A recap of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union elections

Table throwing allegations, “disgusting, transphobic” comments

A recap of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union elections

The attention on this year’s Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) elections has been largely focused on non-policy related matters, namely the allegation of an SCSYou candidate being hit by a table, harassment of now-president-elect Chemi Lhamo of Shine Bright UTSC for her personal activism, and an anti-LGBTQ+ comment from disqualified SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal.

As the election comes to a close, The Varsity looks back at the major events of the campaign period.

The table incident

Atwal was disqualified on February 5 after receiving too many demerit points. A large number of these were in response to an “unapproved” social media post, which was ruled by the SCSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee on January 25 to have contained “an unreported incident which contained broad accusations.”

In this post, Atwal wrote that candidates were “shoving, yelling, hitting each other with tables (literally), throwing things at each others posters so they can fall and you can put up yours.”

In the following days, Atwal claimed that Lhamo hit SCSYou’s Vice-President Academic & University Affairs candidate Carly Sahagian with a table, a claim that Lhamo said is categorically false.

Video clips later posted show Lhamo asking Sahagian and bystanders about the incident if she had hit her, to which Sahagian answered yes and bystanders — including Lhamo’s running-mate Raymond Dang — answered no.

Chief Returning Officer Philip Scibor handed Atwal 20 demerit points for a “Gross Misrepresentation of Facts,” and posting unapproved campaign material on social media on January 25 for these claims.

“Days after that, I keep hearing from first years when I’m going and campaigning, ‘Oh, I heard you’re the one that hit someone,’” Lhamo explained. “It sucks to have to win someone’s vote by trying to bust myths first… That is creating such a big disadvantage for any candidate because you’re having to defend yourself before you can say, ‘Hi, my name is Chemi.’”

Online harassment of Lhamo for Tibetan activism

In the run-up to the release of the election results, Lhamo’s social media was attacked with comments that mostly concerned her outspoken stance on the Tibetan independence movement.

On her Lunar New Year post on Instagram, Lhamo received about 10,000 comments in the span of a day. Other recent posts have also been affected. Many of the comments included Chinese flag emojis, personal attacks, racist slurs, and vulgar words in English and Chinese.

“It’s been blowing up since the day after the elections,” Lhamo wrote to The Varsity. “It is concerning, not so much about my safety but rather the safety of our Canadian rights.”

“This is just an example of China’s long arms, how they still think and inherently believe that they can intimidate me into not running for Presidency,” said Lhamo.

According to Lhamo, the heads of security at UTSC and the U of T President’s office are both aware of the situation.

Lhamo said, “To all the students, I’m standing tall and strong, so stand with me. I’m not afraid because I know I stand on side of the truth and justice.”

“Disgusting, transphobic” comments

Following Atwal’s disqualification from receiving too many demerit points, a screenshot of a group chat in which Atwal made a transphobic comment about Shine Bright UTSC’s Vice President Equity candidate Leon Tsai was leaked to UTSC’s student newspaper The Underground.

Tsai is a transgender woman who ran on an LGBTQ+-friendly platform. The vote count for Vice-President Equity was within a five per cent margin and has been sent to an automatic recount as of press time.

Armaan Sahgal, who ran for Director of Critical Development Studies with SCSYou, was revealed to be the one who leaked the chat.

“Someone close to me sent [The Underground] the first screenshot to see if they would publish it, then put me in contact with them and I DMed them the rest on Messenger,” Sahgal wrote to The Varsity.

“[Atwal’s] comments about Leon Tsai were disgusting, transphobic, and hateful,” wrote Sahgal. “Voters have a right to know about his views especially considering Anup’s expressed intent to appeal his disqualification and call for a re-vote.”

According to Sahgal, after The Underground’s article went live, Anup messaged the group chat, “threatening” to sue both Sahgal and The Underground.

Sahgal provided a screenshot of Atwal writing to the group chat that it’s “going to now become a legal suit against Underground AND @Armaan.”

However, Sahgal wrote to The Varsity, “I stand by my platform, I stand by the platforms of our great exec candidates such as Tebat Kadhem and others, and I stand by the electoral reform agenda we at SCSYou have put forth to the public… I stand by the electorate’s right to be informed.”

Kadhem is SCSYou’s Vice-President Equity candidate.

When The Varsity asked Atwal about the leak, he said that he did not want to make any particular comments, but that “context is super important.”

In screenshots he sent to The Varsity to provide such context, Atwal is shown further criticizing Tsai for posting about what she saw as SCSYou candidates’ mishandling of LGBTQ+ issues.

A day after Atwal’s messages were leaked, The Underground received an anonymous screenshot showing a Facebook chat with SCSYou’s Vice-President External candidate Chaman Bukhari.

In the screenshot, an anonymous person is shown asking Bukhari, “How was it,” to which Bukhari replied in Urdu, “Fuzool” and “Wohi LGBTQ [bakwas].”

The Varsity translated Bukhari’s text to “useless” and “the same LGBTQ bullshit.”

However, Bukhari defended his comment as being “grossly misinterpreted” and “utterly lacking context,” and added that it was almost two years old.

Although Bukhari knows the identity of the woman who leaked the screenshot, Bukhari told The Varsity in an email, “I refuse to stoop to tactics beneath me and I do not find it appropriate to reveal her name.”

“It is amusing how offense from two years ago can be realized when someone begins to run for office. Ultimately, it’s an inevitable part of politics and I welcome a healthy environment of criticism.”

Bukhari said that he does not hold anything against The Underground. “If I truly stand for freedom of expression, I stand for it whether the news favours me or not,” said Bukhari. “I personally loved the article… The popcorn at home has run out.”

Tsai has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

— With files from Josie Kao

Editor’s Note (February 11, 3:30 pm): An earlier version of this article suggested that in video clips of the table incident, Sahagian denied that Lhamo hit her. In fact, Sahagian continued to allege that Lhamo did.

The curious case of Anup Atwal

The drama-ridden 2019 SCSU elections can be understood backward and its lessons must be lived forward

The curious case of Anup Atwal

Student union elections provide student politicians and voters the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of change and improvement to livelihood on campus. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) spring election was supposed to be no different.

Debate

In an exciting start, UTSC student newspaper The Underground hosted a debate on February 1. Shine Bright UTSC, SCSYou, and independent executive candidates took to the stage to present their platforms, answer questions, and display their smack-talk ability. Of note was the rivalry between Shine Bright UTSC’s presidential candidate, Chemi Lhamo, and SCSYou’s presidential candidate, Anup Atwal.

Atwal’s answers to debate questions reflected his solemnity and passion as a presidential candidate. Students responded positively when he addressed student issues like financial security and academics.

Atwal also took the opportunity to criticize current Director of Political Science and Vice-President Academics & University Affairs candidate Raymond Dang for proposing a motion to limit media at SCSU meetings in December. Dang later expressed some regret, claiming that he “absolutely never intended to make that policy about controlling media.”

Atwal’s criticism was well-founded. Dang’s motion was a self-caused controversy. Hopefully, his participation in the Underground-hosted debate has pushed him to better recognize the value of the campus press. Indeed, for student media to host student politicians not only better informs student voters, but also creates a positive image of student engagement and campus democracy.

Drama

However, the debate was soon followed by the issuance of demerit points. By February 5, Lhamo had received 25, while Atwal was handed enough points to be officially disqualified from elections for multiple violations, including criticisms of Dang, described in the notice as a “direct and misleading comment towards another candidate.”

But Atwal’s disqualification was not justified given the accuracy of his comments. He was right to subsequently criticize the SCSU for undermining free speech. Furthermore, given his resonance with students, especially as the Scarborough Campus Union Reform Club president, the demerit point system detracted from what could have been an exciting contest.

It more or less guaranteed the presidency to Lhamo, an establishment politician. Although independent candidate John John received 519 votes, only Atwal had presented a serious challenge to Lhamo. This likely lessened student motivation to vote and therefore the chances of other SCSYou candidates to be voted in. But the drama did not stop there.

Atwal was shrouded with even more controversy when fellow slate member Armaan Sahgal leaked a chat to The Underground. It exposed Atwal for transphobic remarks directed toward Leon Tsai, Shine Bright UTSC’s Vice-President Equity candidate. There is no doubt that this was a turning point in the election in terms of Atwal’s reputation.

Even as a candidate advocating for change in the SCSU, Atwal failed to perceive his own actions as requiring remorse and reform — for example, he has been called out for his transphobic remarks, but refuses to apologize and stands by his words. He ultimately drew much attention to the election for the wrong reasons, and his initial association with action and policy has been replaced by drama. Public opinion has justifiably turned against him.

Running for an important position of power means being responsible and accountable for one’s actions, both in public and private spheres — the ability of a student politician to conduct themselves with dignity and command the respect of voters is as important as matters of policy debate. Atwal has disregarded these responsibilities as SCSYou’s leader, and thus he has seriously compromised the quality of the election at UTSC.

Democracy

But students have voted in a new SCSU executive. Although a split ticket, I hope that the executive learn to work together and overcome the election’s negativity to effectively develop policy and address student needs. Interestingly, Dang was outvoted by SCSYou candidate Carly Sahagian, whom he had called “utterly unqualified” during the debate, another comment unappreciated by students. In this sense, the election was a success: students cast informed votes based on candidates’ questionable behaviour.

But beyond policy, the SCSU must find a way to improve its own quality and legitimacy as an institution. From Atwal’s rise as a reformist candidate, to his controversial disqualification, and finally to his disgraced fall, it is clear that there is much work to be done when it comes to electoral processes and decorum.

One positive spillover is that the election was subject to intense media coverage by The Underground and The Varsity. The importance of the press for ensuring student awareness and engagement in campus politics should not be taken lightly. This sort of precedent should inspire students to better exercise their rights to vote or run for office and effect change in the future. Student participation is essential to democracy on campus.

This year’s SCSU elections have unfortunately been more dramatic than democratic. But the dissatisfying experience gives students all the more reason to care about what their politicians are doing. Hopefully, students come to understand the power of their voice, and that the SCSU is ultimately what they, the students, make of it.

Michael Phoon is a second-year Journalism student at UTSC. He is The Varsity’s UTSC Affairs Columnist.

Scarborough student union election results in split executive

Shine Bright UTSC’s Chemi Lhamo wins presidency

Scarborough student union election results in split executive

After two weeks of campaigning, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) election results have been released, and next year’s executive will be split between the two major slates.

Current SCSU Vice-President Equity Chemi Lhamo of Shine Bright UTSC will be the next president, winning 837 votes to defeat independent John John. SCSYou’s presidential candidate Anup Atwal was disqualified from the race at midnight before the voting period began on February 5. There were 124 spoiled ballots in the presidential race.

SCSYou’s Carly Sahagian was elected Vice-President Academics & University Affairs over Shine Bright UTSC candidate Raymond Dang, who currently sits on the student union’s board as Director of Political Science. The count was 837–594, with 82 spoiled ballots.

SCSYou candidate Chaman Bukhari, co-president of the Pakistani Students’ Association, will be the next Vice-President External. He won against Shine Bright UTSC’s Kalkidan Alemayehu. The count was 790–602, with 61 spoiled ballots.

Sarah Mohamed of Shine Bright UTSC won the election for Vice-President Campus Life over independent Shehtabbanu Shaikh. Rival slate SCSYou did not put up a candidate for the position. The count was 950–407, with 111 spoiled ballots.

For Vice-President Operations and Vice-President Equity, there was a difference of less than five per cent between each candidate.

According to the SCSU Elections Procedure Code, this means an automatic recount will take place.

The Vice-President Operations race was between SCSYou candidate Rayyan Alibux and Shine Bright UTSC candidate Kevin Turingan. The Vice-President Equity race was between SCSYou candidate Tebat Kadhem and Shine Bright UTSC candidate Leon Tsai.

The Academics & University Affairs race had the highest voter turnout at 1,513 votes. According to SCSU’s website, its membership numbers at around 14,000 students, meaning that, at most, the voter turnout was a little more than 10 per cent.

Out of the 16 seats available on the Board of Directors, Shine Bright UTSC won seven, SCSYou won four, an independent candidate won one, and the remaining four had less than a five per cent difference and will be sent to a recount.

 

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union election results yet to be released

Voting period ended over 24 hours ago

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union election results yet to be released

More than 24 hours after the voting period ended for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) 2019 elections, the results have still not been released and there is no word on when they will become available.

The voting period ended on February 7 at 8:00 pm after it was extended due to a campus closure.

According to SCSU Executive Director Francis Pineda, the delay is because “the [Elections and Referenda Committee is] still currently discussing the results.”

In recent years, the results have been released within 24 hours of the voting period ending. The SCSU conducts its elections through paper ballots, meaning that they must be physically counted.

Chief Returning Officer Philip Scibor has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Varsity. The Varsity has also reached out to presidential candidates Chemi Lhamo and John John for comment.

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal disqualified from SCSU executive elections

Atwal handed demerit points for “misrepresentation of facts,” “malicious” comments

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal disqualified from SCSU executive elections

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal has been officially disqualified from the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) executive elections on February 5 for accumulating too many demerit points. Atwal’s campaign was suspended on the first day of voting and his appeal has been turned down by members of the union’s board of directors.  

According to the Elections Appeals Committee, Atwal has been disqualified for three separate violations of the Election Procedures Code of the Scarborough Students’ Campus Union (SCSU) on two different occasions.

Atwal first received 25 points on January 25 for a “Gross Misrepresentation of Facts” after posting “Unapproved Material” on social media. According to the notice, the social media post “contained an unreported incident which contained broad accusations.” After the candidate appealed, five demerit points were removed as the post was not targeted at any one person.

On February 1, Atwal received a total of 25 demerit points for “Malicious or Intentional Violation of this Code” when he made another unapproved social media post and a “direct and misleading” comment toward another candidate during The Underground’s executive candidates debate.

Although 20 demerit points issued in the second instance were withdrawn after an appeals process, the committee decided to uphold the 25 demerit points as Atwal allegedly uploaded more unapproved and misleading material on social media.

According to the Election Procedures Code, an executive candidate with more than 35 demerit points is automatically disqualified. Since Atwal had accumulated 45 demerits, he was disqualified as of February 5.

Following his disqualification, Atwal released a statement accusing the SCSU of “outright attacking” students’ rights to freedom of speech. 

“I have been removed for making a factual remark at a debate that SCSU’s current Director for Political Science [Raymond Dang], who is now running for VP Academics, has actively sought to silence student journalists with his motion,” Atwal wrote.

Dang moved a motion at the union’s board of directors meeting in December 2018 that would allow the SCSU to move toward controlling student media accreditation and access to meetings.

“If truth is considered a ‘malicious attack,’ then send me to jail, for the history of this month gives me a moral basis to challenge the irrational, to resist the oppressive, and dismantle the house of corruption one fact at a time,” Atwal’s statement reads.

UTSC students in favour of Atwal have started an online petition calling on the SCSU to let Atwal continue running in the election. As of press time, the petition had 150 supporters.

The Varsity has reached out to Raymond Dang and the Chief Returning Officer for comment.

Chemi Lhamo, President

Slate: Shine Bright UTSC

Chemi Lhamo, President

Chemi Lhamo, a Neuroscience and Psychology student in her fourth year of study, is leading the Shine Bright UTSC slate as its presidential candidate.

Lhamo currently serves as the SCSU’s Vice-President Equity.

“The reason why I’m running for president is because I want to prioritize student needs,” Lhamo said to The Varsity. “With my five years of experience at UTSC, I understand what student needs are and I know what gaps lie there.”

Lhamo was elected to her current position under the Rise Up UTSC slate in an election that resulted in a split-ticket executive.
She recalled growing up as a stateless Tibetan refugee in India and said that she “has gone through a lot of adversities in life,” now working three jobs to make ends meet in addition to keeping up with academic requirements and volunteering. She also mentioned creating a mentorship program for Tibetan youth in Canada.

On what her priorities would be as president, Lhamo pointed to representation. “I think I have emphasized this enough because representation is so important,” she said. “All my life I have been treated as an outsider. It’s not a sob story — it’s just a reality.”

Lhamo also criticized the provincial government’s announced changes to postsecondary education funding, including to the Ontario Student Assistance Program. 

“The students will be affected tremendously… we’re talking about every single student,” she said. “Those cuts for the university tuition fees means that tuition fees for international students, unregulated students, will actually increase. So now we’re talking about Doug Ford’s cuts tremendously not benefitting… our student lives everywhere.”

In response to SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal’s claim during Friday’s executive debate that he would donate his salary back to the union if he were elected, Lhamo called it a “noble act,” saying that “if he’d like to volunteer, I’d like to say there are many other opportunities to volunteer because I’ve been volunteering my whole life.”

However, she also advised caution for the future. “If I could donate the money back, I’d definitely do it, but I live a life that is not necessarily as privileged as other people have,” she said. “That kind of step is actually dangerous, because that’s precedence, or almost a barrier, for any other future presidents.”

 With files from Jayra Almanzor and Josie Kao

Raymond Dang, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Slate: Shine Bright UTSC

Raymond Dang, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Raymond Dang is a fourth-year Public Policy and Environmental Studies student running with the Shine Bright slate to be the SCSU’s next Vice-President Academics & University Affairs. Dang was a Political Science Students’ Association representative for three years in a row, has served on the Council on Student Services, and is the current SCSU Director of Political Science.

One of Dang’s platform points is to advocate for more affordable residence spaces. Part of his plan to achieve this is to lobby the university to “give a commitment as a percentage of affordable residence homes.”

“I understand it is definitely difficult, but having these conversations is necessary, long-run, if we want to create communities that interact with each other.”

When asked what he would do about the provincial government’s changes to postsecondary fee frameworks, which would potentially put the SCSU at risk of losing its funding and cut university revenue, Dang is a proponent of “working with the university to find revenue streams so that it is sustainable, and not just relying on student revenue like student tuition.”

He suggested federal grants, federal sponsorship, and corporate sponsorship as alternate streams of revenue. 

In the past year, Dang has been the subject of controversy, first when he proposed a media policy aimed at regulating access to SCSU meetings, and then when he motioned to give the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre money (AGM). 

When asked about the media policy, Dang said that he “absolutely never intended to make that policy about controlling media” and acknowledged that the wording of the motion was “super clumsy.” 

He added that he hoped the SCSU would issue a statement clarifying his record.

When asked why he proposed the motion to give money to the centre, Dang said that it was because after the AGM, he discovered that the SCSU had enough money in its contingency reserve to give to the centre.

However, Dang added that, looking back, he would do things differently in light of the criticism.

“I would publicize it everywhere, I’d talk to students everywhere. I’d get people who were… also at the AGM and talk to them about the issue.” 

Carly Sahagian, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Slate: SCSYou

Carly Sahagian, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Carly Sahagian is a fourth-year student studying Molecular Biology, Immunology & Disease, and Women’s and Gender Studies, who is running on the SCSYou slate for Vice-President Academics & University Affairs. 

Since she first came to Canada after transferring from the University of Aleppo in Syria, Sahagian has worked at the UTSC registrar’s office in the admissions and recruitment department for two years, and currently represents full-time undergraduates on the Campus Affairs Committee of the UTSC Campus Council. 

“As a leader on campus and being very heavily involved, I wanted to run in the union because the union can actually do more than that,” said Sahagian.

Sahagian wants to work toward making UTSC fees, including those related to exam deferral and rereads, more accessible. Citing free exam rereads at the Faculty of Arts & Science at UTSG, Sahagian doesn’t see any obstacles to establishing the same process at UTSC. 

Her other campaign points include web options for 8:00 am classes, expanding the Self-Declaration of Illness form from the Department of Psychology to other departments, creating a course retake policy for UTSC, and establishing a system for students to write deferred exams in the same exam period.

Union transparency is also a concern for Sahagian, who believes that, without term limits, certain groups can run continuously and discourage others from running. 

Sahagian hopes to use data and statistics from the admissions office to aid in discussion and lobbying for expanding residences for UTSC students, but also wants to look at alternatives, like townhouses, to expand residence accommodation options.

Editor’s Note (February 6, 12:30pm): This article has been updated to correct that Sahagian went to the University of Aleppo.