UWSA executive campaign roiled by controversy

Anonymous accusations incite legal action

Just days before voting for the 2020 election opened, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) was on the defensive against an anonymous attack accusing the incumbent executive of misusing student association funds — an accusation the association vehemently denied.

An anonymous Twitter account with the name @KermanAnthony, claiming to be an education student at the U of W, appeared in late February and tweeted, “UWSA caught their VPIA [vice-president internal affairs] embezzling student funds and donating them to a provincial political party.”

“Instead of making this public, they fired the individual and forced everyone to sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement]. Not only did they misuse student money, they tried to cover their tracks completely.”

A second tweet read, “Two of the UWSA executives responsible for this are now running again. If they want our votes, shouldn’t they be transparent and tell us what really happened instead of wasting student money and then hiding it from everyone?”

The Twitter account has since been taken down.

A release posted to the association’s website Feb. 26 threatened legal action, calling the accusations slanderous and defamatory.

“The UWSA can confirm that no funds were embezzled or donated to political parties and that these allegations are entirely false and defamatory in nature,” the statement reads.

“The UWSA is considering pursuing legal action against those responsible for the slanderous comments made on social media.”

An association spokesperson further denied that UWSA board members were made to sign non-disclosure agreements but said they did sign standard confidentiality agreements “to not disclose matters discussed in closed session,” adding that “privacy and labour legislations prohibit them from discussing reasons for termination.”

“The executives haven’t threatened directors with legal actions for violating the NDA, as there wasn’t an NDA to begin with,” Shreya Jhunjhunwala, UWSA communications manager, said in an email.

“We have sent cease and desist letters to the person(s) operating the slander accounts, which have since then been taken down.”

Jhunjhunwala also noted that executives cannot independently access association funds, saying they “don’t have credit cards and need two signing authorities for cheques, e-transfers or withdrawals.”

In September, the board removed former vice-president internal affairs Natasha Reimer from office, citing a conflict of interest.

A release issued by the association shortly after said that “For confidentiality and privacy reasons, the details of the conflict of interest are available only to the board of directors.”

Reimer was elected on a slate alongside UWSA president Meagan Malcolm, vice-president external affairs Mahlet Cuff and vice-president student affairs Noelle Sagher.

Cuff and Sagher are both on the ballot to be re-elected to the executive as president and vice-president student affairs, respectively.

At the same September meeting, the board dissolved the internal affairs executive position and spread the duties to the remaining three executives and staff.

Jhunjhunwala said the decision was made in part to facilitate hiring a professionally trained chief financial officer to “maximize the use of student fees and avoid a budget deficit.”

The campaign got off to a combative start in early February when multiple candidates were disqualified for pre-campaigning.

At least one member of the disqualified slate was later found in violation of UWSA campaign policy again, this time for approaching an incumbent candidate while volunteering for another slate.

Voting for the three current executive slates opened Tuesday and will be completed today.