Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Greg Owens released a report during the Board of Directors (BOD) meeting on March 28, detailing the proceedings of the recent University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) spring executive elections. The report included situations where candidates violated campaigning rules and demerit points the Elections Office issued to campaigners during the elections.

At the meeting, the BOD voted to approve the election results, with two directors abstaining from the vote.

The report and ratification come after a former manager of the ForUTM slate levelled multiple allegations of electoral misconduct against the UTMSU and its Elections Office. He claimed that the election office exerted excessive control over campaign activities and that the union’s current executives meddled in the election. 

“They have full authority”

Elliot Fabian-Fine, a third-year student who formerly served as the campaign co-chair of ForUTM, claimed that the Elections Office exerted strict control over campaign activities.

“They have full authority over how we campaign and what we can say to students. We need approval on everything from the Elections Office and they are not an independent third party. They were hired by the UTMSU themselves,” Fabian-Fine wrote in a statement he posted on Instagram on March 10.

According to the union’s Elections Procedure Code (EPC), all campaign tactics, materials, and advertisements must receive approval from the CRO before they can be posted or distributed. The Election and Referenda Committee — which consists of the current UTMSU president and five other members — chooses CRO candidates that the Board of Directors then votes to approve. 

Fabian-Fine found the president’s involvement in the CRO hiring process concerning because he alleged that UTMSU President Gulfy Bekbolatova “hand-pick[ed]” this year’s candidates. He claimed that she approached Ehab James — the candidate in the ForUTM group running for president — to run on the EmpowerUTM slate. 

In an interview with The Varsity, Bekbolatova said that incoming UTMSU President Joelle Salsa approached her to manage Salsa’s campaign because they had previously collaborated on protests, walkouts, and a vigil for Palestine. 

Bekbolatova acknowledged talking with James about joining the EmpowerUTM slate, but she said that it didn’t materialize because he ultimately decided to run for president with ForUTM. Bekbolatova emphasized that Salsa leads the EmpowerUTM slate. “It is Joelle’s team,” she said.

In the 2023 spring UTMSU elections, Maëlis Barre — the UTMSU president at the time — managed Bekbolatova’s slate’s campaign.

Fabian-Fine also raised concerns about discrepancies in how the Elections Office disseminated information throughout the election. He claimed that on March 4, the CRO confirmed the format of the UTMSU’s all-candidates forum with the slates in advance, and that the CRO then reiterated the confirmation multiple times. However, he said that, when the ForUTM slate arrived at the debate, members learned that it would take a different format than the elections office had previously communicated. 

Fabian-Fine also mentioned that, during the campaign period, the elections office didn’t share information about new poster locations with ForUTM until they already featured EmpowerUTM’s posters. 

He claims that the UTMSU set aside designated billboards intended for all candidates. On March 4, the CRO sent an email confirming these boards were missing and told the ForUTM slate that he would update them when the elections office resolved the issue. 

However, Fabian-Fine claimed that the elections office didn’t tell ForUTM when the boards went up. On March 6, the office informed ForUTM of the new location, but Fabian-Fine claims that when the slate visited the site, they found the other slate’s posters already displayed. 

Owens declined opportunities to comment on these claims beyond what he outlined in his CRO report.

The report

On March 28, the UTMSU Elections Office released a CRO report detailing what happened during the elections. 

According to the report, the office told all candidates about the location of poster boards on campus in advance. The CRO confirmed that poster boards originally scheduled for the Instructional Centre/Building were absent ahead of the campaign period. The report states that the CRO followed up with the UTM Events Coordinator to address the issue. He wrote that the poster boards went up and that “all candidates were notified at the same time.”

The CRO received over 40 complaints alleging broken electoral rules. His report stated that the majority of claims lacked sufficient evidence to support them. In total, Owens issued a total of 40 demerit points.

He issued James 10 demerit points for using unapproved material in campaign tactics. The violation occurred on March 5, when James replied to a Reddit post encouraging students to cast ballots for particular candidates.

Each ForUTM candidate — James, Albert Pan, Simran Kaur Rattanpal, Majo Romero, and Layla Zarroug — also received 10 demerit points for distributing campaign materials within the designated “No Campaign Zone” of a polling station on March 12. The violations occurred when an individual, identified as a volunteer with ForUTM, directed students to vote and distributed campaign flyers within the restricted area. Although the EPC recommended 15 demerit points for such an offence, the CRO reduced the demerit points to 10 each, citing the volunteer’s lack of knowledge about the rule.

Editor’s note (April 14): This article was updated to include that the UTMSU BOD ratified the election results at the meeting.