Disqualifications in 2017 general election based on threats of violence against CEO

Even though the 2017 Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) general election is over, there are still some lingering questions that remain unanswered. Throughout the campaign, allegations were raised about some candidates, while others were disqualified from the race leading up to the Feb. 8–10 voting days.

The SFUO held a special Board of Administration (BOA) meeting on Monday, Feb. 13 to hear appeals related to these disqualifications.

Jeremy Russell appeal

On Feb. 10, the SFUO revealed that five BOA candidates were disqualified from the race after complaints were brought to the elections office starting on Feb. 6.

These candidates were Jordan Kent (Faculty of Social Sciences), Michele Di Franco (Faculty of Social Sciences), Davis Schwartz (Faculty of Social Sciences), David Gallo (Telfer School of Management), and Jeremy Russell (Faculty of Science). All of these candidates belonged to the Students First slate.

Following appeals to the elections committee, Kent, Schwartz, and Gallo were reinstated as candidates, while Di Franco ultimately withdrew his Feb. 10 appeal to be reinstated. Russell’s disqualification was upheld until his appeal to be reinstated at the Feb. 13 meeting. 

Mikayla Vattiata, a representative from the Faculty of Social Sciences and a member of the elections committee, told the board that while the committee had held individual meetings with each of the candidates initially disqualified. As Russell was not able to provide enough evidence for his case, it was brought before the board to be discussed.

The case surrounded a group conversation on Facebook between members of the Students First slate where, in a game of “most likely to,” Russell was voted “most likely to punch the CEO.”

Screenshots of the conversation were presented to the elections committee by an unnamed source within the slate, and Russell was disqualified on the grounds of contributing to an atmosphere of violence and bullying. The other candidates were also disqualified for the same reason, but since this comment was only about Russell, they were able to provide enough evidence to make their case and be reinstated.

During Russell’s appeal, he formally apologized to the CEO, Qussai Abu-Naqoos. Russell said he was unaware that endorsing these comments made about him regarding Abu-Naqoos constituted bullying and violence, and he said that he would not have endorsed such comments had he been priorly aware of their magnitude.

Abu-Naqoos then brought up comments from another group conversation between candidates in the Students First slate, where Gallo made further, more serious threats against Abu-Naqoos.

These comments made by Gallo inferred that he wanted to “have (Abu-Naqoos’) neck,” so that “his head wouldn’t be attached to his body.”

Russell said that while he was part of this group conversation, he was not aware of the comments made by Gallo until he was informed by Gallo separately.

Abu-Naqoos said that he initially withheld these threats made against him, but highlighted his concerns over how someone else would have reacted to them, had these comments been made against another person.

Rizki Rachiq, vice-president of finance for the SFUO, asked Abu-Naqoos if he ever felt his safety was jeopardized, to which Abu-Naqoos said “yes,” highlighting that men, specifically men of colour, are expected to not feel threatened by violent comments.

Abu-Naqoos then said he would be hesitant to have Russell and the other candidates on the slate who were involved in the conversation serve on the board in the coming year due to the ease at which they treated these comments.

The board then entered an in-camera session to discuss Russell’s appeal to be reinstated in the ballot count for the BOA’s Faculty of Science.

Following an approximately hour-long in-camera session, the board voted via secret ballot to uphold the elections office’s decision to maintain Russell’s disqualification.

The results of the vote were 14 in favour, two against, and four abstentions.

Abu-Naqoos then brought forward an appeal to overturn the elections office’s decision to reinstate Davis, Kent, and Schwartz.

By approximately 8:45 p.m., Faculty of Arts representative Jocelyn Cadieux proposed that, in the interest of time, the board should discuss this appeal at the next BOA meeting. This motion passed.

Tanner Tallon’s complaint

A motion was then brought forward by Tanner Tallon, a candidate for the position of vice-president of finance, regarding the incident at the Feb. 1 debate where Rachiq allegedly showed the audience Tallon’s timesheet, claims which Rachiq said were false.

According to Vattiata, Tallon brought this issue to the elections committee, but Abu-Naqoos concluded that there was insufficient evidence surrounding Tallon’s claims that Rachiq violated any rules.

Tallon then played a clip of the debate, quoted the Fulcrum’s coverage of the debate and Tallon and Rachiq’s statements regarding this incident, and read a number of laws regarding employee privacy rights.

Tallon said that while his own timesheet was not displayed, Rachiq publicly announcing his hours during the debate was a breach of his privacy rights as an employee.

Tallon went on to say that Rachiq had used formal SFUO human resource documentation as a candidate in the election, which was a violation of the election rules, and he ultimately called for Rachiq’s disqualification from the position for the coming year.

The board then entered another in-camera session to discuss the matter. Following this session, the board voted that the elections office would release an official statement regarding Tallon’s complaint against Rachiq.

Another special BOA meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 26 at 1 p.m., location TBA. Meetings are open to the public.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Michele Di Franco has withdrawn his appeal after being reinstated as a candidate. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Fulcrum sincerely regrets this error.