Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

Scarborough student union Winter General Meeting cancelled due to failure to meet quorum

UTSC conservative group views cancellation as “cover up to not allow democratic engagements”

Scarborough student union Winter General Meeting cancelled due to failure to meet quorum

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) Winter General Meeting (WGM) was cancelled on March 28 due to a failure to meet quorum.

A student from UTSC’s Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) pointed out that less than a dozen students attended the WGM, which was held in a classroom-tier lecture hall.

None of the 17 SCSU directors were present at the WGM. 

Many students who attended the WGM were associated with the OPCCA.

OPCCA President Sarkis Kidanian said to The Varsity, “I’ve never seen personally in my five years that quorum doesn’t take place without the attendance of the executives.”

Kidanian noted that none of the executives at the meeting arrived with proxies. He further added that, from his experience as the SCSU’s Director of Political Science in 2015, the union’s executives have always been encouraged to gather 25 proxies for the general meetings to achieve quorum.

The WGM only had four main motions, which were all from Kidanian.

The first motion called for the SCSU to publicly apologize to the OPCCA for presenting “distance and anti-sentiments” toward OPCCA and UTSC conservatives, and to give the OPCCA the “same rights and privileges” as the other groups on campus, as perceived by the OPCCA.

The second motion called on the SCSU to annually recognize the Armenian Genocide and mark April as the Genocide Awareness, Condemnation, and Prevention Month at UTSC.

The third motion was to condemn the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s rejection of the Ontario government’s free speech mandate.

The last motion was to strike a Multi-Partisan Policy Analyzing and Developing Committee to develop “stronger relationships between the Student Union and the external counterparts across partisan lines.”

Kidanian speculated that the failure of the meeting to achieve quorum was a deliberate attempt by the SCSU to block the presentation of his first, third, and fourth motions.

“It would look bad on the student union,” he said. “It’s better [for the SCSU] to state that the WGM didn’t take place because of quorum, rather than have these motions [revealed].”

OPCCA members asked why the WGM was not promoted on social media more to remind students about it, especially during the days leading up to the WGM.

The SCSU’s latest post about the WGM on Facebook was on March 6, roughly three weeks before the meeting.

At the WGM, Vice-President Equity and President-elect Chemi Lhamo agreed that the WGM could have been promoted better.

However, she said that if the SCSU did not want the meeting to happen, there were other ways to cancel it instead of attempting to make it fail to meet quorum. She said that the WGM had a fully-prepared meeting package, all executives attended, and the union also booked a room for this meeting.

Lhamo said that past SCSU meetings that failed to take place were because the union was unable to book a room.

According to the OPCCA’s official statement to the SCSU released on March 29, the association views the cancellation of the meeting due to its failure to meet quorum as a “direct attack to cover up and not allow democratic engagements within the University to commence.”

The statement also called for the “immediate resignation” of the current SCSU executives and directors.

The Varsity has reached out to SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis, Lhamo, and SCSU Internal Coordinator Mel Dashdorj for comment.

SCSU board refuses to ratify incoming executive, directly contravenes union bylaws

Vice-President Operations-elect Rayyan Alibux not ratified, leaving position apparently vacant

SCSU board refuses to ratify incoming executive, directly contravenes union bylaws

Tensions were high at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Board of Directors meeting on February 26 as members voted against ratifying recently-elected Vice-President Operations Rayyan Alibux in direct contravention of the SCSU’s bylaws. The move was also a possible breach of the Ontario Corporations Act (OCA), under which the union is incorporated.

The board also narrowly voted to ratify recently-elected Vice-President External Chaman Bukhari, discussed student society fee adjustments, and ratified the remaining incoming SCSU Board of Directors.

Ratification complications

Director of Sociology Theresa Louise Lagman motioned that each executive be ratified separately to allow for individual discussions.

All executives and directors were ratified except for Alibux, following concerns raised about his comments during the election. Alibux is planning on taking action against the union in response to the board rejecting his ratification.

Director of Physical & Environmental Sciences Zakia Fahmida Taj challenged the motion to ratify Alibux, citing an article from The Underground in which Alibux is identified as writing, “I hope this chat is never leaked,” in a group chat in response to transphobic comments.

“I have had students come up and tell me [after the article was published]… they [had] already voted them [in, but] they would change it if they could go back to it,” said Taj.

A vote by secret ballot resulted in five directors against Alibux’s ratification, two in favour, and two abstentions, meaning that the motion to ratify Alibux failed.

According to the union’s Elections Procedure Code, “the Board, at its discretion, may refuse to ratify any singular Director or Executive office election, upon the recommendation of the Elections Appeals Committee [EAC].”

The EAC’s job is to review “appeals made by candidates regarding the decisions of the Elections and Referenda Committee,” which would be on subjects such as demerit points.

However, since there were no violations posted against Alibux, meaning that there was nothing to appeal, he contends that the board had “no backing” in refusing to ratify him, since there was no way for it to have received a recommendation from the EAC. He added that he did not receive word about any violations or appeals to the EAC regarding himself.

Therefore, the SCSU would be in contravention of its own bylaws if the board acted without the recommendation of the EAC. Following that, the union could have also breached the OCA with this move, as the act states that directors and officers of a corporation must act in accordance with their bylaws as well as in good faith.

“Aside from the fact that they cannot legally refuse to ratify me when the students have voted me in, they are clearly trying to obscure the voting process,” wrote Alibux.

In an email to The Varsity, SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis referred to Robert’s Rules of Order, which governs how board meetings are held and allows for secret ballots.

She added that it was not about “withholding insight” from the public, but rather a recognition of the sensitivity of the topic.

Brayiannis told The Varsity that the SCSU “is taking the current matter very seriously and is investigating next steps.”

There were also tensions surrounding the ratification of Bukhari, though his ratification eventually passed by a narrow margin.

Taj challenged the motion to ratify Bukhari, citing an article from The Underground that reported that Bukhari had made anti-LGBTQ+ comments. The comments were later revealed by The Varsity to have been from almost two years ago.

“I am just questioning whether enough members of the SCSU had the opportunity to make an informed decision,” said Taj. “[The article] came out very last second, so you can’t go back and change your votes.”

The article on Bukhari was published on February 7, which was also the last day of voting.

Discussions between The Underground’s Editor-in-Chief Eilia Yazdanian and students centred on whether context had been left out of the article due to an alleged lack of Bukhari’s side to the story and Bukhari’s apparent refusal to give comment to The Underground.

Bukhari entered the room in the middle of the discussions.

“Because we do not know the outcome of the people voting, because such and such post was not brought into light before voting period… would the same apply if let’s say someone gets ratified, and then later some [inappropriate] post of theirs came about?” said Bukhari. “Would they then cease to have that politician? I don’t believe that ratification would exist later on. This is an inconsistent line of argument.”

The vote on Bukhari’s ratification resulted in two directors in favour, one against, and seven abstentions. After some confusion of whether this motion failed or not due to the number of abstentions, Chair Caitlin Campisi ruled that the motion passed. Campisi is a former Internal Commissioner who was disqualified when she ran for re-election in 2016. She is the current Executive Director of U of T’s Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students.

Some board members have called for a re-vote because of confusion concerning abstentions. Lagman said that she was in the washroom, and so she was not able to vote.

Campisi said that according to Robert’s Rules of Order, only those who voted in favour of the vote could motion for a re-vote. In the end, the motion still carried.

“This report was written to the best of my ability and time,” says CRO

The Chief Returning Officer’s (CRO) report was prepared and presented by CRO Philip Scibor. However, long discussions and debates arose due to the fact that the report only included an overview of the elections process.

Scibor noted in his report that he will later submit another report on the problems faced with the current Elections Procedure Code (EPC). In the second report, he “hopes that the incoming Board of Directors will take these concerns into consideration and strive to update the SCSU EPC in a way that will allow for a smoother election process.”

“How can the board ratify a report where [it lacks] main details, which are the challenges in the elections, which will determine whether the election was democratic, or if there should be a re-election?” said Yazdanian.

Yazdanian also pointed out that he thinks that a lot of the report is just summarization. “It kind of misses your view as a CRO and your analysis of the election,” said Yazdanian.

Scibor replied that he did not have enough time for the second report. He then offered some suggestions, including making the demerits system clearer.

“This report was written to the best of my ability and time,” said Scibor.

Campisi clarified Scibor’s intentions with the second report. “In addition to the report which is before you today… [Scibor] would like to make the recommendations… That would be a secondary document that is not required by your bylaws or EPC… [but] on a voluntary basis,” said Campisi.

A student at the meeting said that people are asking the same questions and that the CRO report is “good enough to pass.”

Campisi further clarified that the motion being voted upon is just on the CRO report presented. She urged the room to vote, and the motion carried with seven in support and three abstentions.

Adjustments to student society fees

A motion to increase certain student fees to be adjusted for the University of Toronto Inflation Index (UTI) at the beginning of the fall session passed.

Due to the UTI increase, the SCSU membership fee for full-time students will increase by $0.62 to become $27.00 per session. Part-time students will pay $0.04 more per session, totaling $1.70.

For the same reason, a request was made to increase the Student Centre fee by $0.92 per session for full-time students, and $0.27 per session for part-time students. The total costs will be $40.82 and $12.22 respectively.

Lagman asked whether this matter can be discussed at the SCSU’s Winter General Meeting so that “it’s open to discussion with the rest of the student body.”

“This is decided on the board level,” said SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis. “It’s just simple inflation.”

Full-time students will also pay $0.16 more per session for the Canadian Federation of Students and Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario membership fee. This increase is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase.

The Dental Plan and Accidental & Prescription Drug Insurance Plan fees for full-time students were also raised by 10 per cent based on the CPI increase. Full-time students are expected to pay an increase of $9.46 per session in the Dental Plan fee, and an increased fee of $7.48 per session in the Accidental & Prescription Drug Insurance Plan fee. This will bring the totals up to $104.03 and $85.88 respectively.

According to Brayiannis, Green Shield Canada, the benefits provider that the SCSU uses, initially proposed a 12.2 per cent increase to the Dental Plan and Accidental & Prescription Drug Insurance Plan fees.

“We managed to talk them down to 11.2 per cent increase,” said Brayiannis. The SCSU will be paying the additional 1.2 per cent increase to pull the fee increase down to 10 per cent.

Green Shield Canada attracted attention in 2015 when the University of Toronto Students’ Union discovered that the union had lost $1.6 million through its plans, and it subsequently switched providers.

Along with the SCSU fee increases, the motion asked for the Student Refugee Program fee to be continued.

Op-ed: The SCSU’s refusal to ratify my election was illegal

The VP Operations-elect calls on the union to reverse its decision and apologize

Op-ed: The SCSU’s refusal to ratify my election was illegal

As students, we are supposed to be able to trust our elected student unions to advocate for student issues, rights, and interests when no one else will. But in the case of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), it is unfortunate that it has failed to fulfil the role it was elected to do.

Just like their predecessors, the Board of Directors this year has shown that the laws only apply where it sees fit. Having already dealt with an attempt by the SCSU to have me removed from last year’s election, I can attest firsthand that the SCSU attempts to intimidate students from challenging them. In this year’s election, I was elected by UTSC students to serve as Vice-President Operations. But on February 26, the board chose to illegally refuse to ratify my election.

The basis for the refusal was my presence in a group chat in which I supposedly condoned another individual’s transphobic comments, even though my only comments were “Good God” followed by “I hope this chat is never leaked.” One individual publicly described me as a “good racist”  on social media.

The blatant attempts to skew what was said and defame my character were aggravating enough. But when another board member admitted to me in a private message that they were aware of the context behind the statement and understood that I was not to blame for someone else’s transphobic comments, and yet still chose not to communicate this context to the board in my defence — that is what has convinced me that this ratification process was one conducted with malice.

Ultimately, the board’s decision was made with incorrect interpretations of SCSU bylaws. There is no way that our student union is so ignorant that it is not aware of the laws, especially when it is its job to understand them. Its decision was made on the basis that candidates cannot be deemed elected until they have been ratified by the board. However, as per the Elections Procedure Code itself, there are only two circumstances in which the board can refuse ratification.

The first is if the board refuses to accept the entire report by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), on the grounds that the election was deemed to be conducted illegally, for instance, through vote manipulation, tampering, or demerits. The second is if a recommendation to refuse ratification is made by the Elections Appeals Committee, which may only make a judgment based on the violations ruled on by the CRO.

Having approved the CRO’s report, the board has formally provided its consent that its findings were legitimate, and that there was no tampering within the election, eliminating its grounds for the first circumstance. The CRO found no evidence of violations by me, as per his report, and since there were no appeals, the Elections Appeals Committee could not advise the board to refuse my ratification, eliminating the grounds for the second circumstance.

What this means is that the board either does not know its own bylaws or is willingly breaking them. But it does not end there. In addition to breaking its own bylaws, the board has incidentally broken provincial law too. As a corporation, it must follow the Ontario Corporations Act (OCA).

Consider Section 127.1(2), which states that directors and officers of corporations subject to the OCA, like the SCSU, must act in accordance with the bylaws of their corporation and the OCA. As per the Elections Procedure Code, officers are elected by a plurality of votes and the voting members — the students — are the ones who cast the ballot. This does not grant the SCSU the authority to dismiss the results of the ballot without recommendation from the Elections Appeals Committee. The SCSU’s lack of due process for intervening within a democratic election is a clear violation of the law.

Also consider Section 127.1(1), which confirms that the SCSU board must act in good faith. Failure to ratify the democratically elected VP Operations on illegitimate grounds, refusal to allow candidates to make their case to the board, defamation of candidates, and disregard for its own bylaws does not demonstrate the diligence, prudence, and care that is required from our representatives on the board.

In sum, the SCSU has broken multiple laws — both its own and those of the province. I am offering the SCSU the opportunity to own up to its own mistake. Ratify me as is legally obligated and, on behalf of the students, admit that you messed up and do the unthinkable: apologize.

Indeed, all SCSU board members at the ratification should publicly apologize for trying to subvert the law behind false pretenses, for defaming me and my colleagues, and apologize to the students for continuing the SCSU tradition of breaking the little trust we have toward our union.

Rayyan Alibux is a third-year Political Science and Business Economics student at UTSC. He was elected SCSU Vice-President Operations but his election was not ratified by the Board of Directors.

Op-ed: In support and solidarity with Chemi Lhamo

SFT-UTSG reflects on anti-Tibetan harassment against the SCSU president-elect

Op-ed: In support and solidarity with Chemi Lhamo

If you’re a student at U of T, you know that toward the middle of every winter semester comes an exciting election period in which student leaders promise change on campus for the better. This election cycle was especially of interest for me due to the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) presidential candidacy and successful election of Chemi Lhamo — a fellow Tibetan and student activist.

This year, however, the SCSU elections became a national headline that drew much-needed attention to how global forces can threaten campus life. What should have been a celebratory occasion for Lhamo’s Shine Bright UTSC slate and the larger student community was instead overshadowed by a harassment campaign by a large group of international Chinese students.

The students involved left thousands of hateful online comments against Lhamo, and individually attacked her identity as an exiled Tibetan. They even went as far as starting a petition against her presidency on change.org. In light of what she has had to endure, we, the Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) chapter members at UTSG, UTM, Ryerson University, and York University, declare our support for and solidarity with Lhamo as both our fellow Tibetan and as the SCSU president-elect.

As a Canadian with a deep connection to and understanding of her Tibetan identity, Lhamo’s rise to a position of leadership and power seems to be an irritant for China. This is likely because her advocacy for human rights and Tibetan independence challenges the Chinese government and its harsh policies toward Tibetans and other oppressed peoples under their rule.

China’s forceful occupation of Tibet is nearly six decades old now. Despite its iron-fisted clamp down against the Tibetan people’s freedom, resistance to China has continued to grow from within Tibet as well as outside of it in its diaspora communities. Outside Tibet, the rise of younger generations of Tibetans in exile who are strongly committed to the politics of their identity demonstrates that the Chinese government has not succeeded in its oppression.

This is especially the case for SFT, which has been at the forefront of advocating for human rights and freedom in Tibet for over 20 years. Our organization serves as an amplifier for Tibetan voices that are banned back home. We have branches all over the world, including one based here in Toronto and a student-led chapter at UTSG.

Unfortunately, the harassment and slander directed at Lhamo is not surprising for us at SFTUTSG. Our members have been a constant target of ire from certain sections of the international Chinese student community at our events on campus. It is not uncommon for Chinese students to show up at our tables to mock, question, and demean our displays and our objective of spreading awareness about the ongoing Tibetan struggle.

An example of this is Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s visit to UTSG last November. Sangay is the President of the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s government-in-exile based in India. SFTUTSG and three other SFT chapters, led by Lhamo as the main coordinator, organized a Hart House talk, entitled “Party-less and Global — A Case of Tibetan Democracy in Exile.”

At this event too, a number of international Chinese students showed up to protest. Clearly, these protest groups are well-coordinated, but their participants seem to be relatively unaware of the issues at hand — few of the comments made against Lhamo, for instance, had anything to do with her platform.

Such well-planned attempts to divert and disrupt Tibetan-focused events forces one to ask, who is behind it all? It would not be entirely surprising if the international Chinese students campaigning against Lhamo were receiving direct support from the Chinese government. It would not be the first time that questions over the Chinese government’s interference through student groups have surfaced.

The university is committed to the principles of academic freedom and the right to freedom of speech, as well as to equity and justice. Accordingly, students have a right to express their disagreement and opposition to their elected representatives, but they also have a right to express their identity without fear of retribution.

The attitude of some international Chinese students toward Tibetan identity exceeds the reasonable limit for free speech and should be regarded as hate speech. We need to be able to speak up against such organized campaigns that target people on the basis of national and ethnic identities.

Canada is known to be a country that places high value on and has respect for human rights, including freedom of expression. It is incumbent upon us to be aware of infiltrating forces seeking to destroy our very culture of respect for human rights. U of T can play a huge role in ensuring that Canadian values are upheld. The administration should investigate the possibility of external Chinese influence in a campaign of online vitriol against Lhamo.

March 10 this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan National Uprising Day that took place in Lhasa, Tibet. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army crushed the uprising, which triggered the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans into exile. It has also been more than 10 years since mass uprisings took place across Tibet and other regions in response to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Tibetans around the world continue to remember the spirit of Tibetan National Uprising Day, to actively resist the forceful occupation of Tibet, and to seek the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet. We call on the U of T community to join SFT-UTSG and the Tibetan diaspora in Toronto in a collective march on March 10, as we pursue justice, human rights, and a free Tibet.

Dechen Tenzin is a fourth-year International Relations and Political Science student at Woodsworth College. She is a member of SFT Canada and President of the SFTUTSG.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to conclude with a call to attend an upcoming march.

SCSU board refuses to ratify newly-elected Vice-President Operations Rayyan Alibux

Concerns stem from Alibux’s comments during elections, position is now vacant

SCSU board refuses to ratify newly-elected Vice-President Operations Rayyan Alibux

In an unexpected move, the Board of Directors of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) voted against ratifying newly-elected 2019–2020 Vice-President Operations Rayyan Alibux on Tuesday, based on concerns over private comments made during the election.

Following the recent SCSU elections, which concluded on February 7, the SCSU board was supposed to ratify all of the incoming Board of Directors in one motion. However, Director of Sociology Theresa Louise Lagman motioned to separate votes on the executives to allow for individual discussions.

Director of Physical and Environmental Sciences Zakia Fahmida Taj challenged the motion to ratify Alibux, citing an article from The Underground, in which Alibux is identified as writing, “I hope this chat is never leaked,” in a group chat in response to apparent “transphobic comments.”

“I have had students come up and tell me [after the article was published]… they [had] already voted them, [but] they would change it if they could go back to it,” said Taj.

Alibux told The Varsity that since he lives 25 minutes away from UTSC, he was unable to show up to the meeting in person or in time to present his case.

Newly-elected Vice-President Equity and Alibux’s slate-mate Tebat Kadhem was present at the meeting and asked the chair, Caitlin Campisi, whether Alibux could speak for himself over the phone. 

“I’m going to say no,” said Campisi. “We’re not going to allow folks who are not board members to phone in to a meeting they’re not formally a part of.”

In a later email to The Varsity, Alibux wrote that the SCSU never gave him notice about the ratification in advance, though, according to Alibux, the SCSU claimed that it had but would not provide evidence to him.

At the end of the discussion, Lagman proposed that the board vote on Alibux’s ratification by secret ballot.

Campisi confirmed that this was allowed since there has apparently been precedent for it.

The results of the secret ballot were five against Alibux’s ratification, two in favour, and two abstentions, meaning that the motion to ratify Alibux failed.

In an email to The Varsity, SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis wrote, “When there is a contentious debate, it falls within SCSU’s bylaws and processes to call for a secret ballot.” Brayiannis referred to Robert’s Rules of Order, which governs how board meetings are held and allows for secret ballots.

She added that it was not about “withholding insight” from the public, but rather a recognition of the sensitivity of the topic.

“Therefore, to be considerate of personal circumstances, I called for a secret ballot to ensure that folks would be able to cast their vote in a safe and comfortable manner.”

A student present at the meeting asked, “Why [are] the current Board of Directors… voting to… ratify the individuals elected by the student body?”

Campisi replied that, according to the Elections Procedures Code, candidates cannot be deemed elected until they have been ratified by the board.

The code states that “the Board, at its discretion, may refuse to ratify any singular Director or Executive office election, upon the recommendation of the Elections Appeals Committee [EAC].”

The EAC’s job is to review “appeals made by candidates regarding the decisions of the Elections and Referenda Committee,” which would be on subjects such as demerit points.

However, since there were no violations posted against Alibux to be appealed, he contends that the board had “no backing” in refusing to ratify him since there was no way for it to have a received a recommendation from the EAC. He added that he did not receive word about any violations or appeals to the EAC regarding himself.

At the board meeting, another student asked what happens when a candidate does not get ratified.

According to Campisi, Alibux’s position, Vice-President Operations, will be considered vacant and an interim executive will be designated to the position until the vacancy is filled.

“Given that they ratified the [Chief Returning Officer (CRO’s)] report and I had a clear majority that was not due to vote-tampering of any sort, they have no legal grounds for refusing to ratify me, in both their own bylaws and the Not for Profit Corporations Act,” wrote Alibux to The Varsity.

The CRO Philip Scibor’s report had been earlier carried as it was presented, though there were concerns from students present about its thoroughness. The report confirms that Alibux did not receive any demerit points.

“Aside from the fact that they cannot legally refuse to ratify me when the students have voted me in, they are clearly trying to obscure the voting process,” wrote Alibux.

In her email to The Varsity, Brayiannis noted that the SCSU “is taking the current matter very seriously and is investigating next steps.”

Editor’s Note (February 27, 1:15 pm): This article has been updated with details from the CRO report after The Varsity received it from Brayiannis. 

Editor’s Note (February 28, 11:30 am): This article has been updated with comment from Brayiannis.

Chemi Lhamo leads and speaks for the colonized

Free speech, minority leadership, and the student-national-global political nexus

Chemi Lhamo leads and speaks for the colonized

Earlier this month, the dramatic 2019 Scarborough Campus Students’ Union elections finally came to an end — only to become entangled in global politics. The story centres on the current Vice-President Equity and President-elect Chemi Lhamo, a Canadian woman of Tibetan heritage.

Lhamo openly and proudly supports the Tibetan independence movement, which asserts the region’s historical independence from China and seeks Tibet’s freedom from the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses. Because of her identity and politics, Lhamo was targeted by a hate campaign on her Instagram photos soon after winning the presidential election.

Comments ranged from banal Chinese nationalist sentiments to threats of violence, some of which were misogynistic and sexual. A change.org petition calling for her election to be blocked amassed over 11,000 signatures before recently closing. Her opponents defined her politics as either irrational or stemming from anti-Chinese prejudice. This supposedly justifies her disqualification from leadership on a campus where Chinese international students make up a significant portion of the student body.

As this story developed, a similar one unfolded at McMaster University, where a talk on the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority was disrupted and the speaker was verbally assaulted.

Both targets of harassment alleged that these campaigns were likely orchestrated by the Chinese government as measures of suppression. The Chinese consulate has formally denied these allegations.

The aggressive and vitriolic backlash in both of these cases reveals how free speech does not apply equally to anti-colonial voices and perspectives on university campuses. This is not unusual — another high-profile example of suppression, silencing, and intimidation that plays out on campus pertains to advocacy for Palestinian rights and statehood. Whether in the context of Tibet, Xinjiang, or Palestine, making space for colonized communities to voice dissent through advocacy is integral to protecting free speech — especially if powerful foreign governments like China and Israel are allegedly complicit adversaries.

The intertwining of campus and global politics, especially in the case of Tibet, should concern all Torontonians and Canadians. Since the 1959 Tibetan uprising, thousands have been forced to leave their homes. Starting in the 1970s, Canada was one of the first countries to actively work to resettle Tibetan refugees. Today, over 75 per cent of Canada’s Tibetan population lives in Toronto.

Lhamo has nonetheless made it clear that Tibet will not be a focus of her presidency. Rather, her experiences will positively affect her ability to fulfil her position and represent the campus. Through her activism, she has worked with various communities, done outreach projects, and remained socially and politically engaged.

Even if she were to make the issue a focus of her presidency, it should not be easily dismissed. University campuses are venues for the free exchange of ideas, and for a student politician to use their position to raise awareness and do advocacy work is perfectly acceptable. Exposure to novel perspectives, especially those that are suppressed, is key to student life. In turn, students have a right to disagree if they so choose.

Some may argue that allowing student politicians to continue advocating for their causes while in office would alienate certain groups of students on campus. The reality is that Lhamo’s position was never a secret, and she was still elected. Furthermore, silence and neutrality do not always represent all students. Not taking a side on this issue is equivalent to siding with Chinese nationalists and undermining the Tibetan right to self-determination, which Canadians should care about given our Tibetan refugee community.

The attack on Lhamo also speaks to a broader force that has existed ever since minority communities began pushing for increased representation. Political leaders of minority or disempowered backgrounds are frequently scrutinized for their identities and how they might influence their politics. They are thought to be unable to represent the ‘majority’ unless they prove that they can assimilate.

But no one — even a white Canadian who might define themselves as being part of the majority — navigates the world from a place of neutrality to begin with. We are all informed by our identities and experiences. It is only when the person in question is a minority that this is seen as an issue.

The fact of the matter is that Lhamo was not elected to mediate relations between China and Tibet or to facilitate discussions on the question of Tibetan autonomy. She was elected to preside over student issues at UTSC. Her pride in her heritage and community work on the issue of Tibetan autonomy bear scant relation to her position, and no UTSC students should feel threatened or alienated by it.

At the same time, criticism of the treatment of Lhamo should not slip into simplistic and prejudicial narratives. Namely, observers should not fall back on xenophobically generalizing Chinese people as foreign, anti-free speech threats, especially when Sino-Canadian relations are already strained by the current Huawei tensions.

Specifically, the media must do better than present a simplistic binary where Chinese nationalists clash with those who voice dissent against the Communist Party. There have always been Chinese people who stand in solidarity with the suppressed in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as scholars and activists who critique the government. However, instead of recognizing the complexity of the conflict, National Post irrelevantly remarks upon the “less-than-perfect English” used in the petition against Lhamo.

Lhamo’s case stimulates important discussions about free speech, minority leadership, and the complicated connections between student, national, and global politics. Although universities are supposed to host a free exchange of ideas, the power dynamics at play means that colonized communities are too often left voiceless. Lhamo’s election should inspire us to work harder to ensure that these perspectives have the space to exist and resist on our campuses.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College. She is The Varsitys Current Affairs Columnist.

SCSYou candidates prevail in election recount

Rayyan Alibux to be VP Operations, Tebat Kadhem to be VP Equity

SCSYou candidates prevail in election recount

Roughly a week after the initial Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) election results were released, a recount involving two executive races has ended, and in both cases, SCSYou candidates won.

Rayyan Alibux, SCSYou’s candidate for Vice-President Operations, won over Shine Bright UTSC’s Kevin Turingan 711671, with 107 spoiled ballots. Alibux was an independent presidential candidate in last year’s election and came in second behind Nicole Brayiannis.

Tebat Kadhem, the SCSYou candidate for Vice-President Equity, won by a slim margin over Shine Bright UTSC’s Leon Tsai, the current Director of Historical and Cultural Studies on the SCSU board, 708–696, with 90 spoiled ballots.

When initial results were announced on Saturday, recounts were initiated for these two races due to a narrow margin of votes. According to the SCSU Elections Procedure Code, any race with a difference of less than five per cent between each candidate triggers an automatic recount.

With these results comes an end to a weeks-long campaign at UTSC, with next year’s executive to be split among the two slates.

Shine Bright UTSC’s Chemi Lhamo and Sarah Mohamed were elected President and Vice-President Campus Life, respectively.

SCSYou’s Carly Sahagian and Chaman Bukhari were elected Vice-President Academics & University Affairs and Vice-President External, respectively.

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.