Controversy surrounding school’s student government not just an issue at Humber

Infographic by Nick Jean Infographic by Nick Jean

By Nick Jean
A&E Reporter

The student government at York University, York Federation of Students, has only managed to host one election free of scandal, controversy or significant complaints in the past four years.

Some former YFS employees are now major players behind election uproar on at least two other campuses in the GTA, including at Humber College.

Humber Students’ Federation Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Natalia Toussaint was judge, jury and executioner in the controversial disqualification of incumbent presidential candidate Tim Brilhante and VP of Student Life – Lakeshore candidate Karnesh Babaria in this year’s election.

She has provided no reason or explanation for the disqualifications citing HSF election policy that violations and subsequent penalties are meted out “at her discretion.”

Toussaint was employed at YFS as an Elections Review Officer from September 2010 to April 2012.

She lists on her LinkedIn profile that among her responsibilities she was to “advise nine college and eight faculty student government Chief Returning Officers to ensure college and faculty elections are unbiased for fall and winter elections.”

Shortly after Toussaint officially cut ties to YFS, Dina Skvirsky was hired as their Campaigns and Equity Coordinator. She is also current interim executive director at the Student Association at Durham College & University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The Durham Chronicle, Durham College and UOIT’s campus newspaper, reported Skvirsky’s brief tenure at Durham’s Student Association has been rife with controversy.

She was hired to replace Kelly Morrison who was “terminated without cause” after more than a decade of employment at the Student Association, according to The Chronicle.

Skvirsky was one of only two people involved in the hiring of Student Association Chief Returning Officer Bradley Chin, who also oversaw this year’s troubled YFS elections.

York University’s campus paper, The Excalibur, reported that Chin broke Federation bylaws when he failed to allow sufficient time between publishing notice and opening the election nomination period.

Chin was let off the hook with no penalty raising questions among concerned students about the integrity that could be expected of candidates if those operating the election so willfully flouted the rules.

Chin was hired as the only applicant in a second round after the first candidate who was selected by the entire hiring committee declined the position, The Chronicle reported.

Who the first selectee was and why they refused the job was not disclosed.

None of the other contenders from the first round of hiring was informed of the second call for applications, according to The Chronicle.

A number of significant changes have been made to the Student Association’s elections policies during Skvirsky’s time there.

Many of the new policies emulate those at YFS that raised concern in a York Ombudsman review following a problematic 2010 election.

A few of those changes include:

  • Appointing the executive director as election committee chair,
  • Granting the election committee unfettered power to disqualify any candidate for any campaign infraction – the Student Association board previously had to approve any disqualifications,
  • Replacing the electronic voting system with one using paper ballots.

All of these changes have been made with little fanfare. Only one change was publicly announced: Candidates are now allowed to run on a slate.

Skvirsky has also been at the centre of a controversy surrounding the Student Association’s current president and the Canadian Federation of Students, an organizing group for student unions, The Chronicle reported.

Student Association President Peter Chinweuba has alleged Skvirsky and a few “student politicians” are manipulating the SA from behind-the-scenes, according to The Chronicle.

Chinweuba, who is opposed to the Student Association joining CFS, has also alleged that Skvirsky made a veiled threat he would lose the next election if he did not sign a contract she brought him, The Chronicle reported.

Skvirsky has denied the allegation.

Chinweuba has been publicly censured by the Student Association Board of Directors for numerous absences, complaints and policy infractions. In the Letter of Censure released by the Board, they removed his right to be spokesperson for the Association.

Skvirsky is a long-time CFS supporter and worked alongside current CFS-Ontario Chairperson Alastair Woods at YFS.

Woods too has been accused in the past of meddling in student government elections.

Sana Ali was running unopposed for the presidency of University of Toronto’s Student Union when she unexpectedly dropped out.

Ali said in an interview with The Varsity that she felt she was chosen to “fill a space and fulfill a pre-set mandate.”

She said the campaign statement distributed by the campaign management team was entirely different from the one she had submitted.

Woods was one of two individuals overseeing the campaign. He did not hold his post with CFS-Ontario at the time.

UTSU and YFS are both dues-paying member unions of CFS. HSF and the Student Associaiton at Durham College & UOIT are not.

Despite repeated attempts to contact them, subjects of this story could not be reached for comment.