What brought the relationship between the SFUO and the U of O to implosion
The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) may well be the first post-secondary student union in the country to ever have their university terminate their contract, according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). It’s still unclear exactly how this termination will pan out and what impact it could have on U of O students. In the meantime, the Fulcrum put together a quick refresher on how the SFUO’s relationship with both the U of O and its students reached such a catastrophic point.
Aug. 9: In the beginning…
La Rotonde and then the Fulcrum broke the news that SFUO president Rizki Rachiq and executive coordinator Vanessa Dorimain were facing allegations of fraud, with mention of vice-president operations Axel Gaga.
The allegations are tied to a police report filed with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) following the submission of a report from previous SFUO president Hadi Wess. SFUO vice-president of operations Axel Gaga was also mentioned in the report filed by Wess.
The report stated that Wess was alerted to the possibility of fraud in April by Andre Belanger, business development and risk manager at the SFUO’s bank (Caisse Desjardins), following unusual charges the bank flagged. Wess froze the account and then began investigating with SFUO finance director Nicole Labossiere.
Wess’ report claims that Rachiq received more than $20,000 in cheques through a “faulty” club called Testing Restaurants UOttawa. He allegedly opened a separate bank account for the club that had two debit cards connected to it, one of which was in his name and registered under his past home addresses.
Per SFUO protocol, all clubs must be approved by vice-president equity. But in an email to the Fulcrum, then-vice-president equity Camelia Touzany said she did not certify the club and a document recognizing the club as official contained “a forgery of (her) signature.”
The report goes on to allege that a number of purchases were made with the club’s card, including a $950 pair of eyeglasses from Albert Optical, a $609.37 charge at Louis Vuitton, a $498.30 charge at J’aime Coiffure (a Montreal hair salon), $338.28 at Audi Lauzon, and $500 in ATM cash withdrawals. Additionally, five deposited cheques linked to the account totaled upwards of $20,000.
Meanwhile, the allegations against Dorimain are tied to the SFUO’s Leader Action event. Wess alleged that just over $3,000 in food that was supposedly ordered for the event from Dorimain’s mother’s catering company although he did not approve the order, and it was never delivered. Wess also alleged that Dorimain approved a $860 cheque for office cleanup,which is not a service the SFUO pays for, adding the cheque was made out to an alleged friend of Dorimain’s.
No charges have been laid and the OPS would neither confirm nor deny whether a formal investigation is ongoing at the date of this publication.
Aug. 10: The U of O responds
The U of O put out a press release and sent an email to students stating the university administration had met with the SFUO executive to request an external forensic audit be conducted immediately. They also froze the transfer of funds collected from students to the SFUO until such audit is complete.
Aug. 12: SFUO BOA meets in aftermath, signs of unrest
The SFUO’s Board of Administration (BOA) met for the first time following the shockwaves caused by the SFUO fraud allegations. All executives were present at the meeting except for Rachiq, who did not send a proxy—supposedly to avoid the alleged appearance of a conflict of interest, according to an email he sent to the board—and retracted his signing authority with the federation. Dorimain chaired part of the meeting, despite concerns of a conflict of interest form several members of the board and gallery.
The meeting saw two in-camera sessions to discuss the allegations and a forensic audit. Two motions were tabled to suspend Rachiq with and without pay, both of which failed. Two related resolutions passed, one preventing the results of the audit from being used in a potential prosecution unless approved by the board, and another requiring Wess to pay close to $1,000 in legal fees to the SFUO.
It also became clear at this time that a group of students were organizing an SFUO impeachment campaign called “Un-Tied.”
Sept. 9: Students protest, call for impeachment of Rachiq
Around 50 students gathered outside the SFUO office in the University Centre to protest executives named in fraud allegations and call for the impeachment of Rachiq. The protest was co-organized by Un-Tied SFUO, the University of Ottawa New Democratic Party (UONDP), University of Ottawa Greens (UOG), University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives (UOCC), and University of Ottawa Young Liberals (UOYL).
Sept. 16: BOA meets for second time
After missing the first BOA meeting post-allegations, Rachiq was present at the Sept. 16 meeting. The SFUO constitutional committee announced PwC had been chosen to conduct the audit, beginning on Sept. 17. It was revealed that that Gaga sat on the constitutional committee in charge of choosing PwC despite being named in the fraud allegations.
The board also discussed a letter from Wess in regards to the payment of $1,000 in legal fees, and decided to send him a letter in response reiterating his requirement to pay.
It was announced the vice-president equity, Caroline Lu, had resigned for undisclosed reasons. Lu’s duties were shifted to the responsibility of vice-president external Paige Booth.
Sept. 22: U of O requests resignation of executives named in fraud allegations, threatens termination
The U of O requested the resignation of all executives named in the fraud allegations until the forensic audit was completed, per a document obtained by the Fulcrum. The document, which contained three letters from the university to the SFUO, stated that in absence of “notable and rapid progress”, the university reserved the right to deliver a notice of termination for their 2012 agreement with the federation.
The document noted that as of Aug. 31, the university had learned of “additional allegations of improper governance, mismanagement, internal conflict, and workplace misconduct.”
Sept. 24: U of O announces contract termination
In a press release, the U of O announced its plan to terminate the SFUO-U of O contract. Come Dec. 24, unless a new agreement is signed, the university will no longer recognize the SFUO as the exclusive union representing the undergraduate student body. The university will no longer collect fees from students for SFUO use to fund and support service centres, businesses, clubs and federated bodies.
— With files from Anchal Sharma, Savannah Awde, Graham Robertson and Marissa Phul.