Threats against Abu-Naqoos prompts disqualifications, delays candidate ratification

A special meeting of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Board of Administration (BOA) was held on Sunday, Feb. 26 to discuss appeals brought forward by the chief electoral officer (CEO), Qussai Abu-Naqoos, at the Feb. 13 meeting.

At the previous meeting, Abu-Naqoos brought up an online conversation that took place between three candidates on the Students First slate—David Gallo, Davis Schwartz, and Jordan Kent—which involved threats made against him.

According to Abu-Naqoos, the conversation involved Gallo saying that if he won his seat on the BOA he would “have (Abu-Naqoos’) neck.” When asked why by Schwartz, Gallo responded “so that it would no longer be attached to his body.”

Neither Schwartz nor Kent condemned Gallo’s comments, and according to Abu-Naqoos these kinds of comments, though intended as a joke, contribute to a culture of violence against people of colour and religious minorities.

Abu-Naqoos said that this conversation between the candidates “always made (him) look behind (him), and be more alert.”

Abu-Naqoos, who was employed by the SFUO during the election period, also said that there is no mention of how to deal with instances of discrimination and harassment in the federation’s constitution.

While section 16 of the SFUO’s policy manual states that SFUO policies and practices should not discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, and a number of other factors, there is no explicit mention of discrimination or harassment by students against SFUO employees.

Finally, as part of his statement, Abu-Naqoos said that he has no political motive behind appealing the decision of the elections committee to have the candidates reinstated. Instead, his concerns are personal and involve the safety of other board members.

During the campaign period, Abu-Naqoos had originally disqualified the candidates after the comments were brought to his attention, but they had been reinstated following an investigation and interview process by the elections committee.

Mikayla Vattiata, a representative from the Faculty of Social Sciences who sits on the elections committee, said “Looking back, we didn’t take into consideration how serious (this issue) is.” She then said that she is now “100 per cent” in support of Abu-Naqoos and his appeal.

Caylie McKinlay, who is also part of the elections committee, said that they didn’t know where the violence was targeted, and gave the benefit of the doubt to these candidates during the investigation.

McKinlay also noted that due to the often toxic nature of elections they had originally wanted to give the candidates a second chance.

Princejeet Singh, a Faculty of Engineering representative, then read a letter by Gallo, who was unable to attend the meeting.

The letter served as an apology to Abu-Naqoos, with Gallo writing that he had felt excluded within his own slate, and that he had not meant for Abu-Naqoos to see the private comments, which he believed to be a joke.

Gallo also wrote that heightened emotions during elections can lead to a mob mentality, which is why he made those comments against the CEO.

Shawn Philip Hunsdale, chairperson of the board, then presented an apology letter written by Schwartz, also absent, to Abu-Naqoos.

In his letter, Schwartz wrote that he too meant his comments as a joke, and said that due to the privilege he possesses as a white male he was unable to see how the conversation could be threatening towards racialized people. 

Schwartz then explained that he is not just sorry that he got caught, but rather that he was complacent in threatening comments towards people of colour.

Finally, Singh presented a letter by Kent who, like Gallo and Schwartz, was also absent from the meeting. The letter was read during a brief in-camera session.

Following this in-camera session, the board moved into discussion on a vote to have the three candidates removed from the board for the upcoming year. After some debate, the board chose to vote on each candidate individually via secret ballot.

Gallo was removed from the BOA with a vote of 14 in favour, five opposed, and two abstentions. Gallo’s disqualification means that Milly Pang, who currently sits on the board for the Telfer School of Management and who was rerunning for her seat during the election, will now have a seat on the board for the 2017–18 year.  

Gallo declined the Fulcrum’s request to comment on the outcome of the appeal.

Schwartz was removed with a vote of 15 in favour, four opposed, and two abstentions.

In a statement to the Fulcrum following the meeting, Schwartz wrote, “Where I have written a sincere apology for my one comment used to disqualify me, these proceedings have been used to smear my character and vision for a better SFUO.”

“I am a devout Christian. I am tolerant, respectful, and peaceful. Identity politics have tried to transform me into a monster. Elections are not fair nor free at the SFUO. Due process gets furloughed, and conflict of interests run rampant. The SFUO stands further divided because of these proceedings,” wrote Schwartz.

Prior to Kent’s vote, a second letter he wrote was presented to the board, where Kent discussed the negativity he has experienced on campus since the Nov. 12 general assembly (GA).

“I have been stalked, had my character smeared, lies have been spread, people made direct threats against me. And all of this has made me paranoid for my personal safety,” wrote Kent.

Kent also wrote that his slate was “targeted by the CEO many times over the course of the campaign.”

“He tried to disqualify us on the first day of the campaign. Then took away our official representative and didn’t allow for us to have another one, and then refused to, and still refuses to acknowledge any complaints we made about the United Slate,” wrote Kent.

Kent also said that Abu-Naqoos “refused to accommodate (his) accessibility needs” during the election period.

However, Vanessa Dorimain, SFUO vice-president of university affairs and acting chief returning officer during the election, said that Kent had met with the elections office to discuss how to meet his needs during the election.

Vice-president of equity Morissa Ellis then said that accommodations were made for Kent during the election.

Following the vote, Kent was removed with 17 in favour and three opposed.

“The voters spoke on February 10th, and they overwhelming chose me to represent them on the BOA,” Kent wrote in a statement to the Fulcrum. “This election was stolen from the students, and I am disappointed in the verdict.” 

Kent later told the Fulcrum that he “was not aware of the statement until after the fact” and that he “was appalled to see such language being used.”

Dorimain then clarified that due to these disqualifications and a consequent recount of candidates who had originally not been elected, the ratification of the election results would be moved to a later date.

During the meeting, the board also voted in favour of extending the submission deadline for motions for the March 14 GA to March 6.

The next SFUO BOA meeting will take place on Sunday, March 5 at 1 p.m. in TBT 083. Meetings are open to the public. 

The Fulcrum received further comments from Davis Schwartz and Jordan Kent following the release of this publication. The article has been updated to reflect these statements.