Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
The removal of former Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) at-large representative Wareez Ola Giwa as a director, which was previously attributed to him missing two board meetings, has now been linked to sexual misconduct allegations.
The allegations have been brought forward by vice-president external relations Jasdeep Gill, business representative Jessica Nguyen, and a third board member who requested to remain anonymous.
The female board members submitted a formal complaint regarding Giwa’s behaviour to SFU’s Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office (SVSPO) on July 30. The report, which has been provided to The Peak by the women involved, details incidents in which Giwa engaged in misconduct.
These included Giwa setting up a one-on-one meeting with Gill and then using the time to ask her “personal and inappropriate questions,” putting his hand on one board member’s thigh, and asking Nguyen if she could be his “superwoman” or call him “daddy” while cornering her in the board office.
In their report to the SVSPO, the women asked for a formal restraining order against Giwa, an evaluation of his status as an SFU student, and increased security in Maggie Benston Centre.
“We were basically brushed under the rug”
In an interview with The Peak, the women expressed frustration at how the situation was handled within the board office.
According to Nguyen, when she approached SFSS president Jas Randhawa, who was one of the human resource (HR) representatives for the board office at the time, he was not willing to take disciplinary action against Giwa for fear of public backlash.
“He’s more concerned about the SFSS reputation rather than the three females who are trying to work here and have a safe place,” said Nguyen. She said Randhawa told her to “just ignore it.”
“We were basically brushed under the rug, not taken seriously.” – Jessica Nguyen, SFSS business representative
The women involved expressed that during this period, they avoided coming to the board office and felt their work was affected.
“I would like to start off by questioning the integrity of the directors who are bringing forward such allegations by asking why allegations are being brought up this late,” wrote Randhawa in an email interview in response to these statements by Nguyen. “The allegations being made here are disgusting and of severe desperation.”
Randhawa stated that he immediately contacted the SVSPO upon hearing the women’s complaints. Randhawa provided screenshots of email correspondence between him and the SVSPO dated June 24, in which the three female directors were CC’d. In the email, he asked to set up a meeting time with the office. According to Randhawa, none of the three female directors followed up with scheduling a meeting.
Nguyen responded that she did not follow up to schedule a meeting with the SVSPO because she did not believe it would lead to a removal of Giwa as a director, which is what she “wanted and needed.”
“I personally did not need any of the services offered by the SVSPO office (counseling, referrals to off-campus support, information packages, etc),” wrote Nguyen. “What I needed was to have Ola removed from the board because he was constantly harassing me which was not being done. So the SVSPO just seemed like a lost cause.”
The three women stated that Randhawa withheld their complaints from vice-president university relations Jackson Freedman, the board’s second HR representative at the time, and CEO Martin Wyant.
Gill stated that the women had recently found out that Wyant had offered to sit down with them to find a solution to the problem, but that Randhawa had told Wyant the women did not want his help. “We were never told that Martin had ever offered us any help,” said Gill.
Wyant confirmed that he had offered help to the women and was told by Randhawa that “the three female board members did not want to meet with me.”
Randhawa responded that his only intervention was to ensure Wyant did not “force a decision onto these women as I did not want Martin to control what action these women take.”
Nguyen said that after receiving little support from Randhawa, she then went to Freedman.
“Our other HR representative had no information at all, and it wasn’t until Jessica told Jackson that something was actually done,” stated the third board director.
Freedman corroborated the women’s claim that he was “not adequately consulted or involved in the decision-making process over the resolution of this dispute.” He stated that Randhawa had reassured him that the board members’ concerns had been appropriately addressed and a resolution found.
“This was clearly not the case,” added Freedman. Upon learning about the complaints, he had recommended that the women contact the SVSPO.
Randhawa alleged that Freedman had been involved throughout the entire process and was mostly concerned with helping Giwa draft apology letters for the women.
The women then filed a complaint to the SVSPO and received apology letters written by Giwa with Freedman’s help. The women did not accept the apologies.
A quiet resignation
Following the registration of their complaint, the women stated that they still did not feel safe in their workplace.
“So that was done and still we have events, like socials for the board and stuff like that, [and Gill and the third board member are] not showing up and that’s not fair because we still have this one guy,” recalled Nguyen.
In this period of time, the women stated that they found themselves working in close proximity with Giwa. He was assigned to work on the Surrey Campus Committee with Gill and the third board member, a subcommittee with Gill, and seated next to the third female during a meeting.
“So it just goes to show that [Randhawa] didn’t care,” said the board member.
Nguyen stated that Randhawa continued to refuse to remove Giwa from board.
According to Randhawa, he did not have the authority to remove Giwa as a director without resignation, impeachment, or abandonment of office as per SFSS by-law 17.
“The issue regarding the now inactive board member was resolved in no small effort from my part.” – Jas Randhawa, SFSS president
Nguyen stated that after she continued to advocate for herself and the women, threatening to approach The Peak, Freedman and Randhawa approached Giwa and told him “he could resign quietly” by missing two consecutive board meetings.
“Technically, that’s what happened,” said Nguyen referring to Giwa’s official removal from board at a previous board of directors meeting, “but [this is] the backstory, because they wouldn’t remove him because of this issue.”
According to one of the board’s current HR representatives and science representative Natasha Birdi, there is no protocol in the SFSS’s by-laws and policies nor in the BC Societies Act that outlines a response to sexual harassment in the board office. “For situations like this, we would refer to SFU’s general guidelines and take any incidents to SFU’s Sexual Violence Prevention Office,” she wrote in an email interview.
The women told The Peak that they decided to come forward with the sexual misconduct allegations after they had learned that Randhawa had begun circulating information regarding these allegations to the public without their permission.
“He’s jeopardized our own safety and confidentiality,” stated the female board member. “Obviously this is something we don’t want our names to be attached to as well. It’s something so personal; he invaded our space.”
“He told Ola if he resigned quietly, which is what happened, then none of these [documents] would be released [. . .] [but] he released them,” added Nguyen.
Randhawa denied that he had circulated information regarding the incident and called the claims “entirely baseless.”
He stated that asking Giwa to resign privately was made in the interest of the “women in the workplace [who] did not want this to go public. [. . .] [The three women] continuously stated that it would be embarrassing for them if the story went public and I respected this until these directors decided to switch around the narrative to try and push me out.”
The Peak had received details regarding the sexual misconduct incidents and how they were handled within the board, including screenshots provided as evidence, from Randhawa prior to this interview with the female board members.
Allegations against president in regards to women in the workplace
The third board member added that Randhawa himself did not seem to be considerate towards women in the workplace. She stated that Randhawa often cut her off in meetings. She cited a meeting in which she was the only female board member in the room where Randhawa “made the meeting about how [she] takes things too personally and [. . .] based [it] on [her] feelings.”
Randhawa denies that a meeting like this ever took place and questions the legitimacy of the claim without any evidence.
In a document addressed to the SFSS membership by the board of directors, the mishandling of the sexual misconduct allegations and the circulation of confidential information relating to these allegations was cited as one of the concerns which led to the proposal of Randhawa’s impeachment.
The board has declined to comment on the official reason for Giwa’s removal from the board in light of the sexual misconduct allegations being made public.
The Peak reached out to Giwa for comment on the allegations made against him, but received no response by the publication date of this article.