Speak Up slate defended themselves at a judicial board hearing on April 6
The Concordia Student Union judicial board overturned the union’s chief electoral officer’s (CEO) decision to disqualify the Speak Up slate, whose candidates received the majority of the votes in the 2018 CSU election. On April 9, the judicial board called for a recount of the ballots.
“We are pretty happy with the decision,” said Sophie Hough-Martin, Speak Up’s candidate for general coordinator, after her team found out about the decision on Monday morning.
“We remain of the opinion that our disqualification was baseless and lacked evidence.”
CEO Nicholas Roberts disqualified Speak Up on March 30 in the middle of the ballot count, citing the election standing regulation Article 316 which states that, while student media are allowed to publish material related to the election during the polling period, “no new correspondence between candidates or referendum committee members and student media can be published during the polling period.” Despite disqualifying the Speak Up slate, Roberts was not present at the hearing on Monday.
In an email obtained by The Concordian, Roberts claimed his decision to disqualify the team came after The Link published an editorial endorsing Speak Up on March 27, the first day of polling. According to Roberts, Speak Up’s claim that they were unaware of the editorial and had no role in its publication “could not be taken seriously.” He claimed, based his experience as a contributor to The Link’s opinions section, that the editorial must have been prepared at least a week beforehand, making it unlikely that the endorsement was kept secret.
Journalists from The Link disputed these claims both at the hearing and in an online article about the election results. They claimed Roberts’s familiarity with the newspaper is based on The Link’s previous publication cycle, which changed dramatically following their shift from a weekly publication to a monthly print magazine with daily online content. Currently, editorial topics are selected by the masthead on Friday, and the article is published on Tuesday. The Link’s editor-in-chief at the time of the hearing, Kelsey Litwin, told The Concordian she was displeased “that the independence of student media was questioned.”
The small room in the Hall building where the hearing took place was packed with members of Speak Up, their witnesses and interested students on the night of April 6. Speak Up’s Hough-Martin testified first on behalf of her team. In her testimony, she claimed her team was unaware of the endorsement prior to its publication.
Hough-Martin reminded the judicial board that the burden of proof is on Roberts to provide conclusive evidence that her team was involved in the publication of the editorial.
“The editorial did not provide any new information that was not publicly available already or information from past interviews that would have been validly conducted during campaign period,” she said. “We don’t have control over what journalists or editorial boards pursue.”
Although Roberts was not present at the hearing, the judicial board questioned him about the decision on April 5, and read his statement aloud at the hearing.
“It was clear to me that […] Speak Up was aware that a major campus newspaper would be disseminating info on the first day of elections that strongly promoted their platform,” Roberts said. “It was clear to me that this was a fact that Speak Up could not be unaware of.”
Despite his insistence, Roberts was unable to present any evidence that Speak Up collaborated with The Link on the article.
Four members of The Link’s staff were present at the hearing, and Litwin testified. She insisted the editorial was decided by 15 members of the newspaper’s masthead, and Speak Up did not participate in its publication in any way. Litwin provided evidence that The Link has produced editorials and endorsements regarding students elections since 1984, and the reason the endorsement was published on the first day of polling was simply because the paper always publishes editorials on Tuesdays.
Speak Up also brought forward two witnesses to help support their case: former CSU general coordinator Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis and former CSU councillor Eamon Toohey. Marshall-Kiparissis, who worked on the 2015 CSU policy committee that introduced Article 316, said the standing regulation was designed to reduce—not increase—ambiguity surrounding press rights and elections.
“I’m going to be honest […] I’m a bit baffled that standing regulation Article 316 is being interpreted this way, and it’s also unprecedented,” Marshall-Kiparissis said after explaining that the standing regulation was designed to clarify that student media are allowed to publish editorials and other material during the polling period, and that this media involvement does not qualify as campaigning.
On behalf of the Speak Up slate, Hough-Martin requested the disqualification be overturned, the ballots be kept in a safe location for at least six months, and that a judicial board member be assigned to oversee future correspondence between Speak Up and electoral staff.
During her testimony, Hough-Martin warned the judicial board that, “the decision to uphold the disqualification [would undermine] the democratic will of hundreds of undergraduate students at Concordia and call into question the integrity of the CSU and its democratic elections.”
This is not the first time Hough-Martin has been disqualified by Roberts. In November 2017, Roberts claimed Hough-Martin did not submit her election expenses form in time for the CSU by-election, according to emails obtained by The Concordian. CSU standing regulations indicate that a candidate must submit the documents within four business days after the polls close. The decision was overturned because the judicial board determined Roberts had incorrectly considered the weekend as business days.
In an email to Hough-Martin at the time of the 2017 by-election, Roberts wrote: “As you did not hand in the form, and I could not get ahold of you, you have been disqualified. This will be my final email.” According to Hough-Martin, it took six days for the by-election results to be updated once Roberts’s decision to disqualify Hough-Martin was overturned by the CSU judicial board.
Photo by Kirubel Mehari