KSA election candidates disqualified amid allegations of aggressive campaigning

Three candidates were disqualified after an investigation into harassment and slating complaints

Three of the eight candidates running in the KSA 2022 general election were disqualified. (File photo)

Three of the eight candidates running in the KSA 2022 general election were disqualified. (File photo)

The Kwantlen Student Association Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Ron Laufer released three decisions on March 24, to disqualify three of the eight candidates who ran in the general election last month.

Candidates Harmanpreet Singh, Ranjot Singh, and Jujhar Inder Singh Sidhu were disqualified after an investigation into allegations of harassment and slating. 

The first decision regarding Ranjot’s campaign came after investigating “numerous unofficial complaints (over 15) regarding this year’s election,” including an official complaint alleging “harassment, intimidation, and duress during the voting process.” The report notes complaints were received from KPU students, staff, and faculty.

The official complaint was related to an incident that took place on March 15 at the Richmond campus, “when a student pressured other students to scan a QR code on their phones and vote for Ranjot Singh.” The complaint claimed there was verbal aggression to the degree the student “felt compelled to vote for the person given the ‘aggressor’s repeatedly intimidating behaviour.’” 

Similar occurrences were also reported at the Surrey campus. One incident included in the decision report involved an interaction between a student and campaigner who “grabbed their phone and cast a vote on behalf of the student.” The student’s voting receipt shows only a single vote cast for Ranjot.

Complaints were also submitted about Harmanpreet’s campaign, alleging harassment, duress, and repeated interruption of KPU classes and the KPU library. Reported incidents involved campaigners pressuring students to vote in the presence of the campaigner or on the campaigner’s phone. Laufer also received complaints filed by KPU staff and faculty regarding Harmanpreet’s campaigners interrupting in the middle of classes.

A reported incident on March 16 was submitted with a recorded video showing an instructor’s class being interrupted by a campaigner carrying posters for Harmanpreet. The campaigner “proceeds to attempt to get students to vote in front of her, including possibly on her phone,” says the report.

Though KPU staff and faculty are independent from the KSA and not involved in the elections, candidates can request time in advance to speak in an instructor’s class within the campaign period.

The report noted that the KPU library was “forced to put large signs on their entrance forbidding campaigning in their facility after witnessing and receiving so many complaints of aggressive campaigning.” According to campus security, campaigners returned when security was not present after enforcing the library’s measures. 

“While the incidents may not have been carried out by Harman Singh himself, he is responsible for those campaigning on his behalf as well,” Laufer wrote in his decision report. 

The alleged incidents breach KSA election bylaws requiring candidates to not engage in harassment behaviour, which is defined in the bylaws by “inappropriate conduct” including “verbal advances, undue attention, invitations, or physical advances where a reasonable person ought to know that such behaviour is unwelcome.” 

The complaints of classroom interruptions also break the KSA election bylaws. According to campaign rules, if a candidate wants to speak before a class, “they shall seek permission from the individual faculty members.”

“The secrecy of the vote is a primary foundation of any election. As well, the ability to cast ones vote individually and without duress is critical.” 

Both Harmanpreet and Ranjot, who were running against each other for the Surrey campus representative position, “expressed concern” to Laufer that these incidents “have been a conspiracy from his opponent.” However, Laufer found no indication the complainants were connected to either Harmanpreet or Ranjot. 

Ranjot was also disqualified after an investigation of allegations of slating, as was Sidhu.

Slating is defined in the bylaws as “two or more candidates running for elected office in a coordinated fashion to achieve a mutual advantage in the elections,” and any slating, or even the appearance of it, is not allowed in any campaign.

Laufer reviewed videos and photographs posted online by the International Student Union (ISU) that “included various evidence of slating for both Ranjot and Sidhu.” He notes both candidates can be seen together in a video that “can certainly be seen as part of the election campaign.” 

According to the report, one of the videos posted by the ISU showed Sidhu “at a rally” of supporters holding posters for Ranjot. 

Laufer showed the video to both Sidhu and Ranjot, who denied knowing each other. 

Sidhu claimed he did not know Ranjot was there, and had only met him twice, and Ranjot said he is a part of the ISU and denied that the video was related to the election campaign. 

Since the results of the election were not finalized before the Annual General Meeting, the council for the 2022-2023 term could not be introduced.

Harmanpreet appealed the disqualification decision, but it was denied by the CRO.

Harmanpreet, Ranjot, and Sidhu did not respond to interview requests from The Runner

The election results were discussed during the KSA Annual General Meeting (AGM) which was held March 31 via Zoom. The KSA also presented their financial audit statements and an overview of operations in 2021.

The required quorum of 100 members was not met, so the KSA could not put forward a special resolution to authorize the association to borrow money from a third party to fund the Student Union Building construction, or make amendments to their bylaws regarding councillor attendance, among other proposals. 

Student activity fees had an overall increase to $6.51 million from $6.2 million. The 6.5 per cent increase is because there were more students, said Gary Wozny of Tompkins Wozny LLP, the independent auditors. He noted that the Multipass revenue dropped by “about $82,000.” 

Last year the KSA received $581,493 in government wage subsidies, an increase from $551,730 in 2020. The overall excess revenue increased to a little over $2 million for the 2021 year. 

“The pandemic has continued to play a significant challenge in coordinating and organizing campaigns throughout 2021,” said Ben Newsom, KSA Executive Director. 

The KSA spent $48,742 on the 2021 election, an increase from $21,846 on the 2020 election. 

“In addition, the KSA also experienced our own set of challenges as it pertains to the number of executive council members that were available to take on this task,” they added, and credited former president and students with disabilities representative Jaya Dhillon, and former VP external affairs and mature students representative Lesli Sangha for their work last year as the only two members of council. 

Dhillon is finishing her final semester at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and did not run in the KSA general election, but Sangha ran for the students with disabilities representative position. The unofficial election results show Sangha was re-elected to council. 

In the KSA’s proposed 2022 budget, wages and benefits costs for staff are expected to increase by $30,796, totalling just under $1.3 million.

Newsom said KPU worked with the KSA to develop a system that would allow students to log in to participate in online elections, adding that it took longer to get the system running and that is why the byelection was pushed to December. 

The next KSA council meeting with the newly elected members is scheduled for April 8 at 10:00 am.