A TMSU poster posted in the SCC prior to the fall 2023 byelection. (Chloe Herbert-Ballantyne/OTR)
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Nikole Dan was elected president of the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union on Friday, after the fall 2023 byelection. The vote was held in the wake of publicly made misconduct allegations against another presidential candidate and former TMSU executive, Nathan Sugunalan.
The unofficial results show Dan was elected with 532 votes, while the first runner-up Sugunalan, came in a close second with 531 votes. The results are awaiting validation from the union’s Board of Directors (BoD).
On Nov. 19, ex-TMSU communications director David Jardine posted a since-removed video on their personal social media platforms containing allegations of sexual violence in the TMSU workplace. The video was viewed on TikTok over 70,000 times.
Presidential candidate and former vice president of operations Sugunalan was accused by Jardine of alleged misconduct.
Jardine said that when they were still employed by the TMSU, a staff member approached them saying they were “uncomfortable” with Sugunalan’s behaviour in the workplace. The Eyeopener reported that a confidential source confirmed Jardine’s claim. OTR could not verify this.
Jardine said they raised concerns about Sugunalan’s alleged behaviour to TMSU higher-ups but claimed their allegations were not properly investigated. In early September, two weeks after they were let go from the union, Jardine sent a letter to the TMSU board of directors expressing their concerns.
In this letter, Jardine said no witnesses of the alleged misconduct were interviewed in the union’s investigation.
The union responded to Jardine’s letter in a membership advisory posted to their website on Sept. 26. “The harassment allegations raised in the correspondence were investigated and were found to be unsubstantiated,” read the advisory. “The statement that no witnesses were interviewed is simply false.”
In a written statement to OTR, the TMSU said that in August 2023, with external advice and in “strict accordance” with Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, the executive director of the union conducted an investigation looking into the claims. “The TMSU can confirm that an investigation determined that the allegation of workplace harassment was unfounded,” wrote the TMSU.
According to the same statement, as part of the investigation, the TMSU said they interviewed Jardine, Sugunalan and two unnamed employees. The union said that by way of confidentiality, Jardine, as the complainant, was not privy to “every step of the investigation process,”
In an email to OTR, Jardine stood by the claims sent in their initial letter, alleging that no witnesses were interviewed by the TMSU.
Sugunalan did not respond to numerous requests for comment. However, in a since-deleted statement posted to his Instagram account, he denied Jardine’s claims saying that Jardine’s allegations are “defamatory” and describing their motivations as “vindictive.”
Sugunalan said Jardine’s video fed into a racist stereotype, “that brown beard-wearing men are known to commit sexual violence against women,”
Jardine responded to Sugunalan’s statement in an email to OTR. “I always take extra care to never jump to conclusions that could be born out of ignorance or racism,” they wrote.
Sugunalan also claimed that Jardine’s video was a “political move.” The video was posted one day before the election’s voting period began on Nov. 20. In the same email, Jardine rejected this and said “I’m not a student so I can’t win, and I don’t know any of the other candidates running for president.”
Shortly after Jardine’s video was posted, the TMSU postponed a “Thrive’s in Silence” documentary screening event, which according to promotional materials, is set to be a space for “conversations on sexual violence on GTA campuses.”
The Instagram account for the TMSU’s Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support posted a story which read, “Recent political events have made it impossible for this event to be run in a way that would properly centre survivors and allow for vulnerable and honest conversations.”
In the postponement announcement on their website, the TMSU said “We do not feel we have the capacity to justly host our current speakers with the current misinformation of sexual violence occurring within the TMSU.”
The event is now set to be held on Jan. 23, 2024.
What’s to come:
TMU’s student community is anticipating the BoD’s verification. Some have expressed confusion about the results with one user on the school’s Reddit page pointing out in a comment that, unlike the other presidential candidates, Dan did not provide a photo or thorough candidate statement. Dan also failed to attend the candidate forum that took place on Nov. 16.
The byelection began at the end of October after the previous Spring 2023 election was cancelled due to allegations of election misconduct.