November 24, 2014

News | April 7, 2014
Documents leaked from case against Elections SSMU regarding Tariq Khan
Petition lists campaign violation accusations levelled against Khan
Written by , , and | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

For a full copy of the leaked documents, see the bottom of this article. Updated April 7, 2014 to include a statement released by Khan.

The Daily has obtained from an anonymous source a copy of a declaration submitted to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board by an unnamed petitioner regarding alleged campaign violations by Tariq Khan, who won the 2014-15 SSMU presidential election by just 78 votes. The petition has since been retracted because of Elections SSMU’s decision to invalidate the presidential election results.

The declaration identifies Ben Fung, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections SSMU – the body responsible for overseeing elections and referenda – as the respondent. The petitioner claims in the declaration that numerous requests – based on grounds similar to those provided in the declaration – were made via email for the CEO to invalidate the election, but were ignored.

The desired result of the Judicial Board case was for Elections SSMU to remove Khan from office and to either elect the runner-up or hold a by-election, according to the petition.

On April 1, independent of the Judicial Board case, Elections SSMU invalidated the results of Khan’s election, citing multiple campaign violations, and declared runner-up Courtney Ayukawa the president-elect. Because Khan’s election was invalidated while the petition was still in preliminary stages, the petition has since been retracted from the Judicial Board by its movers.

Although Elections SSMU refused to release details of the infractions for which it disqualified Khan on April 1, Fung told The Daily, “Obviously there would be overlap between the concerns that were brought up by students and the concerns that we investigated. So if someone had submitted evidence to this group of individuals who launched this [Judicial Board] case, it’s not unlikely that they also submitted this evidence to us.”

However, Fung added, “The complaints and the concerns that were brought up in the Judicial Board document [are] not a comprehensive representation of the concerns that Elections SSMU has with Mr. Khan’s campaign.”

Students have expressed their discontent with Elections SSMU’s decision to keep information about the infractions quiet. In a question-and-answer period held on April 2, Fung said that Elections SSMU’s confidentiality rules prevented him from disclosing information.

Fung added in an interview with The Daily on April 6 – in response to the leaking of the Judicial Board declaration – that Elections SSMU had not been given the permission of all of the individuals involved to release any details.

In addition to claiming that Elections SSMU ignored requests to invalidate the election results, the declaration alleges that the “penalization [… of Khan did] not adequately reflect his disregard for the Elections By-Laws throughout the campaigning period.”

This refers to the public censure issued by Elections SSMU to Khan on March 21, the last day of the voting period. Khan was censured for having “explicitly asked a non-campaign committee member to send unsolicited text messages to members of the public,” a contravention of bylaws 14.10.5 and 14.2, according to an email sent out to the student body by Fung on behalf of Elections SSMU.

“Considering [Khan’s] numerous previous violations and the time sensitivity of information as it relates to voters’ decision-making, a public censure on the final day of voting does nothing to affect the ultimate result of the election,” the petition states. “Further, Mr. Khan won by a small margin of [78] votes, clearly demonstrating that any and all campaigning activity benefitted him and could be attributed to his victory [sic].”

Fung, Ayukawa, Bradley respond to document’s release

When asked to comment on the fact that multiple emails addressed to Elections SSMU were included in the Judicial Board document, Fung told The Daily, “These were only emails to Elections SSMU. We didn’t comment on any of these, unless they were specifically related to our investigation. We weren’t involved in the Judicial Board case at all; in fact, the Judicial Board case was launched against us […] we weren’t involved in the preparation of [the Judicial Board declaration] at all.”

Both the current president-elect Courtney Ayukawa and incoming VP Finance and Operations Kathleen Bradley told The Daily that they were disappointed that the information was leaked.

“I think it’s too bad that the information had to be made public this way,” Ayukawa said, adding that she would have preferred to see it come out at the end of the Judicial Board case or when Elections SSMU decided to release details.

Bradley seconded this sentiment. “The [Judicial Board] case has already been [retracted] and the contents [of the declaration] should have, as I always intended them, [remained] confidential and between the parties it pertained to,” she told The Daily in a statement.

Both Ayukawa and Bradley emphasized that neither of them, nor Elections SSMU, had leaked the document, but refused to comment further on the document in question.

Khan could not be reached for comment by press time.

The declaration in question has been redacted by The Daily to protect the identity of third-party individuals.

Facebook, email screenshots detail alleged infractions

According to the document, in the 12-day campaigning period, Khan had ten election bylaw violations lodged against him, as well as one sanction. The violations of which Khan was accused include intimidating other candidates, campaigning in spaces specifically prohibited by electoral guidelines, and beginning his campaign prior to the start of the campaign period.

In one of the emails included in the declaration as evidence, the sender claims that further violations may not come to light “because of this culture of fear and intimidation [Khan] has brought into this campaign period.”

A separate email corroborates the allegations of intimidation tactics. The sender states that a non-SSMU member organized meetings with Khan and other candidates – whose names have been redacted – and threatened other campaigns if they did not drop out. According to the petitioner, this behaviour is a violation of bylaw 14.5, which states that candidates “should conduct themselves with full respect for their opponents.”

According to the declaration, individuals who are not members of SSMU allegedly campaigned for Khan, which contravenes bylaw 14.2. The declaration identifies one individual who changed their profile picture on Facebook as a promotion for Khan and closed a Facebook group to prevent other candidates from posting, and another individual who publicly campaigned for Khan and engaged in meeting scheduling on his behalf. Both of these individuals were not part of SSMU’s undergraduate membership at the time of these actions.

The declaration also identifies multiple alleged violations of bylaw 14.4, which states that campaign members cannot abuse their power in any group to provide greater exposure or resources to the campaign. An individual campaigning for Khan pinned a post supporting Khan to a McGill-related Facebook group of which they were the administrator. Campaign materials were also posted in several closed Facebook groups.

In addition, individuals campaigning for Khan were accused of interfering with other candidates’ campaign material. While invigilating an examination, one campaign team member allegedly erased a message on the board supporting Austin Johnson and replaced it with a message supporting Khan.

Another individual – a Facebook group administrator – allegedly removed a post supporting Ayukawa from the group, but allowed a post supporting Khan, and then changed the visibility of the group from “open” to “secret,” thus preventing other candidates from posting.

A student provided a testimony alleging that when voting started, Khan waited for students to come out of the elevator in the Schulich Library, presented them with an iPad, and suggested that they vote for him, and then stood by them as they voted, giving them no privacy. Another email from a different student details similar tactics on a separate occasion, this time with a member of Khan’s campaign team. These actions are alleged infractions against bylaw 14.6, which forbids campaigning “within the vicinity of the polling stations.”

In the declaration, Khan is also accused by multiple different testimonies of offering to secure funding for groups if elected president.

In one letter, accompanied by screenshots from a Facebook group, a student, whose name has been redacted, alleges that Khan promised to give funding to certain groups. Another email claims that Khan implicitly offered the complainant a job if they dropped out of the race.

On March 18, Elections SSMU censured VP Clubs & Services candidate Sandhya Sabapathy for similar behaviour. Fung indicated in an email sent to the student body that Elections SSMU considers “offers to secure […] jobs and positions of note” as infractions to bylaw 14.5 and bylaw 14.10.4, which prevents candidates from offering gifts.

Update: On April 7, Khan released a statement to the media regarding the invalidation of the election.

“On April 1st, 2014, Elections SSMU sent all students a message announcing my invalidation as SSMU’s President-elect. I will be the first to acknowledge that my campaign has not been without fault and first to express the importance of respecting both the spirit and technical aspects of democratic process.  However, I must express my firm disappointment with the nature, language, and methods through which accusations have been levied towards not only my campaign but also my person. I wish to assure all members of the Society, regardless of their participation in the election, that I am taking these claims very seriously.

I will be working closely with an advocate to take swift and appropriate actions to ensure that, for at least my part, I have and will continue to do all I am capable of for democracy on McGill’s campus to remain undeterred.”

– With files from Laurent Bastien Corbeil

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