SSMU President’s Leave of Absence Continues

VP Internal asks the Daily not to investigate further

SSMU President Darshan Daryanani has been on a leave of absence since at least September 23, the date of the Legislative Council’s first meeting. Following a claim that he had been suspended from his position, the Daily reached out to SSMU executives, councillors,  and staff for comment. Despite the Executive Committee’s statement that they “have made a pact to not be afraid to change the system and call out toxic behaviour,” executives did not acknowledge the Daily’s question about whether Daryanani’s absence is related to allegations of gender-based discrimination.

Arts Representative and Steering Committee member Yara Coussa wrote that she could not comment on Daryanani’s absence. In response to the Daily’s inquiry about whether the leave of absence was related to allegations of microagressions and gender-based discrimination within SSMU, Coussa said that she could “neither corroborate or [sic] deny these claims,” and had not been made aware of such allegations in her capacity as Councillor or Steering Committee member. Likewise, VP University Affairs Claire Downie declined to comment, writing: “All I can say on the matter is that Daryanani is currently on leave.”

The Daily also contacted Speaker of Council and Steering Committee member Alexandre Ashkir. Although Steering Committee members are tasked with reinstating suspended Officers, Ashkir wrote that “As a part time employee uninvolved and uninterested in these matters, I have no comments on this topic.” Additionally, the HR Director of SSMU holds a position on SSMU’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Committee, but did not respond to the Daily’s request for comment.

VP Internal Sarah Paulin told the Daily that casual and permanent staff such as Ashkir “have nothing to do with the politics of the Society” and that the Daily should only look to executives for comment. “I understand that some of our answers may not be to your satisfaction, but that does not justify reaching out to people who have no implications on campus. I expect the cooperation of [the Daily] on this matter,” she wrote, disregarding the fact that many SSMU employees hold positions relevant to the suspension of Officers or instances of gender-based discrimination within SSMU. Moreover, as the Daily is an autonomous paper mandated to hold power to account, SSMU executives do not have authority to exercise oversight on Daily investigations. While Paulin confirmed that Daryanani was on a leave of absence, she said “For the sake of the president’s privacy, I would appreciate it if you [the Daily] leave it there.” 

In another email to the Daily, Paulin claimed that SSMU employees are contractually mandated not to speak with the press, and November 4 correspondence with an anonymous source revealed that SSMU staff had recently been instructed not to speak with campus media. A November 3 mass email from Paulin to SSMU’s casual staff that was leaked to the Daily stated that SSMU’s employee manual “dictates that [staff] cannot and must not speak to campus media;” the email contains no mention of the contractual obligation which Paulin claims to exist. She reiterated her expectation that employees avoid interacting with the press: “if [journalists] reach out to you in the future, please simply do not respond.”

Abigail Popple

According to a copy of the Casual Staff Employee Manual obtained by the Daily, “Employees are not permitted to address the media and must direct any public question or requests to the General Manager and the President.” It is unclear if this manual is contractually binding for employees, as the manual is a document separate and distinct from the Confidentiality Agreement, Job Description and general contract that all casual staff sign upon joining SSMU as an employee.  Regardless, this manual does not restrict the Daily’s  freedom to request comments from SSMU employees. Another casual employee sent the Daily an excerpt of the Confidentiality Agreement which must be signed by casual staff. The Agreement states that employees are “not to disclose or discuss [confidential information] with any other individual, corporation or entity […] without the prior written consent of the SSMU.” The Agreement defines confidential information as “all personal, proprietary, financial and operational information owned or managed by the SSMU and not otherwise accessible to the general public.” Again, this Agreement does not obligate the Daily to exclude non-executives from requests for comment over the course of an investigation.

Abigail Popple Casual Employee Confidentiality Agreement

Secretary-General Edyta Rogowska told the Daily that the October 7, 2021 meeting of the Board of Governors was not attended by any SSMU representative – she clarified that “the process to appoint a SSMU rep to serve on the Board is in progress.” Section 02, Article 8 of SSMU’s Internal Regulations of Governance stipulates that the SSMU Executive Committee must appoint a representative to Board meetings on a per-meeting basis if the President is unable to serve in that capacity. Executives did not respond to the Daily’s inquiry as to why the Executive Committee did not appoint a representative to the Board of Governors in Daryanani’s place.

The Daily will continue to investigate Daryanani’s absence. Please reach out to news@mcgilldaily.com if you have relevant tips or comments.

Note: below is the initial email which Paulin sent to the Daily. We have decided to reproduce the email in its entirety to assure readers that the Daily did not intentionally omit significant portions of Paulin’s email in an attempt to portray her response inaccurately. According to the Quebec Press Council Guide of Journalistic Ethics, all correspondence with a source is considered to be on-the-record unless the source requests otherwise.

Abigail Popple