The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) elections spent the last week marred by scandal. An all-candidates meeting held last Monday was interrupted by a protest that resulted in two injuries and a delay to the campaign period. On Wednesday, the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) resigned, citing fear for personal safety. A new CRO has been hired, and another all-candidates meeting is set for January 29 at 4:00 pm.
The Chair of the SCSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), Vice-President Campus Life Nafisa Mohamed, said that a new CRO was hired after the ERC conducted interviews with applicants. Mohamed declined to name the new CRO as of press time because they had yet to sign the employment contract.
The January 22 all-candidates meeting was interrupted by roughly 50 protesters, seemingly led by Deena Hassan — the current VP Operations of the union — and Ray Alibux. Both Hassan and Alibux were disqualified from running in the elections; Alibux’s disqualification has since been reversed, and he is now running for SCSU President.
Alibux had been disqualified for not collecting the requisite number of signatures to be nominated as a candidate. The ERC “decided to accept the enrollment list from the university at the start of the nomination period rather than the end of nomination period, which overturns Ray’s disqualification,” wrote Mohamed.
According to the ERC, Hassan was disqualified for abusing her position on the union while campaigning, after the CRO received multiple photos of her wearing a sweater indicating her position in the union while collecting nominations.
The protest at the January 22 meeting turned violent: SCSU Internal Coordinator Arthi Velupillai sought medical attention for an injured arm, while former CRO Mahir Zuber says he was thrown onto a table and punched in the face.
The protest followed a widely circulated online petition called #FREEZESCSUELECTIONS, which brought damning allegations against the executives of the SCSU. This petition, which has over 600 signatures as of press time, alleges that SCSU executives and staff interfered with the nominee selection. The chants of the protesters, “Freeze the SCSU elections!” echoed the rhetoric of the petition.
Nicole Brayiannis, the other candidate for the SCSU presidency, said that what’s happened so far has “definitely” shaken her confidence in the elections process. Brayiannis was also one of four students who approached the SCSU Board of Directors last year at their November 22 meeting with concerns about Hassan abusing her position on the union in the spring elections.
“The SCSU has not kept in touch with us, or any of our members running,” said Brayiannis. “Other than general statements they’ve put out online, we’re completely in the dark about what is happening.”
After the resignation of Zuber, Brayiannis said that there was no one to ask for definitive answers about the status of the elections. With the stalled campaign period and the election dates apparently fixed for February 6–8, Brayiannis relayed concerns from her team that they have already lost one week of campaigning opportunities.
“I definitely believe there is something wrong with the electoral process,” said Alibux, echoing Brayiannis’ concerns. Speaking about the confusion over members’ signatures that led to his disqualification, Alibux said that in the process there remains a “need to provide us with a way to confirm that the signatures are valid ahead of time.”
Conflicting narratives of the January 22 protests
There remains a lack of clarity about the events of the January 22 protests, though emerging video evidence is providing clues.
Zuber’s statement of resignation reads, “During the All Candidates Meeting, I was grabbed by students, thrown onto a table, and punched in the face,” though other accounts of events suggest that Zuber’s characterization of events is not entirely accurate.
Video evidence shows that, as the protesters made their way into the room, Zuber confronted them and appeared to make an attempt to physically block people from entering. While locked in a verbal confrontation with a protester, in which they seem to be grabbing each other, Mohamed put herself between Zuber and the protester. It appears as though, in the scuffle, Mohamed’s hand did make contact with Zuber’s face as she tried to separate them. Mohamed was not one of the protesters.
Ahmed Shanqiti, a UTSC student who was present at the protest, aligns with this interpretation of the videos. “As we went in, the CRO, who was inside the room, came to the door and tried to use his frame to stop anyone from going in. Someone evaded him from the side and he just grabbed them,” claims Shanqiti. “Another SCSU member tried to grab him and push him away, and during that scuffle, her hand did fly towards his face, hitting him twice.”
Brayiannis, in her own account of the events leading up to the disruption, said that two members of Hassan’s slate left the all-candidates meeting before the protest under the pretense that one of them was going to the washroom. Shortly afterward, according to Brayiannis, there was a knock at the door, and another member of Hassan’s slate went to open it. At that point, Brayiannis claimed, the Internal Coordinator Velupillai went to close it, but before it was closed, the door was charged by the protesters outside and the disruption began.
Don Campbell, a spokesperson for UTSC, confirmed that “Campus Community Police were called by the SCSU and responded immediately.” He said that the investigation into what transpired is ongoing, and that it was “too early to comment on specific details” of the incident.
Hassan has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.
— With files from Abhya Adlakha