Scandals plague Concordia Student Union

Money lost, bookkeeper sued, recall petition thwarted, fingers pointed

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) is embroiled in yet another scandal, this time involving a $500,000 deficit, a lawsuit against its former bookkeeper, and a petition to recall the entire executive that has been taken to the Judicial Board.

The union is suing Marie Lyonnais, a former CSU bookkeeper and Chartered Accountant, for a total amount of $363,238.25 for alleged “negligent behaviour.”

Executives, both current and from as far back as 2000, have been pointing fingers at each other and Lyonnais for financial mismanagement – that, according to the CSU, caused the union to incur a combined deficit of nearly $500,000 for the fiscal years ending May 31, 2006 and May 31, 2007.

“These kids don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” said a former executive who wished not to be named. “This is very, very serious […] This is not something you play around with.”

But current CSU president Keyana Kashfi redirected the blame to past executives.

“They didn’t know where they [stood], but they just kept spending,” Kashfi said, “So as long as their cheques cleared, they kept spending.”

When Fauve Castagna, former CSU VP Finance, started her term in the summer of 2007, an audit hadn’t been filed by the CSU since the 2004-2005 academic year. The CSU’s bank accounts were also seized by the Canadia Revenue Agency just one month after her term started.

“Certain taxes hadn’t been paid, and the government was owed large sums of money in penalties and interest,” Castagna explained. “It was a nice way to come into office.”

The Gazette reported that the finances were so disorganized that forensic accountants hired for an audit by the union could not decide whether funds were improperly or fraudulently spent or managed. They eventually just gave up.

Ironically, Lyonnais, who is no longer a member of the Order of Quebec Chartered Accountants, was hired by Patrice Blais in 2000 to watch the finances after almost $200,000 was embezzled by a former CSU VP Finance.

Mohamed Shuriye, CSU president of 2005-2006, said he could not have foreseen the mismanagement by an employee, especially since he wasn’t the one in charge of the books.

“For this current executive to say that we should have questioned the numbers from a chartered accountant is unreasonable,” Shuriye said. “I’m appalled that this executive has the tenacity to question my judgment especially since they’re being recalled.”

Patrice Blais, the current Secretary and Treasurer of the Concordia Student Broadcasting Corporation, spearheaded a recall late last fall after the executive tried to hold a fee referendum in spite of numerous breaches of regulations and a Chief Electoral Officer who was no longer a student. But it was contested by Chair of Council Jessica Nudo, because she said nearly two-thirds of the 3,600 signatures were invalid. The Chair’s ruling was based on provisions in the Standing Regulations of the CSU that were approved only three days before the petition was submitted by bailiff at Nudo’s home, because she was consistently unavailable at school.

Hours after the ruling was issued, the Chair resigned. The issue is now at the Judicial Board, at which the current executive is arguing that it is too late in the semester, and too close to the general election, to remove them from power, and have a special election to fill the positions for the remainder of the terms.

“With an election scheduled for March, the CSU will say, ‘It’s too late now,’ even though they are the cause of the delay,” said Blais.

The Chair is now being filled on an interim basis by Brent Farrington, the current Deputy Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, who was president of the CSU in 2003-2004. He was at the head of the slate of candidates whose succeeding incarnations have swept CSU elections ever since.

Judicial Board Chair Tristan Teixeira hopes for a speedy end to the recall case.

“Hopefully this case should be wrapped up by the second Monday in February,” Teixeira said.

The case of the CSU and CUSACorp, their corporation, against Lyonnais will be heard at the Palais de Justice on February 23 at 9 a.m., although a bailiff has yet to locate her to serve her with the lawsuit.

This article is a compilation of articles from The Link, a Concordia student paper, over the academic year, with files from Justin Giovannetti. Lyonnais and Nudo have been unavailable or refused to comment to The Link for at least a month as these stories have developed.