In the aftermath of the recent resignation of former VP Advocacy Kelsi Evans, information has come to light regarding controversy surrounding her election in February. This information includes formal complaints of breaches in campaign bylaws leading to the recommendation that Evans be disqualified, and reports of an appeal process resulting from that recommendation.
During a council meeting on March 20, the Chief Returning Officer, Ella Wiggins, and the Deputy Chief Returning Officer, Rachel Bensler, recommended not to ratify the election results due to complaints that had come forward against Kelsi Evans, who had been elected into the VP Advocacy position. This recommendation was made following an investigation which took place over a 36-hour period.
The Formal Complaint Report, formed by Wiggins and Bensler, was prepared for the UNB Council on March 2. It included two formal written complaints and two detailed explanations, which alleged that Evans posted promotional material past the campaign deadline via an Instagram story, and engaged in campaigning via Tinder.
Screenshots accompanied the complaints, indicating that the Instagram story was shared at peak voting time, and was up for less than two hours. The campaign deadline ended at 11:59 p.m. on February 23, and the Instagram Story was posted on the afternoon of February 24.
On March 5, Evans appealed the Formal Complaint Report, which identified complainants as Téa Fazio, Sean MacKenzie, Khaleem Shaik, and Lydia Chong, and included recommendations from Wiggins and Bensler.
To protect the confidentiality of the complainants, Evans was provided a redacted version of the complaint report, which she used to make her appeal. Council was not notified of the identities of the complainants, as they may have been on council at that time, or were set to be on council in the future.
The Appeals Board, composed of Gyan Gill, Melissa Lukings, and Chloe Jardine revealed the formal complainants on April 4.
Fazio’s complaint cited that Bylaw 2-28 had been violated, which prohibits campaigning before or after the campaign period, except for one-on-one conversations. This complaint was referring to a post on Evans’s story, which shows a campaign poster in McConnell Hall that read “Kelsi Evans VP Advocacy, Sean MacKenzie President” and had the words “GO VOTE” over the image. Fazio was running against Evans for the position of VP Advocacy, and lost by a small margin of 31 votes.
“The timing and nature of this occurrence had the potential to skew the very close election results and compromise the integrity of this institution,” Fazio stated in her formal complaint.
Sean MacKenzie, the second formal complainant, and Evans’s slate partner, indicated that he told Evans to remove the Instagram Story upon seeing it, and advised her to alert the CRO. Additionally, she approached him for advice on an interaction she had with a UNB student on Tinder, during which she asked him to vote for her, which MacKenzie notified her was inappropriate.
“I would like to make the recommendation to the CRO, DCRO, and current executive team, to disqualify this candidate from the election,” MacKenzie wrote. “In an election that was decided by 31 votes, a post that was made at one of the prime voting times could have [swayed] voters.”
Evans stated that she had mistakenly posted the Instagram story past the deadline, and offered to send an apology email to candidates, which was never sent due to technical difficulties and difficulty accessing her UNB email. This has been confirmed by UNB IT services.
Evans felt she had recognized her mistake, and worked to comply with Wiggins and Bensler to rectify the situation. She was shocked at the treatment she received during this process.
“I know that I cannot be the first one who had made a mistake or broken a bylaw by accident; however, the gang mentality that was brought up this week through the complaints is unacceptable and the UNBSU should have zero tolerance for that kind of bullying,” Evans stated in her appeal.
On March 28, the Appeals Board released their decision to the council in a document that was not made public until October 18, seven months later. The Appeals Board Report can be found here.
The Board decided that Evans should not be disqualified from the VP Advocacy position, and that the allegations against her were unfounded.
The Tinder conversation was deemed not to be a violation of Bylaw 2-28, as it was a conversation between Evans and one other person, during which she did not begin the conversation with the sole purpose to discuss her candidacy.
It was also found that Evans did not violate Bylaw 2-30(d), which states that candidates cannot release additional campaign materials after a specified period. As the image that she shared on her story was a previously existing piece of campaign material, she did not violate this bylaw.
The Board also felt that there had been significant bias on the part of Wiggins in forming her recommendation to disqualify Evans. They believed her personal opinion had become involved, which they deemed unfairly negative given her focus on the complaints directed towards Evans. This was influenced by the feelings of Evans that she was under attack during the appeal hearing.
“...the CRO mentioned in the appeal hearing that if they had more time to investigate they likely would not have recommended disqualification,” stated the Appeals Board, indicating that the decision was rushed due to the limited investigation period.
Based on the decision from the Appeals Board, it was ultimately the UNBSU’s decision to ratify the election results or not in a council meeting taking place the next day.
Following a summary of the events of the Appeals Board Report, presented by Council Chair Gyan Gill, there was immediate debate over the interpretation of Bylaw 2-30, and the reasoning for keeping the complainants anonymous.
“When someone makes an accusation against you and you work with them for the next year, disclosing those names creates a toxic environment, “ said Gill.
During this meeting, Fazio and Mackenzie, identified themselves as two of the complainants. This, as well as other decisions made by the council, set a precedent against anonymity in comparable complaints in the future.
The council ultimately voted twelve members in favour of ratification and seven against.
This close vote led to conflict at the following council meeting on April 5.
Craig Fernandez, UNBSU President for the 19/20 academic year, gave a formal apology to Evans on behalf of the union.
“I want to apologize for how poorly this all went. It could have been handled better and things could have been changed,” he said.
Chris Lutes, councillor for the Faculty of Law, expressed concern about the way that council members responded to the Appeals Board’s decision.
“The CRO and the Appeals Board are the only impartial bodies that we have on the union, and their word should be trusted. Seven votes against ratifying is seven votes against the procedure we follow. It is antidemocratic, and it needs to be addressed, “ said Lutes.
Melissa Lukings, an Associate Appeals Officer, expressed her frustration with the way that this process unfolded. She found the actions of council members and their treatment of each other to be counter to the values of the SU.
“I think it is pretty clear that there is some behind the scenes collusion or something going on,” she said. “To have the entire council discuss the decision and pick it apart is incredibly disrespectful.”
Lutes also felt that there was personal investment from some council members, he explained to The Brunswickan in a recent interview.
“I felt that there was something going on under the surface with the way some people were acting and asking questions, and criticizing what had happened,” he explained. “It seemed to me, at the time, that people were trying to prevent her from being ratified out of some sort of personal dislike.”
In the April 5 meeting, Lutes questioned Mick Jefferies, VP Advocacy at the time, on his reasoning for voting against ratification.
“In my understanding, I was voting no to the decisions being made that would set precedent for future years. I did not want to de-ratify or delegitimize the UNBSU election,” Jefferies responded, later adding that his vote against ratification was in hope that “[they] could change the way the bylaws were written to reflect a more clear and true understanding.”
When asked about the reforming of certain bylaws, Lutes explained that the Policy Committee had already engaged in a major overhaul of the bylaws, and that they did not want to make any further changes.
“I don’t know if any written recommendations, or anything like that, were made for the next year, but there definitely should have been,” he explained. “The president of the union is always the chair of the Policy Committee, so it should have been incumbent on Sean [MacKenzie] to make any changes stemming from what had happened.”
Mackenzie stated that these events would not affect his and Evans’s work together, nor the ability of the UNBSU to function appropriately.
“I have spoken with Kelsi and we are going to work to ensure that this does not impact the union in a negative way next year and that the team will continue the great work that has been done this year,” ensured Mackenzie, during the April 5 meeting.
Craig Fernandez declined to comment.
Mick Jefferies declined to comment.
Téa Fazio declined to comment.
Chloe Jardine declined to comment.
Ella Wiggins declined to comment.
Gyan Gill was unavailable for comment.
Ally Buchanan contributed reporting.