Multiple councillors resign from the SFSS

Toxic work environment and improper governance cited as reasons for mass resignation

The photo is of the outside of the Simon Fraser Student Society's office. The office has large windows that have their logo printed out.
Some councillors say the dominant political party is targeting the minority. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer & Karissa Ketter, News Editor

Three Council members, English representative Gabe Liosis, Indigenous studies student union representative Nebula (Anita) Shen, and Diversity and Neurodiversity Alliance representative Vivian Ly, have recently announced their resignations from the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), citing improper working conditions as their reason for leaving. One of their main concerns is a lack of transparency in the SFSS’s governing processes. 

Gabe Liosis:

On July 8, Liosis announced his resignation due to upcoming career obligations and the harmful work environment he said he has experienced in this role. 

In his resignation letter, he said, “I find myself unable to serve on a governing body led by an executive that has created a toxic work environment, that fails to be transparent with Council and our membership, and treats other councillors, executives, and members with blatant disrespect.”

Liosis will continue to serve the SFSS as associate vice president external and community affairs. The Peak reached out to Liosis for a statement on his resignation. Liosis declined to comment.

Vivian Ly:

Ly commented on the SFSS’s working conditions in Ly’s resignation letter dated July 13. “The environment is damaging and reactionary; pernicious attacks are common, underhanded, targeted, and personal,” Ly stated. “Misuse of power is rampant, and accessibility need requests have been repeatedly ignored.”

Ly is one of several councillors who have come forward to criticise the society. Ly states the resignation is “an objection” to the harm Ly has witnessed. “I have raised concerns multiple times that processes [ . . . ] have not been transparent, fair, independent, and democratic.

“I am tired of the lies, half-truths, and corruption.”

The Peak reached out to Ly for a comment. Ly declined to comment. 

Nebula (Anita) Shen: 

In a statement regarding their resignation, Shen noted, “I stepped down from my role as a Council representative a few weeks ago as I recognized that the environment is deeply toxic and there is continuous harm being perpetuated on individuals who do not conform to the politics of the dominant group.” 

Shen reported there has been “a culture of secrecy and bullying that threatens the health of our SFU and SFSS community.” They noted this is specifically harmful to those who represent minority groups such as DNA, Out on Campus, Women’s Centre, First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Student Association, and Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry.

“Democracies are only strong when they are diverse, and the current SFSS president and Executive Committee are deliberately and maliciously silencing the voices of those speaking out against the harm and attacks on democracy,” said Shen. 

In an interview statement to The Peak, Shen noted “democracy at the SFSS is broken.”

Shen added they joined the SFSS to represent their department “and be part of important decisions which affect students.” However, during their time on Council they found voting to be “more of a popularity contest, based on whose friends with whom or who dislikes whom.

“Executives such as president Helen Pahou and vice-president internal and organizational development Judit Nagy belittle councillors who disagree with them, stonewall staff and students with differing views from speaking, [and] socially exclude and ostracize Progressive councillors,” said Shen. They also claim Pahou and Nagy withhold important information from the Progressive councillors “so that they are unable to do their work and are caught off guard by new motions and absurdly tight deadlines.”

During Shen’s time as councillor, they said, “Several councillors have shared with me that they feel exhausted and burnt out being on Council, and they’re scared to express unhappiness or any criticism as they’re scared to get on [Pahou] and [Ben Tischler’s] ‘bad side,’ fearing the president and vice chair might target them next.” Tischler is the math councillor and vice chair of the SFSS Council. 

Shen believes the SFSS deserves “democracy, transparency, and a safe working environment. SFSS staff deserve good leadership who listen to their concerns and don’t ghost them for months when they request a meeting.”

Executive Team Makeup:

The current SFSS executive team is split between members who ran against each other during the election. 

The Stronger Together Party (STP), who are “politically diverse,” include president Helen Sofia Pahou, vice president internal and organizational development Judit Nagy, vice president finance and services Abhishek Parmar, and vice president university and academic affairs Nicole (Nikki) Kirigin. Pahou’s platform states the previous SFU Progressives leadership “[lacked] empathy for others’ differences” and that the SFSS should be designed to “place its students first before its own self.” One of their running points was creating an “open dialogue” with students to listen to their needs.

The Progressives include vice president external and community affairs Eshana Baran and vice president equity and sustainability Rea Chatterjee. Their platform ran on creating an “equitable, intersectional, and justice-centred university where students belong and will not be ignored” and hoped to “defend student power, and build solidarity and community across campus.”

Statement from Eshana Baran and Rea Chatterjee: 

Chatterjee returned from a leave of absence to release a joint statement with Baran to Council regarding allegations of misuse of investigative power and lack of transparency within the SFSS. 

One of their main concerns is the overuse of investigative powers related to an ongoing investigation by the Committee on Councillor Breaches of Confidence (CCBC). They said the CCBC is using this process as “a political witch hunt opportunity.” 

They allege the committee has been investigating the contents of a private group chat that are unrelated to any legitimate breaches of confidentiality in an attempt to “[slander] certain individuals.” They also allege some members of the private group chat have encountered suspicious activity on their personal social media accounts. The current investigation involves a letter that was sent to multiple organisations about a complaint regarding a senior authority at SFU

These investigations can be kept out of the public’s eye through the use of “in-camera” discussions, meaning the Council or each individual committee has deemed the information sensitive in accordance with policy R-9. In their joint statement, they said the SFSS is “using in-camera to silence and weaponize these processes” and “a student would have no idea what is being discussed.

“Actual legitimate investigations should be few and far between, and be used in cases where the Society is at risk of reputational and legal harm.”  

Statement from Nicole Kirigin: 

The SFSS vice president university and academic affairs and STP member, Nicole Kirigin, sent a statement to The Peak. Kirigin stated she has experienced “bullying and intimidation tactics” during her time as an executive member. 

“I noticed that internal temperature between certain members of the executive committee seemed to increase,” said Kirigin. She noted she had fears to come forward with a statement to The Peak citing “past experiences with my words being twisted in a bad faith manner for the purpose of supposed political gain.”

She added, regardless of “whatever fears I may hold, my intentions to promote transparency, authenticity, and student involvement within the society takes precedence.” 

Moving forward it is Kirigin’s priority to promote an open dialogue between the Progressives and STP leadership. “I strongly believe that the tumultuous relationship between those associated with the Progressives caucus and their supposed enemies would be resolved with open and patient conversation.

“I am willing to forgive the provocation, bullying, and harassment conducted and perpetuated towards myself by the Progressive caucus,” said Kirigin. She stated her forgiveness is only possible if they can work together to create “a landscape of mutual understanding, open dialogue, and respect, in which no other individuals would ever be subjected to similar turmoil and harm.”

Statement from Raghava Payment: 

In an interview with The Peak, world languages and literature councillor said they felt the allegations of a lack of transparency “are a bit unfounded.”

“What it boils down to is [ . . . ] personal issues that people have with each other that, I think, they’re using transparency and other accusations to pursue the problems they have.”

Payment believes “the only losers in this situation are the student body.” They said the situation occurring within the SFSS is slowing their ability to deliver services and support the students.

Statement from Maren Elizabeth (pseudonym):

One councillor submitted an anonymous statement to The Peak about the work environment of the SFSS. “There is no problem with transparency. The people with the problem with transparency are the ones who are not being transparent themselves.”

The Peak sent an open call to Council inviting everyone to submit statements — with an option to remain anonymous — regarding their work environment and the allegations of the SFSS executives lack of transparency.

The Peak also reached out to president Pahou three times to comment on the resignations and concerns of transparency but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.