UPDATE (10/31/2019): For an updated version of this story which discusses an external report finding no evidence of foul play in this incident, read this follow-up article.
On Friday, Oct. 11, an incident occurred in the SFSS’s Maggie Benston Centre office that has environmental representative, Monique Ataei, calling for the resignation of member services officer, Moe Kopahi.
Ataei claims that Kopahi lent her his phone to place a call, and when he changed his mind due to privacy concerns, Kopahi grabbed the phone from her hand, inadvertently striking Ataei in the face as he pulled the phone away.
Kopahi stated that he asked Ataei repeatedly to return his phone to him because he “did not feel safe nor comfortable” with the person Ataei was calling having his personal contact information. “I got out of my seat, and grabbed my phone from her hand, which on the way . . . touched her lips,” Kopahi wrote in a statement.
Ataei stated that Kopahi didn’t seem to notice that he had struck her, and was yelling and cursing. While Ataei said that she received no apology from Kopahi, he claims that he told her that his phone hitting her lips was not intentional, apologized, and offered her a hug, which she did not accept.
According to Ataei, the cell phone struck her on her jaw and upper lip, not damaging her nose or cheek. SFU Campus Security was called by a friend of Ataei’s, who she told immediately of the incident. Kopahi left the campus before Campus Security arrived at the SFSS office. SFU Campus Security confirmed that they responded to an incident at the date and time in the MBC area, but can confirm nothing else due to privacy policies.
Ataei claims that she stayed in the SFSS office until 1:30 a.m., icing her face. Her biggest concern, however, is the lack of action from other SFSS board members following the incident.
“The IRO did not contact me,” said Ataei, referring to internal relations officer, Kevin Zhang. “I waited three days for an email from the IRO.”
According to Ataei, Zhang and president Humza Khan were both aware of the incident, but did not contact her until after the weekend. “They didn’t know to what severity it [was] . . . They didn’t know anything. They just knew that I got hit,” said Ataei.
The following Tuesday night, Zhang sent Ataei a text message apologizing for not handling the situation sooner.
He continued, “Lying is wrong regardless whether you win or not. Once you lie and twisted the truth, you can hurt the people around you and you will regret it for the rest of life. I sincerely hope to speak to you asap and I hope that you remain faithful to your morales[sic] and integrity.”
Another concern of Ataei’s is the office environment that allowed this conflict to take place. “This incident that happened is not something that would occur in an environment that is safe and supporting and comforting,” Ataei stated.
-Moe Kopahi, SFSS member services officer
The Peak first learned of the incident when Ataei sent out an email to board members and other university stakeholders stating that she would not be returning to the SFSS board office, due to a “lack of safety.”
Ataei wrote, “I will not be setting my foot in the SFSS office, for I have seen the lack of response incidents receive from the majority of the executive.” In response, business representative, Brandon Chapman, replied: “This email is unacceptable. You are supposed to be a professional. Stop acting like a child.”
The underlying problem, according to Ataei, is one of a hostile work environment. Throughout her interview with The Peak, Ataei repeatedly stated that she did not feel safe in the SFSS office. “This isn’t the first time I’ve felt scared in the offices,” she said.
In his statement, Kopahi criticized Ataei for her handling of the situation. “Monique Ataei has created an unsafe space for male board members of the SFSS by sending a mass email . . . claiming false accusations.” Kopahi went on to say that he now feels unsafe holding his office hours, and is fearful that someone who has heard fragments of the incident will come to his office with “negative intentions.”
Ataei has requested that the remainder of her voluntary stipend for her year-long term be paid out, a sum of $6,125, after which she plans to resign, as she said she no longer feels she is able to carry out her due diligence in the position.
Ataei is also calling for Kopahi’s resignation, and for Zhang to be disciplined within the SFSS and to be stripped of a month’s worth of his stipend. Kopahi has no intentions to resign, and stated that he will continue in his duties as MSO.
Ataei said she chose to make the incident public because she hopes to change the environment within the SFSS offices. “I’m bringing this externally because nothing happened internally,” said Ataei.
She continued, “I don’t want a student to go through what I did . . . The fact that this could happen appalls me.”
On Friday, the SFSS released an official statement, saying, “The assistance of external parties is being pursued to investigate the incident further and reach a resolution. Meanwhile, other options are being pursued to ensure all Board of Directors members have access to a safe work space to continue with their mandate of serving SFU students.”
“The Simon Fraser Student Society continues to take the safety of its members, staff, and Board of Directors very seriously.”
*Comments on this post have been moderated in accordance with The Peak‘s anti-libel and anti-slander policies*