Two cases filed to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) last March against Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Rachelle Bastarache have been resolved through mediation, as of April 28. Both petitioners, unsuccessful SSMU presidential candidate Alexei Simakov and VP Internal candidate Johanna Nikoletos, claimed that Elections SSMU failed to uphold its mandate to ensure a fair election.
Simakov, who received 47.5 per cent of the vote in the presidential election, claimed that Elections SSMU did not adequately address the alleged instance of libel on behalf of his opponent, SSMU president-elect Kareem Ibrahim. Ibrahim had accused Simakov of being involved in the revealing of controversial comments that Ibrahim had made in a Facebook message thread concerning the gathering of evidence for alleged bylaw infractions by former SSMU presidential candidate Tariq Khan.
The terms of agreement reached in mediation required Ibrahim to publicly apologize to Simakov, which he did on April 13. In his apology, Ibrahim expressed regret and acknowledged that some of the comments he made against Simakov were “unsubstantiated allegations.”
In addition, Bastarache sent a statement over the Elections SSMU listserv publicly censuring Ibrahim on April 28. According to the email, the censure was due to “new evidence” that surfaced after the campaigning period which would have affected Bastarache’s original decision; however, the situation was “not severe enough” to warrant a meeting of the Electoral Review Committee (ERC).
The new evidence in question is that the Facebook post in which Ibrahim had made accusations against Simakov was deleted eight hours after Bastarache originally believed it to have been deleted, she told The Daily.
Bastarache recognized that, with the vote long over, the censures served little purpose beyond informing the public of infractions that occurred during the campaign period.
“It was an agreement that we’d come to where […] we will acknowledge that something has happened, not severe enough to warrant convening [the] ERC or anything else, however if you felt that you had been wronged, we wanted to make that right – and that was the way that [Simakov] felt that things could be made right,” stated Bastarache.
“At the time, it seemed appropriate, however that was also on [April 8], so that was a long time ago.”
Nikoletos, who lost the VP Internal election by 13 votes, filed a petition at the end of March asking the J-Board to invalidate the VP Internal election and hold another vote. In her petition, Nikoletos alleged that incoming VP Internal Lola Baraldi had not been sanctioned for improper campaigning on Facebook and Reddit. Nikoletos also alleged that Baraldi had violated regulations when she campaigned in the New Residence Hall lobby.
Baraldi was publicly censured by Elections SSMU on March 27, about one week after the election results were announced, for campaign violations in New Residence Hall.
In mediation, Bastarache agreed to formulate recommendations for next year’s CEO on ways to clarify the SSMU electoral bylaws, particularly with regard to campaigning on social media. “A lot of the campaigning is playing out on social media, and it is very difficult to monitor,” said Bastarache, noting that ambiguity in the bylaws in this regard has also been an issue in the past.
Nikoletos did not respond to requests for comment.
Dissatisfaction with process
In an email, Simakov told The Daily that his overall experience with J-Board had confirmed his concerns that “students are unable to access an unbiased judicial process related to matters of politics,” and that the CEO of Elections SSMU “is under no impartial supervision.”
This, Simakov wrote, was based on the manner in which his case was dealt, as after submitting his petition, he was not contacted by “the J-Board or student advocacy office for over a week,” though, according to him, Bastarache was assigned a student advocate less than two days after she filed her response.
“[On April 7] I was notified that the only available time to meet would be within forty minutes, and was connected with my student advocate precisely ten minutes before the mediation session started,” Simakov told The Daily. “Ten minutes is not at all an adequate amount of time to adequately prepare my case.”
J-Board Chief Justice Muna Tojiboeva did not oversee Nikoletos’s case due to a conflict of interest stemming from Tojiboeva’s involvement in Baraldi’s campaign.