Newly elected Academic Commissioners Kassim Amery and Birju Dattani's campaigns violated six election bylaws during the Students' Union by-election according to an SU vice-president.
Phrases like "campaigns hijacked democracy," "poor moral character," and "bylaws were violated with impunity" described two unidentified candidates' campaigns in the SU Chief Returning Officer's by-election report to the Students' Legislative Council Tue., Nov. 18.
SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Gavin Preston confirmed the two campaigns alluded to in the SU CRO's report were Amery and Dattani's.
Preston was handing out election awareness flyers in the MacEwan Student Centre food court Thu., Oct 23. When he approached students, he asked if they had voted in the election yet. A female student indicated she did vote and pointed to two males with a laptop at an adjacent table.
"Birju Dattani was nearby," said Preston. "I had seen what [SU CRO] Shuvaloy [Majumdar] was talking about. A former SU presidential candidate, Mohamed El-Rafih, was there."
Preston conversed with Majumdar and they both returned to the food court to speak further with the female student.
"The girl put her ID number in [to the InfoNet] and they, Moe and Birju, put in the vote," said Preston. "It was obvious what was going on. I could see Birju and [Kassim] Amery walking around with a laptop.
"I witnessed it myself, specifically, the two candidates."
These events were touched on in Majumdar's report to SLC. Majumdar briefly commented the Oct. 23-25 by-election was as busy as the general election but spoke mainly on the campaigns of Dattani and Amery, whom he did not mention by name.
"When democratic principles are violated--and they were by specific campaigns in the 2003 by-election-- I hunger to take action rather than hide in the dredges of bureaucracy and rules," said Majumdar, reading from his report.
Majumdar reported the two campaigns "widely and without hesitation compromised these bylaws." Six bylaws were broken according to the report, including "no person shall prevent or attempt to prevent electors from exercising their right to vote" (66 (1) (C)) and "while an elector is in a voting compartment, no other person except someone assisting an incapacitated elector, may enter the voting compartment or be in a position to see how the elector marks the ballot" (54 (2)).
Campus members informed the CRO of these infractions.
"Members of a minority community on campus have been in my office, sharing the details of these activities with me, but insisted that I do not maintain a paper record of those conversations," said Majumdar. "They insisted that they not be placed in a position where specific members of their communities would ostracize them."
At the center of the controversy is Dattani and Amery's use of a laptop computer with a wireless network card in MSC during the election, which Preston witnessed. Under election expenses, Dattani will be reimbursed for the $50 wireless Internet card.
"[Voters] were not unduly influenced," said Dattani. "There was direction if they needed to use a laptop, at their own leisure. We were not around to compromise privacy."
Amery understands Majumdar's role as CRO but was concerned about the report's comments.
"To comment directly to the campaign is a little harsh," said Amery, adding he was also concerned the report identified an ex-presidential candidate as part of the campaign team. "We have no control over who does what."
Dattani and Amery looked at the bylaws and did not see anything against their strategy.
"If the law does not exist, does it make the tactic illegal?" questioned Dattani. "You get into ethical and moral issues. I hope people have enough moral fabric about them."
However, Majumdar feels differently about the matter.
"These campaigns demonstrated poor moral character and made the wrong moral choices," said Majumdar at the meeting. "And they got away with it. If you feel robbed, then you know how I have felt since the day the results of the vote were announced. What's worse is that no justice will be seen by the candidates who lost unfairly."
Majumdar did not want to bring this to the review board as the CRO. In his speech, Majumdar said he had little hard evidence to bring to an election review board and he could not break his trust with the witnesses nor could he prepare another SU member or candidate to present a complicated case.
"Because it would go against bylaw definition," explained Majumdar after his presentation. "It would change from an administrative role to judicial role. I would have broken the spirit of the bylaw."
Student representatives had mixed reactions to the report.
"I found it very thorough," said SU VP Academic Demetrios Nicolaides. "There is a judicial system in place to address concerns. The judicial system operates on the assumption of not guilty. I felt it was jumping the gun."
Academic Commissioner Beth Counsell said any assumptions were unsubstantiated without hard evidence and Operations and Finance Commissioner Lisa Willott warned council not to alienate Dattani and Amery over this matter.
"I found it a bit surprising," said Operations and Finance Commissioner Jarrod Fuhr. "It's very frustrating. The letter of the bylaws was not violated, but the principles have been. I'm looking very much forward to examining [the proposed election bylaws] in excruciating detail, to prevent, in future, these practices to continue."
Majumdar, working with Preston, presented revamped election bylaws for consideration at the next SLC meeting Tue., Nov. 25.
"This by-election is a signal of trends to come," said Majumdar. "Special interest campaigns comprise pools of highly-motivated supporters. They comprise largely single-issue candidates and platforms. They comprise an uncompromising agenda.
"Concordia [University] and some other campuses have seen the costs of negligence and lethargy in the face of vast challenges. I ask you to not forsake your responsibility at the table and in these chambers to serve and represent students."
Nicolaides has not heard if any judicial process has been started against the two.
"If there's a case, we'll look into it and see if it violated anything," said Nicolaides.