I currently volunteer as a case analyst for Innocence Ottawa, a student-run, non-profit organization that seeks to address the problem of wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice more generally, while helping those who claim to be wrongfully convicted in establishing their innocence.
In the fall of 2015, I assumed the role of treasurer for the organization. Upon accepting this position, I received many cynical well wishes from more tenured members of the organization due to the tumultuous relationship our organization had experienced with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) in the past. In April 2016 when our subsidy request was made, I quickly realized the rationale for this negative perception of the SFUO.
Last spring the SFUO still supplied clubs with subsidized funding, so long as the club submitted its subsidy request by the appropriate deadline date. I had submitted Innocence Ottawa’s subsidy request in a timely manner, a request that included expenditures such as: travel costs to visit clients in correctional institutions, costs for sending and receiving documents for case work, and expenses for our annual conference, which included paying for guest travel, accommodations and honorarium, while also providing refreshments for conference goers.
The total expenses for the subsidy request were $583.17. A majority of the expenses were provided directly by the students of the organization, as the SFUO was our sole source of funding. The student volunteers were comfortable providing personal funds up front due to the belief that the SFUO would be refunding these expenses once the subsidy request was made.
Upon submitting the subsidy request, I was contacted by then-vice-president of equity, Nicole Maylor, as our request included one receipt that was not an original, but a photocopy. After a member could not find the original receipt, I contacted Nicole to remove that receipt, and the accompanying expenses, from the request. A week went by with no response. As the deadline was fast approaching, I emailed Nicole again asking for confirmation that our subsidy request would be submitted with the appropriate changes.
After visiting the SFUO office and learning that Nicole had resigned from her position, I was instructed to contact the president of the SFUO, Roméo Ahimakin. I emailed him several times to ensure that our request would be processed. Still no response.
Over the summer and into the fall 2016 semester I would make several visits a week to try and speak to Ahimakin about the matter. This effort was met with me filling out a request form to meet with the president. These requests were never met with a response.
One day after submitting another request, I chose to sit in the SFUO office until I had a chance to speak with the president. Finally, I was able to get a response, only because I waited to speak face to face with Ahimakin, who informed me that the matter would be taken care of immediately.
I was instructed to forward him, and the current vice-president of equity, Morissa-Dalia Ellis, and vice-president of finance, Rizki Rachiq, all of the previous contact I had with the SFUO through email so he could tend to the matter (even though I had already sent him the email chain more than once).
Shockingly, I received no response to that email from any of the three recipients.
I have since made many of the same efforts to reach out to members of the SFUO executive to attend to this matter, to no avail. Moreover, Innocence Ottawa’s director Kathryn Campbell, who is an associate professor with the department of criminology, met with Ahimakin in October 2016, at which time he assured her that the organization would be reimbursed.
For the past nine months, the SFUO and its executive members have blatantly ignored persistent efforts by Innocence Ottawa to obtain subsidized funding that was assured to our organization upon registering as a club under the student federation.
Currently, many students in our organization are owed hundreds of dollars, a significant amount of money given the costs associated with being a student. Subsequently, Innocence Ottawa is currently struggling to obtain funds to pursue essential endeavors in our case work, while also struggling to plan and carry out our annual conference, which has been extremely successful in past years in spreading awareness concerning our organization’s cause.
For a federation that claims to recognize the legitimacy and validity of students rights and representation, the actions, or lack thereof, of the SFUO executive members exemplify the opposite with overt apathy for representing students.
Hopefully this letter can serve to raise awareness concerning the incompetence of the SFUO executive members, while also serving as a means for Innocence Ottawa to gain a response regarding the long overdue subsidy request. However, from my experience, a response will likely not be forthcoming.
—Jordan Bateman, third-year graduate student in criminology at the University of Ottawa.