On March 13, 2023, It’s Time UTM — a candidates’ slate running in the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) upcoming elections, headed by presidential candidate Sam Aboul Hosn and campaign manager Adam Aboul Hosn — released a statement on Instagram with two other election slates, UTM United and Elevate UTM. A few days later, they took down the Instagram post.
The statement alleged that, on March 7, a student collaborating with the Thrive UTM team — another slate in the upcoming elections managed by current UTMSU president Maëlis Barre — “illegally recorded” Niguel Walker, a candidate for vice-president external and part of the It’s Time UTM slate. The statement claimed that the person recording influenced Walker “to talk in a way that would yield him demerit points.”
Thrive UTM denied a connection to the student. Barre alleged that she received the recording “randomly” from a student and submitted the recording to the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Elias Ancer as evidence that Walker violated the Election Procedure Code (EPC) by trash talking Thrive UTM.
After the slates published the statement, Thrive UTM received 25 demerit points per slate member for “Failure to comply with the spirit of elections,” according to the UTMSU elections’ CRO. After Thrive UTM appealed the decision, the CRO lowered demerit points to 10 each for the incident, as of the time of publication. All of the slates, excluding Thrive, received 10 demerit points per candidate for “Unapproved material.”
Voting in the UTMSU elections took place on March 14 to March 16, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, daily.
In an interview with The Varsity, Walker claimed that, during a conversation with another student on March 7, he discussed personal and private information including where he lived, who he lived with, and his family situation. The other student took an audio recording of the conversation without notifying Walker.
In a message to The Varsity, Ancer wrote that “there is no personal information from Niguel in that recording that I believe would violate any laws.” The Varsity has not been able to confirm the contents of the voice recording.
In an interview with The Varsity, a third-year student, who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions, admitted to having created and shared the recording. They said that they felt uncomfortable during their conversation with Walker, during which Walker discussed Thrive UTM and its campaign with a passive-aggressive tone. The student began recording the conversation and said that they sat with Walker for close to an hour. The next day, the student realized that the recording might be more serious than they first believed and when passing the Thrive UTM campaign table in William G. Davis Building, the student airdropped the recording to Barre and deleted it off their phone.
The student told The Varsity that they did not realize the repercussions that the recording would have for them or for Walker and affirmed that they did not mean to cause Walker or anyone else harm. They began to fear for their own safety after seeing hateful and negative comments on Instagram about them and their actions.
Barre, who is on leave from her UTMSU presidency while she manages the Thrive UTM campaign, decided to send the recording to the CRO.
Both Gulfara (Gulfy) Bekbolatova, who is the presidential candidate from Thrive UTM, and Barre told The Varsity that there is no relationship between Thrive UTM and the student who recorded Walker.
Sam told The Varsity that the recording “defies what the UTMSU fights for.” He noted that one of the UTMSU’s main campaigns is Consent Is Mandatory.
Both Sam and Walker have reported experiencing mental distress related to the recording. The statement the three slates published reads, “Niguel has been subjected to great mental stress, making him highly hypersensitive and paranoid when engaging in conversations out of fear of being recorded, again, without his consent.”
Barre told The Varsity that she sent the recording to the CRO via email because she and the Thrive UTM slate believed Walker presented misinformation and “trash talk” about Thrive UTM that violated the EPC. Specifically, Barre alleged that Walker violated the EPC under the Rules for Election: misrepresentation of facts.
Ancer told The Varsity that Barre sent the recording to him on March 9 as evidence supporting a complaint from Thrive UTM “with regards to Niguel in his time as a board member.”
The official complaint issued by Barre alleged that Walker expressed confusion about the proceedings of a BOD meeting in the recorded conversation with the anonymous student. To Barre, Walker’s words explaining his confusion to the student implied that the UTMSU withheld important information from elected students that these elected students are sanctioned to obtain, which she claimed was a misrepresentation of facts, as all UTMSU BOD members can access this information. Barre also wrote in the initial complaint that the BOD is presented with training regarding Robert’s Rules of Order, which is meant to help BOD members understand meeting proceedings.
In an interview with The Varsity, Walker said he did not recall being confused at the BOD meeting.
“[However], if at any point I was confused about the meetings, Robert’s Rules of Order clearly states that I could indicate to the chairman that I’m confused,” Walker said. “If I need clarifications, I always ask,” he added.
Legal and electoral implications
Section 184 of the Criminal Code of the Canadian law outlines that any recording of a private conversation is illegal unless one of the participants consents to the recording.
Accordingly, in a text message to The Varsity, Bekbolatova, the presidential candidate for Thrive UTM, denied allegations that the recording was illegal.
The CRO confirmed to The Varsity that demerit points will be issued to both slates, and that they usually post demerit points a day after a complaint is issued on the Wall of Transparency within the Student Centre and online.
The CRO wrote that “Thrive UTM went out of their way and recorded [a] conversation with a candidate from an opposing slate and submitted the recording as evidence of the candidate breaching EPC rules.” The CRO wrote that, although the EPC does not explicitly outlaw recording other candidates, these actions are “a breach in the spirit and purpose of the elections.” The CRO also stated that the recording breached the Fair Play section of the EPC, which states that candidates cannot use anything that violates someone’s intellectual privacy, property or other rights. According to the EPC, executive candidates who receive more than 40 demerit points are automatically disqualified.
In a follow-up interview with The Varsity, Barre said that the Thrive UTM team is working toward an appeal for the demerit points. She said the student came to her anonymously, airdropped the recording, and left, leaving no digital evidence to confirm why they decided to share the recording.
“We submitted it [to the CRO] because elections are meant to be fair,” Bekbolatova said. They alleged that the recording demonstrated Walker trash talking Thrive UTM and not acting fairly towards the student who recorded the conversation.
Barre said that being penalized for raising awareness about what other candidates do may discourage others from pointing out incidents that may violate the EPC. Bekbolatova said that students deserve to have access to accurate information on other candidates’ fairness.
Publicizing the recording
In an interview, Barre said that “[Thrive UTM] absolutely never made [the recording] public and we absolutely never talked to students about this.” She said that Thrive UTM did not send the recording to the CRO right away because “[Thrive UTM] wanted to be fair play. We don’t want to [report] things to the CRO left, right, and centre.”
“We don’t want to have our campaigns based on other people,” Barre said.
Meanwhile, Sam told The Varsity that, although he and his team initially did not want to alert authorities about the recording and hoped it could be addressed within the UTMSU, they ultimately decided to go public. “We will probably file a police report,” he said.
Bekbolatova said that she “was really disappointed to see that all of the teams came together and released a public statement about a recording that was first of all, sent privately, from our side to this CRO because we thought it was violating the EPC.”
The EPC prohibits cross campaigning and publishing any materials not approved by the CRO as campaign material. As such, the public statement issued from the It’s Time UTM slate, Elevate UTM slate, and UTM United slate was awarded 10 demerit points for unapproved material.
This story is developing. More to come.
Editor’s note (March 14): A previous version of this story stated that section 185 of the Criminal Code of the Canadian law outlines that any recording of a private conversation is illegal unless one of the participants consents to the recording. In fact, it is section 184.
This article has also been updated to include details about Barre’s complaint regarding Walker.