Investigation Against Daryanani Botched

SSMU President reinstated despite misgivings about HR investigation

On February 14, SSMU President Darshan Daryanani was reinstated in his position at SSMU. His absence spanned over four months, having begun on September 23 and ended on February 13, according to an email which Daryanani sent to the Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

Throughout his absence, SSMU executives maintained that Daryanani was on leave. Executives continually stressed that the absence was a Human Resources (HR) issue which they could not publicly discuss – at the November 25 Legislative Council meeting, VP Finance Éric Sader remarked that he was feeling “like a broken record” when he explained that the President’s absence could not be discussed at Legislative Council. Executives and directors were also unable to confirm or deny whether Daryanani was on paid leave, as Sader pointed out during the January 31 Board of Directors meeting.

However, Daryanani shed light on his absence during the February 17 Legislative Council meeting, where he announced that he had been put on paid suspension by the Board of Directors on September 23. According to Daryanani, the initial suspension was meant to last until November 5, but was extended four more times by the Board of Directors (BoD). Likewise, the decision to reinstate Daryanani in his position as president was made by the BoD, sources say. 

At the February 17 session of Legislative Council and again at the consultative forum (that is, the General Assembly which did not meet quorum) on February 21, Daryanani claimed that he had not been given a reason for his suspension. However, in the aforementioned February 14 email, Daryanani did request “a complete and unredacted copy of the report prepared by HumaniLex Services Conseils,” claiming that he wanted to follow and respect the firm’s recommendations regarding the SSMU workplace. He referenced the case McCool v. EUS et al., in which Declan McCool – the 2020-2021 VP Internal-elect who was suspended following allegations of sexual violence – requested a copy of an investigative report held by the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS). The court ruled that the report should be “released to all parties” in this case.

Hyeyoon Cho

Suspension

In an interview with the Daily, Skylar* said that Daryanani was suspended for allegations of sexism and harassment in accordance with Article 12.3 of SSMU’s HR Policy. SSMU hired HumaniLex, an external HR firm, to conduct an investigation; per Skylar, the investigator “didn’t reach out to a lot of people who wanted to […] share their experiences.” The only people whom the investigator reached out to for the admissibility analysis were the three who officially complained to HR – and Skylar said that the HR director at the time of these complaints “had a habit of talking people out of reporting and not helping.”

The investigator only spoke to two complainants – the third one, referred to as “Complainant C” in the analysis, declined to be interviewed by HumaniLex, sources say. However, Skylar estimates that they’ve heard from several women who have “felt uncomfortable or unsafe working with [Daryanani].” Despite having been provided the contact information of women who wanted to be interviewed, the firm did not speak to them during the investigation.

The only people whom the investigator reached out to for the admissibility analysis were the three who officially complained to HR – and Skylar said that the HR director at the time of these complaints “had a habit of talking people out of reporting and not helping.”

“[T]he investigation process did not give me and many women the space that we deserved and our voice[s] were, yet again, silenced,” one of these women said in a message to the Daily. Furthermore, several women had contacted board members to indicate their desire to speak with investigators, but were never contacted. Sources said that the women who reached out to the BoD had faced “serious incidents” of sexism at SSMU, such as “insulting and yelling at women.”

Casey*, who worked at SSMU at the time of Daryanani’s suspension, claimed that there had been internal efforts to remove Daryanani for “quite some time” due to “many instances of sexism, as well as breaches of confidentiality.” [Emphasis their own.] Casey alleged that Daryanani’s sexist behavior dates back to his time in the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) – where Daryanani was the AUS VP External in the 2019-2020 Academic Year, and an Arts Senator in 2020-2021 – but because SSMU lacks control over AUS governance, there was little SSMU could do to address his behaviour. In the email sent to the Daily, Casey included screenshots which contained claims that there were “several instances of sexism” during Daryanani’s time as a legislative councillor and senator; the investigation was meant to cover Daryanani’s entire time in SSMU, but the firm only focused on the complaints submitted in June 2021.

“Finally after a ton of work, we were able to get him suspended pending an investigation,” Casey continued, explaining that Quebec labour laws prevented SSMU executives and staff from speaking about the suspension and investigation. Casey was troubled by Daryanani’s reinstatement, claiming that “It either means the investigation was done poorly and inconclusively […] or that regardless of the investigation, [the] board actively chose to reinstate him.”

Additionally, sources have expressed concern that the investigation was conducted based upon SSMU’s Psychological Harassment Policy, rather than its Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy and Equity Policy. The Daily attempted to acquire a copy of the Psychological Harassment Policy; however, VP Internal Sarah Paulin explained that the Policy is not publicly available as “a lot of the things that are mentioned in this policy just simply would not make sense to people who do not work within the SSMU […] [the contents of the Policy] would not be very valuable information to people who do not hold positions within the SSMU itself.”

The firm found that Daryanani’s behaviour “could not constitute a situation of harassment.” The admissibility analysis was submitted to the BoD on February 7, concluding the investigation of allegations against Daryanani. Daryanani did not respond to the Daily’s inquiry as to whether he believes the HumaniLex investigation was related to his suspension, though sources say the investigation concerned Daryanani’s alleged sexist behaviour. 

“[Daryanani’s reinstatement] either means the investigation was done poorly and inconclusively […] or that regardless of the investigation, [the] board actively chose to reinstate him.”

casey*

Reinstatement

According to Skylar, SSMU is allegedly reaching out to those who have expressed discomfort with Daryanani’s return and offering accommodations. They pointed out a contradiction between Daryanani’s return and the accommodations, explaining that by reinstating him “they’re saying it’s fine,” but his return is “clearly not [fine]” if it requires SSMU to implement accommodations.

Per Jamie*, SSMU is telling employees that they “can request Darshan not contact [them] until May 31,” or they can request that Daryanani not be present at the meetings they attend. However, these accommodations are not feasible in some cases – Executives and Representatives are mandated to attend certain meetings, such as Legislative Council or BoD meetings, meaning that they would have no choice but to attend a meeting with Daryanani present. “It literally won’t work,” Jamie said.

Indeed, Daryanani was present at the February 17 Legislative Council meeting, and at the consultative forum the following Monday. At these meetings, the working environment of SSMU was discussed extensively, with some representatives testifying that women and gender minorities do not feel safe working at SSMU.

“I’ve had some of my constituents message me expressing how uncomfortable they felt about the current composition of the executive body […] I’ve been present at occasions where one of the members of the executive body has made comments that have made some of my female friends and colleagues uncomfortable.”

Councillor Andres Perez-Tiniacos, February 17 Legislative Council

“I myself, and frankly a lot of other women and women of colour, don’t feel safe at the moment.” – Councillor Mary Zhang, February 21 Consultative Forum

“The President is currently not fulfilling the President’s purpose, nor is the President a positive force in the SSMU community. The fact that we’ve discussed nothing but the President for the past while is proof of that.” – Councillor Charlotte Gurung speaking on behalf of Councillor Nathaniel Saad, February 21 Consultative Forum

During the consultative forum, Daryanani said, “I’ve had employees come and cry to me about these very same concerns, and these are very real and traumatic experiences,” in response to a question about his feelings regarding the claim that SSMU is an unsafe working environment for women and gender minorities. 

Shortly after he made this comment, the Daily asked executives and councillors for comment regarding the absence of VP University Affairs Claire Downie, to which Arts Representative Yara Coussa replied: “I think that it is shameful that SSMU is an environment where an exec is unable to work because she feels unsafe […] I think that we have failed VP Downie.” In an email sent to the BoD and Legislative Council earlier that day, Downie wrote that she would “no longer participate in SSMU activities which place [her] in an unsafe space.” Later in the email, Downie explained: “I will not be attending the SSMU General Assembly tonight, as I do not believe it to be an environment in which I can participate safely.”

Daryanani said that he is “committed […] to making SSMU a place that we can all feel safe,” at the consultative forum – pointing to the formation of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee as part of this commitment – and that his “door is open” for employees to bring their concerns to him. He has publicly claimed that he is unaware of the reason behind his suspension, despite his note that “the complaints were deemed inadmissible” in the February 14 email to the BoD and Executive Committee. Although the Daily pointed this out in email correspondence with Daryanani, he did not comment on whether he believes the HumaniLex report was about him or related to his suspension.

Concerns about the Board of Directors

One source who claimed to be an anonymous board member emailed the Daily expressing concern that executives had engaged in an “abuse of process.” They pointed out that the investigation did not begin until November 16, almost two months after Daryanani had been suspended – thereby “opening the SSMU to liability.” Furthermore, they said that Daryanani has already retained legal counsel, and that SSMU will likely face legal consequences for the suspension as the complaints against Daryanani were found to be inadmissible. While Daryanani has publicly stated that he sought legal counsel during his suspension – during the February 21 consultative forum, he said that he has “had to resort to legal action” – he clarified that he is unsure of whether he will be pursuing further action.

This  source explained that “some colleagues collectively levied complaints against Daryanani” to suspend him, an event which the source characterized as “a coup.” They further claimed that during the February 10 BoD meeting, the Board decided to reinstate Daryanani to “minimize legal consequences and mitigate additional liability.” The source concluded that “thousands of student dollars is likely to be wasted due to personal grudges.” Daryanani is requesting that SSMU reimburse the legal costs which he incurred during his suspension – at the consultative forum, he claimed that he has spent thousands of dollars in the process of trying to get reinstated. This source attached a copy of the admissibility analysis to their email (prior to the analysis being leaked on Reddit) along with a screenshot of the February 14 email which Daryanani sent to the BoD and Executive Committee.

However, women in SSMU disagreed with the description of Daryanani’s suspension as a product of “personal grudges.” One source claimed that the suspension “was prompted by [Daryanani] threatening” a female colleague, and that the ensuing investigation was meant to investigate complaints “dating back years,” so she found the term “personal grudges” to be hurtful and inaccurate. 

Casey also had concerns about the BoD’s conduct, but unlike the anonymous board member, their concerns stemmed from the Board’s failure to keep Daryanani out of office: “the BoD finished their work and allowed Darshan back when he absolutely should not be reinstated,” they wrote. When explaining the effort it took to suspend Daryanani, they remarked, “The fact that the board has essentially thrown all that work in the trash is incredibly concerning.”

Daryanani has maintained that the BoD has not presented him with a reason for his suspension, despite the fact that he requested a copy of the HumaniLex report from the Board. The Daily reached out to Daryanani to request a comment on the fact that female colleagues have described his behaviour as sexist; he replied that “In order to properly respond to [the Daily’s] questions, I would have to request detailed descriptions, including the dates, times, and locations, of the specific events that you would like me to comment on. I would also have to request screenshots, recordings and/or meeting minutes to support these claims, with any necessary redactions.” The Daily declined to provide these details, explaining that the allegations were being kept as general as possible to protect the confidentiality of sources; Daryanani did not respond to this follow-up email.

As of writing, Daryanani still holds his position as President. When the Daily asked if it was possible that Daryanani would be suspended for presenting the email informing him of his suspension at the February 24 BoD meeting, Sader said that Directors could not confirm whether Daryanani’s presentation of the letter was a breach of confidentiality.


*Some names changed for anonymity.

Note: Because she is employed at SSMU, Illustrations Editor Eve Cable did not play a role in the research, writing, or editing of this article.

A previous version of this article attributed a quote to Councillor Charlotte Gurung without clarifying that Gurung was speaking on behalf of Councillor Nathaniel Saad. The article has been updated to reflect this; the Daily regrets this error.