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Both candidates deny allegations in ruling, appealing CEO’s decision

Update (April 30, 6:05 p.m.): In a statement dated April 29, chief electoral officer Jon Wiseman recommended that the ruling disqualifying both candidates and including allegations of cheating on the bilingualism test be fully withdrawn. He also issued an apology to both candidates. “As noted by the Appeals Committee’s decision on Ruling 4, and as should have originally happened once the topic of disqualification came up, disqualification should have been done solely for the results of the Bilingualism Test, not to do with any allegations that arose regarding conduct during the test,” Wiseman wrote.

A candidate looking to become the University of Ottawa Students’ Union’s (UOSU) next advocacy commissioner and the sole student life commissioner candidate have both been disqualified from the general elections. 

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) ruled that they do not meet the bilingualism requirements needed to serve on the union’s executive, but both candidates deny the allegations in the ruling and are appealing the decision.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt that Omar Samake and Zineb El Ouazzani do not possess a sufficient enough level of bilingualism to serve on executive, as well as due to corroborated accounts of cheating on the bilingualism test, they will both be immediately disqualified as candidates for the March 2020 UOSU elections,” wrote CEO of the general elections Jon Wiseman in a ruling dated Saturday. 

The elections committee also recommended on Saturday that advocacy commissioner candidate Samake and student life commissioner candidate El Ouazzani be disqualified, according to Wiseman’s ruling.

“The CEO expects better from candidates in this race. Candidates are running to be leaders on campus, and as such, must model leadership behaviour,” states the ruling.

Alex Auger, assistant coordinator of test sessions at the U of O’s Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI), first brought the concerns of possible cheating forward in an email to the CEO on Monday. 

According to the ruling, Auger noted that the answer sheets between Samake and El Ouazzani were similar to the point where they had answered the same questions incorrectly. 

“Furthermore, it was noted by the OLBI that whispering and other forms of verbal communication were observed during the listening component of the bilingualism test,” reads the ruling.

Another person taking the test at the same time as the two disqualified candidates also corroborated details from the OLBI, according to Wiseman’s ruling. Wiseman added that Samake and El Ouazzani did not achieve a “satisfactory” score on their bilingualism test. 

“These remarks are completely false,” wrote El Ouazzani in a statement to the Fulcrum. “I, in no capacity, cheated or attempted to cheat on this test. I take this role as being a student very seriously and would not risk ruining that by cheating. I am also fluently bilingual in English and French and am confident that I am able to communicate with my peers in the official languages.”

El Ouazzani says she was never contacted by the CEO or the elections committee to respond to the allegations of cheating and has made an appeal to reverse the decision disqualifying her from the race and apologizing for the “improper ruling.”

“I would also call the official resignation of the current CEO as a measure of good faith to ensure no more improper rulings will be made for the rest of the campaign and to restore confidence in the candidates and students who depend on a fair and equitable electoral process,” El Ouazzani wrote.

“I want to be clear in saying I did not cheat on the bilingualism test and am shocked by the allegation,” wrote Samake in his appeal, shared with the Fulcrum. “I have never been accused of cheating and am fluently and confidently able to communicate in both official languages (French and English).”

“I would request an official public statement of apology be submitted on behalf of the CEO and elections committee for the emotional duress and undue harm this situation has caused me and the other candidate as a proper investigation was never fully conducted,” added Samake. 

Samake says he was never contacted by the CEO or the elections committee to respond to the allegations of cheating and says he was not approached during the test or given a verbal warning either. Samake is looking to involve the U of O’s Office of the Ombudsperson as well.

Wiseman wrote in his ruling that he was prepared to have Samake and El Ouazzani retake the test as soon as the OLBI was available to, but due to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic — which also shifted the general elections completely online — he decided against it.

“In the interest of the health and safety of all involved, as well as equal integrity regarding the test in relation to other candidates, this has been put on hold,” wrote Wiseman. 

“It is unfair to penalize me as a candidate for circumstances that are outside of my control,” wrote Samake. “With that wording, it does not indicate that allowing a retake is not possible. I would suggest exploring this possibility as the university has been able to find solutions to online final exams/assignments.”

Due to the disqualifications, Tim Gulliver is now running unopposed for the advocacy commissioner position, while the student life commissioner position for the 2020-21 academic year will be vacant following the general elections. However, the UOSU’s newly elected Board of Directors (BOD) will have the power to appoint an interim student life commissioner until the position can be filled at the union’s fall byelections. 

Voting for the UOSU’s general elections will run from Wednesday to Friday. Results are expected later Friday night, and the new executives and BOD will begin their terms in May. 

Editor’s Note (March 23, 10:31 a.m.): This article has been updated to include comment from both Omar Samake and Zineb El Ouazzani.

Editor’s Note (April 30, 6:05 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from chief electoral officer Jon Wiseman dated April 29.