIC in the first place,” Hill wrote, claiming that the EEIC did not investigate the claim that a member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Caucus, which allegedly sent the defamatory email, was a member of the ERC.

Hill also felt that the UTGSU Board of Directors did not give enough guidance or oversight to the EEIC. Velay-Vitow wrote, “Without a Chair to facilitate communication between the EEIC and the Board, it was required that the EEIC would need to interpret its own mandate without guidance.”

Velay-Vitow felt that the EEIC fulfilled part of its mandate, since it made recommendations to increase fairness for future UTGSU executive elections, but that it did not determine whether the elections were fair or legitimate with “due diligence.” Both Hill and Velay-Vitow claimed that they were not contacted by the EEIC, which they felt was important in the investigation.

“From my perspective, justice has not been served, and I’m not confident that the Board of Directors has the current capacity to restore justice,” Hill wrote.