KSA council fires chief returning officer

No new dates scheduled for by-election and referendum.

By Matt DiMera
[news editor]

The Kwantlen Student Association council has fired their new chief returning officer (CRO) after less than a month on the job.

Council voted by secret ballot to remove Jagjeet Kaur Gill at a Sept. 28 council meeting.

Gill’s contract with the KSA was signed in early September. The CRO is responsible for running all KSA elections and referenda.

Gill attended the Sept. 28 meeting to ask council to approve new dates for a fall by-election and referendum.

“Just for clarification, the by-election and referendum were delayed for procedural issues,” said Gill. “What I’ve come to speak to, and only speak to, is new proposed by-election dates.”

Gill proposed 14 days notice for a by-election and referendum, seven days to allow for the end of nominations, five days for campaigning and two days for polling.

Instead of endorsing Gill’s recommended dates, Surrey campus representative Nipun Pandey moved a motion to remove Gill as CRO.

Before the motion to remove Gill was moved, council members and students questioned  her about the delayed by-election that had originally been scheduled to take place Sept. 21 and 22.

Former board of governors representative and current student-at-large Derek Robertson asked why KSA president Harman “Sean Birdman” Bassi had been speaking on behalf of the CRO, when the CRO is meant to be the only authority regarding referenda and by-elections.

Gill said she could not speak to that.

Robertson also inquired about allegations of interference from elected officials in the election.

“As chief returning officer can you say in front of the board of directors that in no way during the lead up to this referendum/by-election that the executive and office of the president interfered in any of your duties as stated in the bylaws and regulations of the society,” asked Robertson.

“I don’t feel I can comment on that,” replied Gill.

Robertson further questioned her about whether she was confident that she could carry out her duties independently without interference from the executive and Bassi.

“My intent is to hold up the integrity and equality and fairness of the by-election and referendum,” said Gill.

Pandey questioned if it was necessary to hold the by-election, citing finances and timing.

“Is there really any need for the by-election? Because the general election is coming up in two months,” said Pandey. “That doesn’t give anyone sufficient time to work on a specific position and it will incur a lot of costs as well.”

KSA director of external affairs Bobby Padda concurred.

“We do have a general election coming up. So again, is it necessary to do an election?” asked Padda.

Senate representative Christopher Girodat strongly disagreed with the suggestion.

“Whether or not we appoint an interim director of operations today, the seat must still be filled using a by-election if there’s more than 90 days left in the term and there was at the time that Ms. Franson resigned,” argued Girodat.

KSA bylaws state that if a vacancy occurs in an elected position of the society, a by-election shall be held to fill the position for the remainder of the term, unless there is less than 90 days left in the term. As of Friday, Oct. 7, there are still more than 175 days left in the current term.

After holding a secret in-camera session and vote, KSA executive board chairperson and director of finance Nina Sandhu emerged from the meeting room to inform Gill that she had been fired by council.

Bassi, the KSA’s president and spokesperson refused a request for an interview, when contacted by email Oct. 6.

According to KSA accounting records, Gill had already received payment of half of her contract in the amount of $3,458.75.

Gill’s short tenure was marked by controversy.

In a Sept. 16 letter sent to the KSA’s then-chief-returning-officer, Kwantlen senior administrators alleged that KSA elected officials had compromised the independence of the chief returning officer and that the KSA’s election rules had already been broken.

In the letter, KPU registrar Robert Hensley and associate vice president students Jody Gordon refused to allow election polling stations on university property and refused to turn over the list of eligible voters. They accused Gill of “capitulating to the direction of an elected official and carrying out the election despite the concerns raised to you by the University and now several students.”

According to Sandhu there was no interference from elected officials.

“If they had communicated that to the CRO, that’s between the CRO and the university,” said Sandhu. “As far as I’m concerned, the involvement that we had with the election was strictly hiring the CRO and putting her in touch with Jody Gordon.”
Gordon stands by the university’s original allegations.

It is certainly the university’s position . . . that the CRO has the final say in all decisions related to elections, and it appeared as though [Gill] did not have the final say in this particular proceedings,” Gordon told The Runner. “We felt that was interference by elected officials.

Before being appointed as chief returning officer this month, Gill previously served as president of the Graduate Students’ Association at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto from 2009 to 2010. She also was a deputy returning officer for Elections Canada in 2007 and 2011.

Gill did not return Runner phone calls before deadline.