UVSS Elections hears complaints against Encompass UVic

Campus News

The UVSS student elections have proven fertile ground for controversy, as two anonymous complaints targeted at Encompass UVic were filed with UVSS Elections last week. One was dismissed, but the other carries repercussions for the slate.

Accusations of malicious campaigning brought forward

On Thursday, Feb. 11, a complaint was filed against Encompass UVic’s Ben Lukenchuck and Kevin Tupper alleging the two practiced malicious campaigning, harassment, defamation, and libel in campaign materials assembled by UVSS Elections. On Friday, Feb. 17, UVSS Elections Chief Electoral Officer Emma Hamill dismissed these complaints, ruling Encompass UVic had not demonstrated any actionable offence. [Ruling is available here.]

[gview file=”http://www.martlet.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/libel_complaint.pdf”]

In the original anonymous complaint, a copy of which Lukenchuck provided to the Martlet (seen above), Lukenchuck allegedly campaigned maliciously in his platform by stating that current UVSS Chairperson Brontё Renwick-Shields “led a protest in front of President [Jamie] Cassels and other administrators” at the new student orientation last September, and that he would work to get the UVSS “back at the decision making table.”

The complainant claims that characterizing Renwick-Shields’ speech as a protest was unfair, and that Lukenchuk’s platform is defamatory “because it is insinuating that Renwick-Shields and the UVic administration have a poor working relationship.”

“To insinuate that Renwick-Shields led an antagonistic protest in front of the administration is defamation,” the complainant writes. “Renwick-Shields and the UVic administration . . . have a great working relationship that was not impacted by her speech.”

The second part of the complaint accuses Tupper of misrepresenting an email conversation that took place on Jan. 26 between himself and UVSS Director of Student Affairs Kaylee Szakacs about the travel pool referendum, where Szakacs told Tupper that she “[didn’t] have time to compile this [a list of clubs that received funding] for [Tupper] right now.” The complainant claims that the way the conversation is presented in Tupper’s platform is unfair to Szakacs (who is unable to run for re-election this year).

The complainant concludes that the platforms, as they are written in the Martlet election supplement, “caused harm to Renwick-Shields and the entire Unite team,” and that continuing to publishing them as would increases that harm.

In her ruling, Hamill reviewed the complaints brought forward, as well as Encompass’s response — which runs five pages in length and can be read below — and concludes that Encompass did not commit any offence that could be classified as malicious campaigning, substantially prejudicial, harassment, defamation, or libel.

[gview file=”http://www.martlet.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Response-to-Formal-Complaint-1.pdf”]

Speaking to the first part of the complaint, Hamill writes, “In the context of a contested election, a reasonable person . . . would not find Lukenchuk’s opinion to be demeaning, unfair, or abusive.”

Addressing the complaints against Tupper, Hamill cites the full email correspondence between Tupper and Szakacs (attached to the original complaint) to show that the quotes he used in his platform, while incomplete, “still stand true and do not demean, abuse, or create a hostile, intimidating, threatening or humiliating environment in the election process.”

Hamill dismissed the complaint without the need for any further action.

Encompass campaign materials posted early

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, a second complaint was filed claiming Encompass UVic violated policy 5.4.a of the Elections Policy Manual, which reads: “Campaign material must not be posted or published prior to 9:00 a.m. on the first day on which printed and digital campaign materials may be posted, as scheduled by the Board of Directors [Feb. 18].”

According to the complaint, also anonymous, Encompass UVic’s website went live 24 hours before the mandated campaign period. Hamill states in her ruling, available here, that a screenshot of the website dated Feb. 17, 8:52 a.m. was included with the complaint.

In the ruling, Hamill writes that Encompass UVic blame technical errors for the site going live early, and that as soon as the error was known, they went through every effort to fix it so they would not violate electoral policy.

However, Hamill writes that after sending the complaint to Encompass at 4:42 p.m. on Feb. 17, she monitored the website and found the website was not removed at all, and still remained live as of 6:40 p.m. on Feb. 17. It continued to be live the following the day at 8:33 a.m., approximately half an hour before the start of the campaign period.

In conclusion, Hamill accepted the complaint and ruled that because Encompass UVic failed to comply with electoral policy, they must remove their website by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Mar. 2 to remove any unfair advantage gained by its early posting.  

Speaking with the Martlet this morning, Tupper said Encompass had appealed the ruling. Elections Adjudicator Randy Parker has since dismissed the appeal and restated Hamill’s prior decision.

Anonymous complaint draws suspicion

One obvious question that arose investigating these complaints is the attachment of a private email conversation between Tupper, a UVSS member, and Szakacs, an executive director, which would indicate that the complaint was either a close associate of one or either party or that file sharing occurred without prior consent from both the individuals involved.

Because the first complainant wished to remain anonymous, Hamill cited a confidentiality agreement that prohibits her from naming the individual within the ruling and any other public documents.

When asked for comment, Tupper said he never provided any emails including the original correspondence between him and Szakacs to anyone else, including Hamill. “At no point did I ever share these emails with anybody, nor did I allow anybody access to my email,” he said.

During the recording of a podcast with the Martlet on Friday, Feb. 19, Lukenchuck said that Tessa Devakos, a Director-at-Large candidate for Unite UVic, confirmed to him that the complaint was filed by a Unite UVic member. Devakos was unable to be reached for comment.

On Monday, Feb. 22, the Martlet asked Szakacs, who is the campaign manager for Unite UVic, whether or not she provided the emails to anyone on the Unite UVic team, an unaffiliated UVSS member, or anyone aside from Hamill. Szakacs said she “[wasn’t] sure what [the Martlet was] getting at with the email correspondence between Kevin and myself,” and explained that when Tupper reached out for travel pool information, she said she didn’t have time to compile the information that day, and that she told Tupper where that information could be found elsewhere.

The Martlet asked again yesterday whether Szakacs showed emails between her and Tupper to the complainant, or anyone aside from Hamill. Szakacs said that she forwarded the emails to UVSS staff “to see if there were staff resources to compile this [travel pool] information given extremely limited capacity [at the time of correspondence].”

Szakacs also said she “[would] not provide information that threatens the anonymity of the complainant.”

The full ruling on both complaints, as well as a third complaint against Woke UVic, is available on the UVSS Elections website.