This article has been updated with new information as of 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, March 3.
Poster vandalism leads to physical confrontation.
As CRO Jason Van Rooy reported at the UMSU council meeting Feb. 25, a total of 13 posters are reported missing and two more were defaced.
As a result of the vandalism, Adam Cousins, a past UMSU presidential candidate under the Campus Change slate in 2009, was followed, accused of ripping down posters and then assaulted by his two accusers in the tunnels between University Centre and Elizabeth Dafoe Library.
“They were really concerned about the election posters. I don’t know what they were talking about,” said Cousins. After the initial accusations, Cousins explained that one of the men then grabbed his hair and thrust him into a garbage can.
He also said they knew specific details of about his life and routine.
“They knew an awful lot about me,” Cousins said, commenting on how the men knew where he lived, where he went to church and how long he had been attending school.
Cousins told the Manitoban, “I was pretty freaked out.”
After managing to calm the alleged assailants down, Cousins and his friend reported the incident to University of Manitoba Security Services (UMSS).
Cousins said UMSS asked if he was involved with drugs, alcohol or anything of that nature, to all of which he said no. UMSS then asked if anyone would have a grudge against him. He said that the only person he could think of who might have some kind of grudge is current UMSU president Sid Rashid. However, according to a statement provided by University of Manitoba Spokesperson John Danakas about the ongoing investigation being carried out by Security Services, “Security Services has no evidence to support any claim that Sid Rashid was involved in this incident, nor do they believe he was involved. Suspects have been identified and further corroborate security services’ statement that Sid Rashid is not involved.”
When asked to respond to the accusations that he had been ripping down the posters, Cousins responded, “People say a lot of things,” and continued to dismiss the accusations.
UMSU president denies grudge
Sid Rashid, current UMSU president, when asked about the accusation responded, “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
“I don’t know why he would think I have a grudge against him, I won the election last year, I played by the rules [ . . . ] I don’t know why he would think I have a grudge against him. I have no grudge against Adam Cousins,” said Rashid.
“From my standpoint, anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always encouraged people to get involved with UMSU itself and running for UMSU whether it’s over the last couple of months, or over the last year [ . . . ],” said Rashid, touching on Cousins’ involvement with student politics.
“It’s unfortunate to see that people are tearing [banners] down, for whatever reason [ . . . ] That’s a crime; it’s vandalism, right, so I hope people know what they’re doing when they go about doing those things.”
“I don’t know how you could justify that,” continued Rashid
Van Rooy had been informed of the incident, but said that the investigation was out of his hands.
“It’s no longer our problem, Security Services is going to deal with it. It’s a criminal act, so they’re going to take it seriously and they’ll pursue the matter.”
University of Manitoba Spokesperson John Danakas confirmed that Security Services was investigating a number of reported incidents regarding the UMSU election.
The ‘Just Say No’ campaign and UMSU
Cousins speculated that his assaulters thought he was part of the “Just Say No” campaign, an anti-UMSU campaign that is being organized by students who say they were planning on running as an opposition to the Moving Forward slate, and who some believe are responsible for the vandalism.
Andrew Nichol, one of the organizers of the campaign, thinks the accusations are absurd.
“I can say unequivocally that anyone involved with the Just Say No campaign has had no part in [the vandalism] we condemn those actions and we don’t support them,” said Nichol.
He continued, “However, with that being said, when we were working on the UMSU election campaign there were a lot of people very upset with the current UMSU slate, and that being said, it doesn’t surprise me that these [actions] have been taken.”
“But once again, we’ve had no part in that.”
Nichol also explained that their slate fell through after two of the candidate dropped out at the last minute. Nichol felt it was because members of UMSU in the 2009 elections had intimidated them.
Nichol, who was involved with the Campus Change campaign in 2009 told the Manitoban about a specific incident in last year’s election where Chung Jung, the vice-president student services candidate with Campus Change, was verbally confronted by then-vice-present advocacy candidate Mitch Tripple.
Jung said he was campaigning in University Center when Tripple approached him and began to yell at him.
“He started yelling at me about how he’d lost respect for me and he could not believe I was doing this. I tried to find out what I did that made him lose respect for me,” but Tripple continued to yell at him.
Eventually, Nichol stepped in and separated Jung and Tripple.
“There were people just stopping and watching us. By that time, all the posters were up, my picture was everywhere,” said Jung. “It was a really embarrassing moment.”
Mitch Tripple, the current UMSU vice-president advocacy said he does recall the event, but said that he felt it was in no way a method to intimidate Jung.
“Did we have a debate, were voices raised, yeah, but I didn’t see it as an intimidating thing and it wasn’t told to me at the time that it was an intimidating situation.”
When asked about Nichol’s claim that his prospective slate was threatened into not running, Tripple responded, “I take these allegations very seriously, and I would hope that students who feel intimated go through the proper channels here at the U of M. So if it’s during the election, that would be through the CRO [ . . . ],” said Tripple touching on the fact it’s been a year since the actual confrontation.
“I would have liked to know myself that this was an issue so we could have fixed it, but this is the first time I have heard of me being an intimidating individual.”
“I didn’t feel it was intimidation,” said Tripple.
Nichol however said, “It was clearly intimidation.”
When asked why Nichol did not put a complaint in with the CRO following the incident, he explained that at the point it wasn’t necessary, but that he stands by his statement.
“Emotions sometimes do get the better of people and I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Nichol, explaining that if there were other cases of intimidation they would have gone to the CRO.
For now, the “Just Say No” campaign is being confined to the election season, but Nichol says he would like to develop it into something that would run throughout the year.
“Really, what we were thinking is that there are some serious issues that the student body needs to be aware of. Given that it is going to be an [acclamation slate], doing some sort of information campaign to make sure that these issues are heard and UMSU is held accountable [is important].”
However, there is the concern that this unregistered campaign may be in violation of the UMSU election bylaws.
Just Say No not exactly legitimate
Van Rooy explained that the question involved is whether students financing their own campaigns are covered under the same bylaws, as the entire election should be financed by UMSU.
“When they choose to do it would make a difference. If they’re choosing to do it during the elections and it turns out they are required to register their side and follow the rules, and they didn’t, we would simply take down everything that they put up,” said Van Rooy.
The Just Say No campaign is considering developing a website and handing out leaflets, but does not plan on putting up posters in the near future due to lack of resources.
Moving Forward reacts to election vandalism
Heather Laube, the presidential candidate for the Moving Forward slate explained that the vandalism caused countless hours of volunteer work to go to waste and that the entire slate was “extremely upset and frustrated at the targeted acts of vandalism that have plagued [the] campaign.”
Laube also explained in an email response that the slate’s ability to communicate with students has been limited, and that “almost all of our banners have been either torn down completely, or targeted with offensive and discriminatory words and symbols.”
She continued, “It’s unfortunate that people with a personal and political agenda would stoop to such a level of dirty politics and hateful behavior instead of engaging in respectful debate and participating in the democratic process — not only during elections, but also throughout the year.”
“These acts have been completely demoralizing for a lot of the students involved,” said Laube. “We can only hope it doesn’t have long term effects on the democratic processes here at the U of M.”
When asked why someone would commit such acts of vandalism, Laube explained, “It’s hard to say what some people are thinking, but what we have experienced through the actions of the individuals involved has been quite concerning.”
“Many of their comments and destructive behavior have been targeted at particular communities, and have included racist, homophobic and other hateful symbols and remarks,” said the presidential candidate.
“This is not something you want to see or hear anywhere, particularly at a place of higher learning, such as at a university.”
Security Services still investigating vandalism
At the moment, UMSS is interviewing students about the acts of vandalism, but could not comment further on the issue. Cousins confirmed that he was one of the students being interviewed, but only because of the fact that he was assaulted.
“We are still investigating the matter, so we really [cannot] comment on that,” said Linda Lavallee, when asked about the banners being vandalized. “There’s been interviews and there are further interviews scheduled this week before we can finalize our report and investigation.”
On top of slate vandalism, a number of community representative campaign materials, along with referenda campaign materials, have also been defaced.