KSA election chaos

Why 21 candidates were disqualified for violating campaign rules, and what’s next for the Kwantlen Student Association

(Kristen Frier)

This year marked the first time that the Kwantlen Student Association held its annual general election entirely online. It was also the first time that the vast majority of candidates running were disqualified due to widespread violations of the campaigning rules, with only two candidates successfully being elected.

Allegedly forged signatures were submitted on multiple KSA candidate nomination forms. Redactions by the KSA Chief Returning Officer. (Submitted)

Out of the 24 candidates, 21 were disqualified after KSA Chief Returning Officer Ron Laufer looked into complaints submitted by candidates that accused others of slating during the campaign period. In a report released afterward, Laufer also determined that it was very likely that some candidates had forged signatures on their nomination forms.

Candidates Sakshi Ahuja, Akshat Garg, Rohan Garg, Navkiran Grewal, Jasskirat, Jasleen Kaur, Parkirat Kaur, Aman Khurana, Prabhjot Maan, Ramandeep Kaur Mallhi, Nipun Mehta, Nikhil, Arpit Sachdeva, Gurman Sandhu, Shubham, Aakarshan Singh, Gunit Pal Singh, Gurjodh Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Sharanjeet Singh, and Vijender Singh were all disqualified in two separate decisions following the investigation.

Lesli Sangha was elected to the Mature Students Representative position, and Jaya Dhillon was elected to the Students with Disabilities Representative position, which she previously held from 2019-2020. Unless any of the candidate appeals are successful or appointments are made, Sangha and Dhillon will likely be the only elected representatives on council until a by-election can be held in the fall.

A number of candidates told The Runner that Vijender Singh, Lesli Sangha, and Gurman Sandhu had allegedly filed the complaints. Jasleen Kaur, Gunit Pal Singh, Sharanjeet Singh, Nikhil, Akshat Garg, and Gurjodh Singh said that they planned to appeal the disqualification decisions, which are planned to be resolved by March 23.

The KSA general election rules

The KSA is a non-profit organization governed under the B.C. Societies Act and is independent from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Almost every student at KPU is a member of the KSA, which is mostly funded through tuition fees.

There are several KSA fee categories, including the extended health plan at $87.55 and dental plan at $113.30 per year, the U-Pass BC fee for $42.50 per month, increasing to $43.35 per month in May, and the KSA MultiPass for $10 per month. Smaller fees include the operating fund, clubs and events fund, student publication fee, and peer support program.

According to a February draft of the proposed 2021 budget, the KSA’s revenue totals approximately $2,277,150.00 — with $1,400,634.00 of that sourced from student membership fees.

Per the KSA bylaws, a general election is held annually in February to elect faculty representatives, campus representatives, and constituency representatives. Candidates must submit a nomination form signed by the candidate and a minimum of 25 KPU students. Polling stations are normally set up at each campus, but due to the pandemic, voting was carried out online over a two-day period through the KSA website.

Candidate nominations are open for no less than 14 days and no longer than 28 days. Notice of the nominations is given to members no less than 14 days before nominations close through posters on campuses, an advertisement on the KSA website, or other media approved by the council. The CRO verifies the eligibility of candidates and nominators through the KPU Registrar’s office or in other ways as needed, and confirms the validity of all nomination packages received. It’s a “serious offence” for a candidate to submit a false or deceptive nomination form, which can result in disqualification.

There is an official campaign period, which starts after the All-Candidates Meeting until the end of the voting period. Campaigning outside of the campaign period is prohibited.

Candidates are prohibited from running in slates, real or apparent, which the KSA defines as “two or more candidates running for elected office in a coordinated fashion to achieve a mutual advantage in the election.” The KSA regulations categorize offences as serious if they are intentional or deliberate, and likely to have a material impact on election results.

The CRO can disqualify a candidate and lodge a complaint against the candidate with the council to start proceedings to suspend some or all of their privileges. In the event one or more serious offences have been committed by one or more of the candidates, the CRO can even declare the result of the election to be invalid if they determine it was an unfair election.

Previous council representatives cease to hold office at the end of the day on March 31, and the newly elected representatives take office on April 1.

In the event there are more than eight vacancies, a by-election will be held to fill the positions for the remainder of the term.

Investigating campaign violations

A screenshot of a conversation between election candidates showing evidence of alleged slating. Redactions by the KSA Chief Returning Officer. (Submitted)

A number of the candidates participated in WhatsApp groups containing messages that appeared to show them working together and asking others for support. One of these groups was called “Yay yay!!,” and the other “Elections 2.”

One of the CRO decision reports states that after investigating three complaints made by candidates, “it became abundantly clear that slating was taking place.”

The decision report says that the group chats indicated candidates were using “language that implies a coordinated group effort, including the phrase ‘please support us in our election and vote for us.’”

The report goes on to say that some of the candidates may have “had no intention of breaking the rules and may have gotten wrapped up into group politics without being totally aware of it and didn’t fully understand the rules of the election. However, this does not remove the responsibility they had to not break the rules.”

Akshat Garg was one of the disqualified candidates running for the Mature Student Representative position and was the creator of the “Elections 2” group.

“I already knew about all the candidates who are participating in the elections. So I made the group of the students,” he says.

A screenshot of a conversation between election candidates showing evidence of alleged slating. Redactions by the KSA Chief Returning Officer. (Submitted)

“So, in the rules, you [cannot] make groups, this is called slating. [On the] 12 of February I left the group and all the candidates left the group…there was a different group of opposition. So they tried to disqualify us. They started everything,” says Akshat.

There was also a second list being circulated with the names of candidates, in the “Yay yay!!” chat. Sharanjeet Singh was one of the disqualified candidates running for a Business Representative position, and his name was on the list shared in the group chat.

“I don’t think I was guilty at all. But you know that I don’t blame Ron for the results, simply because it was showing up like there’s two groups and they’re fighting against each other. He had no option so he disqualified them all,” he says.

Sharanjeet says that he was not part of any group chats, but that he is friends with some of the people who participated in those chats.

“The groupings of these candidate lists were consistent and for the most part included what could be defined as a full slate of candidates being advertised, but at times was just a partial subset of these candidate lists,” reads one of the CRO’s decision reports.

“My name was also mentioned in one of the lists. I honestly don’t know why my name was on that list and who shared that list,” Sharanjeet adds. “It was going all around social media.”

Gunit Pal Singh, one of the disqualified candidates running for a Business Representative position, was part of the “Elections 2” group. Screenshots of the conversation show him defining what a slate is to other candidates, though he later left the chat after Jashan Sidhu, an alleged coordinator of the International Student Union group, said, “You all guyz can leave this group because its too slating.” Gunit later replied saying, “Ohkay,” and Jashan followed up saying, “Yeah lets play fair [sic].”

“I called [Ron and] had a special conversation with him about what is slating,” Gunit says.

“Some of my friends were voting, they were sharing posters for all the candidates. So I especially messaged them [saying] ‘please hold on, this might lead us to a disqualification because one person cannot promote multiple candidates’,” he says.

“Some of my friends, they were posting my poster and then in the next story they promoted other posters. But I don’t think that leads to slating.”

A conversation screenshot shows a participant believed to be current KSA Business Students Representative Kunal Puri sharing a list of several candidates, with KSA President Gurdial Dhindsa sending a reply. Redactions by the KSA Chief Returning Officer. (Submitted)

Jasleen Kaur was also a Business Representative candidate in the “Elections 2” chat, and was on the list posted in the “Yay yay!!” chat.

“I don’t know how my name came in that list.” she says, “I was just in the Election 2 group and sent one or two chats and then I left,” Jasleen adds that after she left the chat, Jashan asked her if she wanted to join another elections group with him.

“They wanted me to be on their side, but I rejected them. And I think now they are targeting me,” she says.

Vijender Singh was one of the candidates who filed a complaint against members in the “Elections 2” chat. In the complaint, Vijender accused members of “Promotion of a group of candidates and Offerings [sic] which are not part of KSA in return of votes such as Game tournaments and money offerings for last semester students on 0% interest.”

The complaint has screenshots of a list of names from all the 12 candidates in the WhatsApp group. The list was also promoted via Instagram by accounts like @Kpu_de_heerey, @international.student.union, and the @surreypindmitranda, all of which are followed by KPU students.

In addition to the candidate lists being shared online, Laufer was hearing reports from multiple students, and even KPU staff and faculty, who had received a mass email asking for votes for Gurjodh Singh, Aman Khurana, and Rohan Garg.

Approximately 3,000 emails were sent by KPU student Gursewak Singh — referred to as Gursewak Uppal in the disqualification report — over the two days of the election period. The emails were determined to be evidence of a slating effort as they supported the three candidates together.

“The level of effort employed by Gursewak is so high, it is reasonable to believe his actions were coordinated with at least some candidates,” says the report, adding that the candidates “generally they acknowledged they were friends, but that Gursewak was campaigning on his own accord, however, in at least one case, they contradicted each other, with one stating they didn’t know the other and the other stating that they were friends. This further erodes the credibility of these individuals on this matter.”

Gursewak says that he was able to collect the email addresses from participant lists on Moodle, including class lists, an international student orientation group, and another KPU group which shares educational material on avoiding plagiarism.

“This was totally my idea,” he says. “I said ‘the best way to these students will be by messaging them on their Moodle, or by emailing them.’”

He says that his intention was to reach out to KPU students and ask for their support for his friends, and decided to combine the candidates into one list in order to avoid sending three separate emails to thousands of recipients. He adds that the emails directed to KPU faculty and staff were sent by mistake.

“I don’t know how the teachers got involved in it,” he says.

Gursewak estimates that he had access to approximately 1,200 student email addresses openly listed in the orientation group, and hundreds more in participant lists in the plagiarism group and online classes.

Gurjodh, who had already been warned about breaking campaign rules after he included the KSA logo on his campaign poster, says that he knew Gursewak was supporting him through the emails but didn’t expect the other candidates to be on the list.

“Other students were also asking him for support, so it was difficult for him to support everyone individually. So he just made a list and shared the names,” says Gurjodh. “We don’t have contact with anyone, so I even also emailed some students in my participant lists.”

Former KSA councillor Emily Haugen was one of the thousands of people who received an email from Gursewak.

“I am so appalled at what has happened with this election,” Haugen wrote in an email to The Runner.

“Student council members have too much discretion and not enough accountability or oversight. Oftentimes newly elected members are very inexperienced, which isn’t a bad thing, but if everyone on council is first year students with zero governance experience and they have control over millions of dollars worth of student funds, I think we can all see how that might end badly.”

When she emailed Gursewak to ask how he managed to find her email address, he told her that one of his friends had taken it from a participant list in a class they were in with Haugen.

“Sorry if you found it like misbehaving. It was just a campaign for voting as the elections are online due to covid so this is only way [sic] we can reach you,” Gursewak replied.

KPU Tech Campus Representative Jeremy Law says he believes that taking email addresses from participant lists is an invasion of students’ privacy.

“I think even though it is an online setting, we do still need to respect the privacy and students’ decision on whether or not to speak with us,” he says.

“That still needs to be respected, even though of course, that does make it harder to campaign.”

The new KSA council

The KSA will likely hold a by-election sometime this year in order to fill the vacant positions on council.

“With two people, they will be able to have meetings…they will both have to agree on all the decisions that they want to make,” says KSA Executive Director Benjamin Newsom.

“Summer is generally a slower period. This will really give them time to sort of figure out their positions and take a look at what it is they want to accomplish. It’ll probably be a lighter schedule of things for them to do,” says Newsom.

Laufer is planning to have the results from the appeals finalized by March 22 or 23.

“It sounds like he has a number of appeals that he has to resolve. He has to write decisions for all of them,” says Newsom.

In terms of the reaction from the KSA staff, Newsom says that they are interested in following what’s happening because they need decisions that are made by the council in order to do their jobs.

The results did surprise Jaya Dhillon, the newly elected Students with Disabilities Representative. She says she was confused when she saw only her name along with Sangha’s in the election results.

“At the same time, we were kind of relieved because Ron finally put his foot down…And so that probably was really good because we had challenges before in previous elections, proving that the candidates were not doing what they’re supposed to do. It was hard to do. But online, it was slightly better to prove because [there were] chat groups and things like that,” she says.

During the election, Dhillon says that the CRO went over the election rules multiple times especially highlighting rules stating that candidates can’t work together. Dhillon says that many candidates had their cameras off when going over the rules, and she questions if they were even present during the meeting.

“So if they ignore those, then that’s on them. But I think honestly if they were disqualified, I think they should not be able to run for another year and run the year after,” she says.

Law says that he is expecting the KSA to put forth a motion in the Annual General Meeting on March 25 to change the bylaws and make council members more accountable.

“Currently, in the bylaws, there are no clauses to say that a disqualified candidate cannot run in the following election,’ he says.

Law encourages students to participate in council and committee meetings and get to know the council members that will represent them. “It’s a time where students should be empowered to speak more with council and to bring their issues to council.”

“What the candidates did, doesn’t really reflect what mainly the KSA does…there’s a lot of councillors and staff that work very hard,” says Law.

“But I think that what happened in the situation was unacceptable, because the regulations and the bylaws regarding elections were made very clear to candidates.”

The AGM will be held on Thursday, March 25, at 1:00 pm via Zoom. Students are encouraged to participate and get to know the selected candidates as well as the KSA’s future plans.