The Student’s Union Okanagan (SUO) recently hosted an election. As students awaited the results of the election, they were informed via the @suo_elections page on Instagram that the release of the results will be delayed due to an ongoing investigation. That perked the ears of many students and rumours ran rampant about the integrity of the election.
On March 23rd, The SUO had an Emergency Board Meeting. Seeking to investigate the integrity of the election, The Phoenix attended this meeting. Here’s what we found out.
With SUO Executives, Directors at Large, and Faculty Representatives seated, the meeting commenced. It started with an impassioned speech from Kai Rogers, who spoke on behalf of The Oversight Committee, which is a group of SUO members who are responsible for ensuring integrity and compliance within the SUO.
The Oversight Committee addressed an allegation against current SUO Executive and VP Finance, Muhammad Waseem, who was accused of having “endorsed and engaged in campaigning for a candidate running in the SUO general election.” Endorsing a candidate as an SUO Executive is against the SUO bylaws and regulations. This is a serious accusation.
Upon reviewing “the facts from the Electoral Committee and other complainants,” The Oversight Committee determined that Muhammad Waseem violated the regulations on multiple occasions.
Specifically, the Oversight Committee recommended that Muhammad Waseem be declared “not in good standing,” which was voted upon by the board at the end of the meeting. If declared not in good standing, Waseem would be suspended for the remainder of his term as an SUO Executive.
Prior to the vote, board members had a chance for discussion. Waseem, who participated via Zoom, expressed that he “never publicly endorsed” anyone during the campaign.
Waseem was supported by other board members in various ways. Many sought a lighter punishment for Waseem, speaking to his character and work ethic.
A number of board members reflected on their positive working relationships with Waseem. Some urged the board to take into account the good work Waseem has done over the past year.
Cade Desjarlais, a member of the Oversight Committee, stressed the obligation that board members have to separate personal decisions from what is in the best interest of the SUO.
Confronting both their professional duties and personal feelings of friendship towards Waseem was a difficult and uncomfortable task for many board members. Addressing the tension and frustrations in the room, Desjarlais told members, “You should be uncomfortable.”
Rogers added, “It bothers me that an individual has forced us to sit here to make this uncomfortable decision. We must make a decision to protect the students we claim to act for.”
One board member said, “Clearly [Waseem made] a huge mistake, but it wasn’t public endorsement. He didn’t launder money. He didn’t commit a crime. What he did was very bad but it doesn’t merit a removal of office.”
In response, Megan Johnston spoke to the high expectations SUO members must be held to. She replied, “Congratulations! Our members haven’t laundered money. Does that make you feel good?”
Rogers later said, “There was a concerted effort [from Waseem] to campaign for another individual. It was not a ‘one off.’ It was across multiple days. There is more evidence out there, but people simply do not trust the Student’s Union. There was a large and concerted effort [by Waseem] to ensure this candidate was elected.”
As conversation continued to become increasingly tense, Tashia advised the board members, “You’re not being asked to consider personality or achievements [when you vote here.] You’re being asked to consider the values of our organization, one of which being integrity.”
The board members then cast anonymous votes. Eight voted in favour of the initial motion to find Waseem “not in good standing.” This was a close majority rule over the 6 who voted in opposition. As a result of the decision, Waseem is suspended for the remainder of his term as an SUO Executive.
Waseem’s suspension indicates the SUO has concluded there was foul play during the election process. The impact of his alleged involvement is difficult to quantify, but it may have impacted the votes.