Roméo Ahimakin accused of being “violent and misogynistic” and abusing power

A regularly scheduled Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Board of Administration (BOA) meeting was held on Sunday, March 5, where members of the executive took turns making accusations against president Roméo Ahimakin.

Executive updates and Vanessa Dorimain’s email

SFUO vice-president of university affairs Vanessa Dorimain, who was unable to attend the meeting, submitted her executive updates via email, which was read by a proxy.

As part of her updates, Dorimain addressed Ahimakin’s behaviour over the course of the 2016–17 academic year, writing that he is “violent and misogynistic” and “shuts down women in conversations.” The reading continued, with Dorimain claiming that Ahimakin has yelled at her on a number of occasions and has also missed multiple meetings.

With less than two months remaining in both her’s and Ahimakin’s mandates, Dorimain wrote, “I am not looking for any disciplinary action on this,” instead writing that she hopes this matter will be taken seriously and resolved.

Dorimain concluded her email by telling the board that, having worked alongside Ahimakin for two years, she once considered him a friend but now fears him.

Hadi Wess, current vice-president social for the SFUO and president-elect for the 2017–18 year, updated the board on the March 3 Relay for Life event, which raised over $32,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, and saw its highest participation yet with 31 teams.

Wess then echoed many of Dorimain’s statements regarding the current president by saying, “It has been extremely difficult to work with (Ahimakin) in the past few months,” and that Ahimakin has yelled at him in front of staff.

According to Wess, Ahimakin has made executive meetings an “unsafe space” for many current members, and he has missed many meetings and events. Wess cited the recent Relay for Life as an example of this recurring behaviour, saying that though he asked Ahimakin to attend the event the president only showed up to walk one lap of the track before leaving.

Wess also discussed planning for Leader Action, a transition and teambuilding weekend on April 29–30 for newly elected executive members of the SFUO and federated bodies, BOA reps, and Senate members. According to Wess, while planning for this event typically falls under the mandate of the president and vice-president social, he is working with Dorimain instead of Ahimakin.

Vice-president of equity Morissa Ellis continued this train of thought by saying that Ahimakin has laughed at her, silenced her, policed her tone, and did not show support for Black History Month events at the U of O.

Question period

During question period, Ahimakin was asked about the claims made against him, to which he responded that he has dealt with “conflicts of interest” within the executive since September.

Ahimakin also said that two mediations have taken place within the executive to address these internal tensions, and that he has received “charged emails” from Dorimain, Wess, and current vice-president of finance Rizki Rachiq.

According to Ahimakin, the negativity towards him stemmed from his stance on certain issues within the SFUO, such as Dorimain filling the position of chief returning officer for the 2017 general election—an issue which was found to be unconstitutional, but given the green light by the board due to time constraints and budget.

Ahimakin then proposed to add an item to the agenda to discuss the claims made against him by others on the executive, but this was voted down by the board. Instead, the BOA opted to have it discussed during the miscellaneous points at the end of the meeting.

Motions on international students

During the meeting, Ahimakin brought forward two emergency motions on international students. The first, to create an international student seat on the board, and another to promote equality for international students on campus.

The latter motion addressed how SFUO executives are limited to a maximum of two courses per semester, but international students are required to take a full course load for the majority of their degree.

According to Ahimakin, this limits international students from serving on the SFUO executive (he is the first international student to serve as president), and essentially disenfranchises them from voting and the electoral process.

The motion itself would address this course load for executive members to accommodate for international students, and ultimately passed a first reading. However, his first motion on an international student seat on the board came in competition with a similar motion proposed by Wess.

Wess said that he wrote his own motion in consultation with cultural clubs on campus, but Ahimakin asked whether he, as an international student, was approached by Wess for the motion. Wess responded to Ahimakin by saying that he did reach out to him three or four times.

During debate on the two motions, Kathryn LeBlanc, a representative from the Faculty of Arts and the incoming vice-president of services and communications for the 2017–18 year, noted that this debate had little to do with the specifics of the motions, and more to do with the interpersonal conflict between Ahimakin and Wess.

The board finally ended up passing a motion on international student representation that combined elements of both Ahimakin’s and Wess’ motions.

Comptroller general employment and cool-down period

Rachiq brought up the issue of the employment of the comptroller general, as the length of term to which the individual wishes to be employed is up to them.

According to Rachiq, the board’s selection committee should determine the candidate for the position and the length of their employment.

The board then passed a motion so that the candidate for comptroller general cannot begin their employment in the position before signing a fixed-term contract.

Faculty of Arts representative Tristan Lamonica then raised a motion to have a one year cool-down period before the comptroller general can run in SFUO elections.

According to Wess, the reasoning behind this motion was because the comptroller possesses sensitive information about executives (i.e. expenditures, timesheets), which can be used to their advantage during elections.

The board raised the fact that this was the case during last month’s general election, with comptroller general Tanner Tallon, who was also a candidate for the position of vice-president finance, calling for an audit of campaign expenditures after the race.

The board voted in favour of this cool-down period for the comptroller general running in elections.

Other business

During the meeting, Rachiq brought up that some members of the board, such as Faculty of Social Sciences representative Tony Bui, have missed multiple meetings, often without a proxy.

Rachiq noted that Bui works out of town, which raised the question of how much he is able to interact with students in his faculty and, ultimately, how well he is able to represent their needs on the board.

Rachiq noted that while the BOA cannot force other members off the board, they can encourage these members to resign.

On the possibility of impeachment for such members, secretary Jesse Root noted that an impeachment process would be launched by the board, with students voting on this impeachment in a special election.

Ahimakin departed from the meeting before the board could further discuss the claims made against him during the miscellaneous points period.

The next SFUO BOA meeting will take place on Sunday, March 12 at 1 p.m., room to be announced. Meetings are open to the public.

The SFUO’s winter General Assembly will take place on Tuesday, March 14 at 6 p.m. in Marion Hall. All students are encouraged to attend.