Aug. 12 meeting goes in-camera to discuss allegations, forensic audit

On Sunday, Aug. 12, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Board of Administration (BOA) held its first meeting of the 2018-19 school year. The meeting follows recent allegations of fraud and embezzlement committed by members of the federation, specifically president Rizki Rachiq, vice-president operations Axel Gaga, and executive director Vanessa Dorimain.

La Rotonde first broke news of the allegations on Thursday, Aug. 9, after former SFUO president Hadi Wess submitted a deposition to Ottawa Police on April 30, the final day of his mandate. Wess was initially alerted to suspicious financial activities on April 16 by a member of Caisse Desjardins, the federation’s bank. According to Wess, Rachiq received over $20,000 from the federation after allegedly creating a fraudulent club with a debit card registered under his name and past home address.

Rachiq was the only member of the executive not present at Sunday’s meeting, and did not send a proxy. This saw disapproval by members of the public gallery, who filled up the Tabaret Hall Senate room, spilling into the hallway.

Following questions from the gallery about Rachiq’s whereabouts, Telfer representative Salma Naser said that he was advised by his lawyer not to attend the meeting. Vice-president equity Caroline Lu added that in an email to the board, Rachiq clarified that he would not be at the meeting to avoid allegations of conflict of interest.

The University of Ottawa issued a statement on Friday, Aug. 10 that it will be withholding transfer payments from tuition fees to the SFUO as a result of the allegations. The federation is financially independent of the U of O administration, and the university plays no role in the governance of the federation.

The U of O has also requested that a forensic audit take place to investigate the allegations.

In response to the administration’s decision, faculty of engineering representative Ben King asked if this would affect 101 Week, which is organized by the SFUO and federated bodies. Isaac Tate, a proxy from the same faculty, also asked if fed bodies would receive levies, which are issued by the SFUO. Vice-president operations Gaga confirmed that 101 Week planning will not be affected, and fed bodies will receive their levies as long as they have passed their audits.

Less than an hour into the meeting the board voted to move in-camera to discuss an emergency motion pertaining to the allegations. Journalists from Radio-Canada who were present used the opportunity to interview students about the allegations, many of whom expressed their concerns with the executive, and their money going toward supposed fraudulent activities.

Two auditors from Deloitte later arrived, and were allowed into the in-camera session.

Following the in-camera session, the chair of the meeting, Raymond Debrowski, was to be replaced by a new chair. Debrowski is also the federation’s legal counsel.

A motion was put forward to approve Dorimain as the new chair, however several members of the board and gallery raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest due to Dorimain being listed in the allegations. Dorimain, along with former vice-president equity Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, who was proxying at the meeting, noted that the chair is bound to Robert’s Rules of Order and must remain impartial, and does not have voting rights.

Despite these concerns, the board approved Dorimain as chair, before moving to vote on a resolution from the in-camera meeting. The resolution, pertaining to the forensic audit, would ensure that results from the audit cannot be used in a prosecution unless approved by the BOA. Further, the board would call upon Wess to pay the federation $994 in external legal fees by Oct. 1.

This led to numerous members of the gallery expressing concerns over transparency and conflicts of interest, given that Rachiq and Gaga having voting rights and Dorimain serves as the board’s secretary.

“To what extent are you deciding your own fate?” asked one student, while another inquired about whether the audit would be fairly conducted, and decisions would be made fairly pending the results.

There was additional concern over having Wess pay close to $1,000 in legal fees, however Dorimain refrained from disclosing details about this clause of the resolution. A roll call vote saw 27 board members voting in favour of the resolution, before moving in-camera once again to discuss a second emergency motion.

Following the second in-camera session the board voted separately on suspending Rachiq both with and without pay, however both motions failed to pass. They later ratified Deloitte to conduct their annual audit of the federation.

The board also voted in favour of creating an ad hoc committee for an Indigenous Awareness Week in September.

Near the end of the meeting, following questions by members of the gallery about Rachiq maintaining his position on the executive, vice-president external Paige Booth noted that Rachiq has retracted his signing authority for the federation until further notice.

In response to the results of the meeting, a group of students is currently working on an impeachment campaign under the name “Untied.” Questions can be directed to Moe Abu Rouss at maburouss@gmail.com.