Both Hello UofT and 1UofT slates received multiple demerit points throughout the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election campaign before appeals. 1UofT garnered 188 demerit points and Hello UofT received 91.
Demerit points are a possible consequence of violations of the Elections Procedures Code (EPC). Students may file a grievance with the chief returning officer (CRO) if they believe a candidate has broken the election procedure.
The CRO, Daniel Gladstone, reviews the validity of the complaints and issues rulings. If a candidate is found to have broken election procedure, the CRO will issue a number of demerit points depending on the severity of the violation.
If an executive candidate reaches 35 demerit points, they are disqualified from participating in the election. This maximum is 30 for at-large director candidates and 20 for all other director candidates.
The CRO issued 16 rulings on complaints made throughout the campaign period, six of which were appealed and sent to the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC). The ERC has the power to hear appeals and uphold or overturn the CRO’s decisions as it sees fit.
Alessia Rodríguez, independent candidate for vice president, campus life, was not the subject of any complaints and did not receive any demerit points at during the campaign.
1UofT received significantly more demerit points than Hello UofT; each executive candidate for 1UofT was awarded between 22 and 28 points.
Circulating online campaign materials in a language other than English without a translation was a violation that the 1UofT slate committed. The EPC requires any campaign materials not in English to have an “accurate English translation that appears in equal stature and size.” The EPC also requires the translation to be notarized.
The CRO issued a total of 12 demerit points to 1UofT as a result of three different rulings involving non-English campaign materials. During the campaign period, The Varsity reported on one such blog in simplified Chinese, urging students to vote for 1UofT candidates.
Additionally, the CRO found that 1UofT had violated electoral procedure by having an “unauthorized campaigner” managing their Instagram account. The account belonged to Guled Arale, an employee of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, former vice president, external at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, and the treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. An investigation determined that Arale is not a UTSU member; each member of 1UofT received three demerit points.
The slate appealed the decision and the ERC overturned the CRO’s ruling, revoking the demerit points on the grounds that “the events established show an unintentional error not made with the intent to break the elections code.” Madina Siddiqui, presidential candidate for 1UofT, did not respond to requests for comment.
With the exception of Jasmine Wong Denike, president-elect, and Ryan Gomes, vice president, professional faculties-elect, Hello UofT’s executive candidates ultimately received zero demerit points.
Denike and Gomes obtained one and six points, respectively.
Denike, Andre Fast — vice president, external candidate with the 1UofT — and Malkeet Sandhu — vice president, equity candidate with 1UofT — each received a handful of demerit points relating to improper placement of campaign materials. Among these violations were posters placed on top of another candidate’s poster, or within one foot of another’s posters.
Fast received the highest number of demerit points — 27 by the end of the campaign. This figure was reduced to 25 after the appeals process. Fast did not respond to a request for comment.
There was one significant violation which affected all members of the Hello UofT slate. The CRO issued each candidate with three demerit points for pre-campaigning, which is forbidden under the EPC. The pre-campaigning allegedly took place in the form of Hello UofT’s Facebook page. The CRO ruled that “having these material present before the campaign period afforded the Hello UofT an unfair advantage.”
Hello UofT appealed the CRO’s decision. Given that the online content was invisible to anyone who was not a page administrator the ruling was overturned.
Individually, Gomes received six demerit points for “intentional misrepresentation of fact.” In a recorded conversation between Gomes and a volunteer campaigning for 1UofT, Gomes allegedly suggested that he was unaffiliated with the Hello UofT slate. The CRO penalized Gomes for noncompliance with the “spirit of [the] elections.”
Gomes appealed the CRO’s decision to the ERC, which upheld the ruling.
The recording was used as evidence in support of the allegation that the 1UofT slate participated in an act of “gross misrepresentation of fact.” In his ruling, the CRO issued eight demerit points to the entire slate, but declined to state which facts were misrepresented.
“The severity of these charges warranted much consideration on the part of the CRO. Because the CRO does not wish to further propagate these misrepresentations of fact, the CRO is omitting the details of this conversation,” read part of the CRO’s ruling.
“I believe that Hello UofT campaigned very fairly and followed the rules set by the [EPC],” said Denike. “I’m incredibly proud of my team and I don’t think I would have done anything any differently.”
When asked about some of the potential primary causes for procedure violations, Denike suggested that many violations “are due to small errors made during postering or campaigning.”
“The demerit point system exists to maintain a clean atmosphere during campaigning, and not there to be abused,” Denike commented. “The system is also in place to avoid people spreading lies, rumors or other malicious behaviors to tarnish the reputation of other candidate’s.”
“It’s important that people remember that although this system exists, people still get hurt, and that has a much more lasting impact than any number would,” she added.
With files from Rachel Chen & Tom Yun
Correction (March 29, 2016, 5:59 pm): An earlier version of this article stated that Ryan Gomes was found guilty of gross misrepresentation of facts. He was actually found guilty of intentional misrepresentation of facts, which is a different and less serious offence. The Varsity regrets the error.