Langara Publication Uncovers Corruption within Student Union

The firing of LSU’s general manager kicks off lengthy expose by The Voice

Former LSU board member Harsimran Malhi speaks with Voice reporters Chahira Merarsi and Jake Wray. (Roberto Teixeira/The Voice)

Corruption in the Langara Student Union

A Special edition of The Voice—Langara’s campus publication—released this past December brings allegations of misconduct by the Langara Student Union to light.

In late November 2016, Langara Student Union General Manager Desmond Rodenbour was abruptly fired, along with elected board member Harsimran Malhi and the LSU’s legal counsel.

Rodenbour had been brought on by the LSU at the behest of their legal counsel in August of last year as an attempt to improve transparency within the notoriously closed-off student union. Similarly, Malhi had been working for months to reform the LSU, and was reportedly threatened for her efforts with legal action by LSU staff before she was fired. The official reason given for Malhi’s dismissal was her absence from two board meetings, although she says that she had given prior notice about her absence well in advance.

“It was like we were told [by LSU staff], ‘You’ll face grievances, because this is not something that is our job,’” Malhi told The Voice in early December.

After her dismissal, Malhi was able to speak candidly to student reporters about what she had experienced as a Langara Student Union council member. With her interview, The Voice was able to give evidence in support of allegations made against the student union, including the misappropriation of funds—in some cases, with student funds being used to buy booze for LSU councilors—and the use of bullying tactics to silence councillors attempting to bring about reform.

Malhi and former LSU member-at-large Leigha Munro say their firings were two of many by the LSU meant to resist changes made in the name of transparency. Munro says she was witness to shady financial dealings while Malhi reveals an organisational culture where elected representatives are used as pawns by upper level staff.

The Langara Student Union refused to provide reporters with documents detailing contact information of elected student representatives or financial statements on the LSU’s use of funds collected from students. It is estimated by The Voice that the LSU controls close to one million dollars in student funds.

At this time it is unclear what will come of the allegations.

Langara Student Journalists Rise to the Task

The student journalists who worked on the Voice last semester as part of of the college’s journalism diploma program never imagined they’d be able to break a story like this.

The student union had been a notoriously opaque entity for years. Since as far back as the late 90s, student journalists at the college have been challenged by the union while trying to obtain even the most basic information. The LSU does not release documentation of their use of funds or allow reporters to attend their meetings. All media enquiries to the LSU have to be submitted via an online portal and may go unanswered.

The Voice received a tip about Rodenbour’s firing a week after the fact, while they were completing what was planned to be The Voice’s last issue of the year.

“It was kind of like, ‘Okay, this is going to fill a big gap in our paper,’ but we didn’t have any inkling of what it was going to grow into,” says Jake Wray, one of the student journalists working on the story.

Rodenbour had previously promised to bring transparency to the LSU, so the significance of his firing was immediately apparent.

A meeting was held between Voice student editors and their instructors to figure out how to handle the story, and work quickly began on a special edition of the paper. The process of piecing together exactly what was going on in the student union took several days, ending with a 16-hour marathon of reporting.

“As we were reporting on the story of his firing, we started to get more information trickling about what exactly had been going on in the LSU,” says Wray. “And that was sort of more traction than The Voice had ever gotten on this file before. It just started to break open.”

“It was so intense but so much fun,” says Voice reporter Chahira Merarsi.

Speaking to Rodenbour led the student reporters to more information from former LSU councillors and employees on the corruption going on behind the scenes at the LSU. Interviews with Rodenbour, as well as former LSU member-at-large Leigha Munro and others close to the organisation, began to paint a picture.

A problem with these interviews was that Munro is far removed from the current board of the LSU, and those who could speak to what the union has recently been up to would not go on-record due to fear of professional consequences.

Rodenbour’s word alone wouldn’t cut it. The challenge for The Voice became finding a source to confirm the allegations. Without the word of an elected LSU council member, the information uncovered by The Voice could be written off as conjecture.

“We were all starting to really feel like none of these stories we’re working on can go forward unless we can get this corroborating voice,” says Wray.

After a long process of searching through lists of LSU-related contacts for anyone who would speak on record, student reporters were able to get in contact with former LSU Councilor Harsimran Malhi. Malhi’s interview was what The Voice needed to validate all they had learned about what was happening at the student union.

The process was long, arduous, and frustrating, but by the end, the student reporters were able to successfully produce the biggest story of their burgeoning careers in journalism.

“It was an example of hard work paying off. With the LSU, we’ve always kind of had our eye on them. We’ve always been trying to get something out of them, whatever it is,” says Merarsi “So for this to happen is super rewarding.”

The December issue of The Voice was the paper’s final release of that semester, meaning that many of the students that worked on the eventful issue—including Wray and Merarsi—have since moved on in the program and will no longer be working on the publication. Further developments in the LSU scandal will be made by a new generation of student journalists.

The KPU Connection

The allegations against the Langara Student Union bear a striking resemblance to those faced by the Kwantlen Student Association back in 2011 and 2012.

Former KSA General Manager Desmond Rodenbour—the very same Desmond Rodenbour who was dismissed in November as general manager of the LSU—was fired by the KSA in 2011, while the Association was in the midst of a scandal involving the misappropriation of $2 million in student funds. Rodenbour would later file a lawsuit against the KSA for defamation and wrongful dismissal.

Several KSA councilors found responsible for the misuse of funds were removed from the KSA and placed in bad standing. Since his latest dismissal, Rodenbour has found other employment, notably not with another student organisation.