Written by: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor
On August 8, The Peak received an email from Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) president Jas Randhawa reporting that he was under pressure from fellow members to resign from his position.
Attached was a scanned copy of a resignation letter allegedly drafted by fellow board members, a press release written by Randhawa, and a recording of a meeting between Randhawa and the SFSS board of directors’ vice presidents.
“On August 1, 2018 five executive VP SFSS Board of Directors invited me into a room for a pre-planned meeting. Without any prior notice, verbal or written warning/communication they brought me in and handed an ultimatum [sic] to either resign on the spot or face impeachment,” Randhawa’s letter reads.
“This ambush meeting was recorded without informing me or asking for my consent throughout the entire meeting. The recording was later shared in a Slack group chat with all directors excluding myself. This entire process was carried out without any consultation of board faculty representatives.”
The meeting among executives enclosed in the recording
The recording reveals board members confronting Randhawa over control of information flow within the board, non-adherence to proper process and procedure, failure to accept constructive criticism, and issues concerning Randhawa’s character. Board members encouraged Randhawa to resign as president of the SFSS or face impeachment and the long-term consequences that would entail.
When The Peak reached out to the SFSS, the rest of the board was unaware that Randhawa had approached The Peak or provided a copy of the recording.
“This was for us; this was supposed to be something that stayed off the record,” said vice-president (VP) student services Samer Rihani, speaking on behalf of the other SFSS directors involved in the meeting. He noted that some of the recording’s content was confidential in nature during an interview with The Peak.
“The members who are all involved agreed to do this recording more in the sense of being worried for our safety,” Rihani continued. “There have been some concerns about safety in the board office and some discussions about Jas and whatnot led us to believe that if anything went wrong, even worst-case scenario, we’d have that recording there.”
They also confirmed that Randhawa had not consented to being recorded, though all other board members present did. Rihani went on to say that the file was kept after the end of the meeting to share with other members of the board.
According to Rihani, “Jas actually accessed the computer of another board member and saw messages that nobody had given him permission to access. He then took documents as well as the audio recording without the permission of that same board member, because he had been at the home of that person and Jas accessed the laptop while the individual was sleeping.”
In an email interview with The Peak, Randhawa stated that “the recording and material was sent to me.”
“Samer and the other directors were told I had just coincidently [sic] been working off this director’s laptop because we were afraid VP’s would isolate this director out and bully or make [them] their target as well,” he wrote.
“Given the circumstances, I therefore told this director that it would be reasonable for [them] to state to others that I had just coincidently [sic] been on [their] laptop. There was no coincident or accident of me receiving everything including the recording. Explaining the truth to certain individuals on board would have resulted in more emotional blackmail to faculty representatives.
“I hope to conclude by saying it is important to note that the context of what is in the recording is the crime and not how it was given to me,” Randhawa finished.
The Peak then reached out to the individual board member in question, who responded that “I did not give Jaskarn consent to use my computer. The specific activity that occurred during its possession are not fully aware to me, as such, I am unable to comment on Jas’ actions or intentions. This would indicate that Rihani’s version of events are more accurate.” The board member requested to remain anonymous.
“The concern that I have with this recording going out is that there are other people who are named, and other things in there that have nothing to do necessarily with a conflict between one board member and his fellow board members,” said SFSS CEO Martin Wyant. “Clearly it wasn’t intended to be distributed to anybody.”
According to the board, the August 1 meeting was prompted by “concerns being brought forwards by numerous board members kind of regarding a wide range of issues, mainly in term of his leadership abilities.” They recall ongoing problems with Randhawa’s leadership abilities since the beginning of his presidency, some of which having gotten worse over time.
The rest of the Board weighs in
Following the meeting enclosed in the recording, Rihani mentioned another meeting which took place on August 3 amongst all 15 board members to discuss the issue: “[Randhawa] got feedback from every person, he didn’t acknowledge the issues that anyone mentioned to him and he asked us to speak truthfully and honestly after we spoke to him,” Rihani said.
When asked to comment on the August 3 meeting, Randhawa claimed that certain directors were exercising pressure on other board members to “further everyone on board away from myself in pursuit of their agendas.”
“It was tough to watch individual faculty representatives make statements they didn’t want to,” said Randhawa. “I understand that many faculty representatives are in a tough spot and did not want to be part of a big dispute. After this meeting, I also had five faculty representatives stop by my room and tell me that they did not believe everything they heard or said themselves in this meeting.”
“Additionally, a few faculty representatives were full of tears or struggling to speak their words during the meeting and afterwards as well,” Randhawa added.
The Peak reached out to SFSS faculty representatives regarding Randhawa’s claims that they were being intimidated within the board. The faculty representatives (except for arts and social sciences representative Kailyn Ng, who did not respond by the publication date) all denied feeling intimidated by the executive members of the board.
“I am firmly denying Jas’s allegations that faculty representatives are being intimidated within the Board,” wrote business representative Jessica Nguyen in an email interview. “I find this statement extremely ironic because the Board members that Jas is accusing of intimidation are the ones that have been consistently supporting us. [. . .] The individuals that Jas is accusing are the only ones who have listened to the feedback and concerns of the faculty representatives during this entire process.”
She added, “In fact, the only intimidation I have felt is on the part of Jas who’s behavior and responses to board related questions have been extremely belittling and condescending.”
Communications, arts and technology representative Amrita Mohar and science representative Natasha Birdi confirmed that Randhawa had been unreceptive towards feedback provided to him by faculty representatives. “Despite sharing my feedback personally to Jas, he has not shown any sense of improvement since the beginning of the term,” wrote Birdi.
Education representative Cameron Nakatsu confirmed that the original move towards Randhawa’s resignation or impeachment was not initiated by the faculty representatives on the board. “Although this motion was brought up initially by another group within the Board of Directors, I still confidently agree with their evidence into this decision,” he wrote. “At this time, I do not have confidence in his position to lead the Board of Directors for the remainder of the year”
Applied sciences representative Kia Mirsalehi, environment representative Russell Dunsford, and Nguyen commented that, while faculty representatives were not involved in the August 1 meeting enclosed in the recording, since that meeting all members of the board have been involved as the board moves to impeach Randhawa.
“After this meeting, I followed up with Jas and saw that he did not believe that what the VPs had said came from the entire Board. Instead, he strongly believed that it was certain VPs colluding to get him off the board,” wrote Nguyen. She then proposed that faculty representatives should be given an opportunity to directly provide feedback to Randhawa, which led to the August 3 meeting among all board members.
“Multiple meetings were held after the August 1st meeting where faculty representatives spoke first regarding their concerns in order to make sure no intimidation was done by the executives,” wrote Mirsalehi. “Since the August 1st meeting, the faculty representatives were fully involved in all discussions and conversations regarding the impeachment process and on multiple occasions had all expressed their desire to move forward with the impeachment process.”
“While there were some initial inclusion challenges, I believe they are sorted out and that everyone is confident they were part of the final decision,” wrote Dunsford.
“This entire experience has been tough because Jas and I were friends, but I knew I had to put that aside and do what is best for the SFSS,” added Nguyen. “Since the beginning of this process, Jas has continued to behave in ways that ultimately prove that I made the right decision in asking him to step down.”
Following numerous meetings and a leaked recording
In his original media letter, Randhawa mentioned that political pressure had nearly caused him to resign in the beginning of August. After the meeting enclosed in the recording, Randhawa cleaned out his desk and wrote personal letters for the members of the board. This prompted the SFSS to revoke Randhawa’s access to his SFSS presidential email account on Friday, August 3. Randhawa later asked for his account to be restored as he had not made a final decision regarding resignation.
“People were under the impression, myself included, that this was complete. But it was clearly the wrong impression and I apologized to him,” said SFSS CEO Martin Wyant, who restored Randhawa’s email access the following Monday.
“Regardless of what the assumption may be from Martin, I personally never communicated anything to Martin about resigning,” said Randhawa. To Randhawa, this was a breach of SFSS bylaws as well as an abuse of power from Wyant.
In the August 10 Board of Directors meeting, the discussion surrounding the president’s position was slated to be in in-camera discussion item. When The Peak followed up with Randhawa following the meeting, he stated that “no agenda items were sent to me in advance regarding the matter at hand, I was bothered that there would be attempts to add in last-minute amendments.”
“Surprisingly, during the break before the start of the in-camera session, Samer and Martin had a brief discussion and Martin had requested that Samer withdraw his discussion from in-camera for that day [. . .] I am glad to see that work for students was still carried out in this meeting [in spite of] internal conflict,” Randhawa said.
Randhawa restated to The Peak that he has no intentions of resigning. In his original letter to The Peak, Randhawa ended by stating, “Regardless, of whether I am impeached or not by these directors I will be fighting for a bigger cause in the upcoming months and I believe the CEO and following directors involved in creating a hostile toxic work environment should be held accountable.” Following this statement, he named vice-president university relations Jackson Freedman, vice-president finance Matthew Chow, vice-president student life Tawanda Masawi, Mirsalehi, and Rihani.
At the August 14 emergency board meeting, the board unanimously approved to add a resolution to impeach SFSS president Jas Randhawa onto the agenda of an upcoming annual general meeting or special general meeting.