Serious accusations of internal misconduct leveled at URSU

URSU logo in flaming trash can URSU logo manipulated by Jeremy Davis and Kate Thiessen

Communications breakdowns, personality clashes

Four members of URSU’s board have resigned since January and at least two are contemplating resigning amid complaints that the executive has created a toxic work environment. Although some of those who resigned attributed their departures to outside commitments, others have stated that their resignations or potential resignations are directly due to the atmosphere created by the executive committee consisting of President Gurjinder Singh Lehal, Vice President of External Affairs, Amir Said, Vice President of Operations and Finance, Gurkirat Singh, and Vice President of Student Affairs, Ziyang (Zeo) Li. Sources close to URSU allege that the executive has used bullying tactics, undermined decisions made by the board, and disregarded recommendations by the HR committee. Charges of bullying and intimidation have been leveled at Said and Li in particular. However, according to Said, “there is blame on all sides,” for the board’s internal problems, which stretch back until at least this past summer, when tensions flared following the firing of an URSU employee.

According to sources, the employee’s firing exposed a rift between the executive (which did not yet then include Said, who joined the executive in October, following the resignation of Nefimi Adekoya) and other members of the board. The HR committee was called to investigate and although they found the firing was not wrongful, they expressed that communication needed to be stronger between the executive and staff. In fact, communication difficulties and personality clashes seem to be at the heart of many of the problems that are facing the students’ union.

The internal situation at URSU worsened following the firing of John Lax, the former chair of the student union. Lax was fired after he was disrespectful to an URSU member at the 2020 AGM in October 2020. There were procedural concerns with the way Lax’s termination was handled, which Isaac Tamlin covered for the Carillon in November. According to a letter sent to the Carillon, signed by “Concerned Students of the University of Regina,” the fallout from Lax’s firing “led to a month of infighting that was started be [sic]Amir.” However, according to Said, “Any emails I sent in the aftermath of the firing of John Lax were sent in response to others, and were merely to clarify issues or misconceptions others had about the Executive or the organization. I will note that other staff and directors did send malicious emails during this time.”

Said, who is adamant that he has “never bullied, harassed, discriminated against, or mocked anyone on the board” isn’t the only member of the executive (or the board, for that matter) who has had concerns about his behaviour brought before the HR committee. Documents obtained by the Carillon show that Li was disciplined for defacing the photos of former URSU President Victor Oriola and another URSU member. The incident was caught on security camera and the Carillon has seen the footage, which appears to show Li putting pins through the faces of Oriola and the other member. It was a repeat of another incident in which the same photos were defaced. Li was suspended without pay for four weeks. Li admitted guilt and claimed the incident was a joke (Li, an international student, would later inform the HR committee, via the student advocate, that he doesn’t understand the Western concept of a joke). A meeting was held to decide how to proceed following the incident, with two options being proposed. Either Li would be terminated or he would have to take a four week unpaid suspension. The board voted to suspend him without pay, a situation which Li appealed, bringing the matter before the HR committee once more.

In other documents, the HR committee reported that at a December 29 board meeting held to discuss the committee’s findings on Li’s case “broke down with various inhospitable conversations.” This included an incident in which disability representative Katlyn Richardson asked Lehal if he was “going to do his f***ing job for once.” The committee also reported that based on the meeting, they had reason to believe that members of the board and executive “did not read the report HR made or listen to the presentation.” In those same documents, the HR committee said that, in pursuing an appeal in which he mentioned the possibility of taking legal action and requesting that the HR committee keep his appeal private, Li, who has made student mental health the focal point of his tenure as VPSA, “whether it was his intention or not […] intimidated the HR committee,” a volunteer board made up of students.

Following that meeting the board was mandated to take respect in the workplace training. Richardson apologized in an email, Said apologized in a January 12 meeting, and the third board member was given a simple warning. Li has been pursuing appeals, arguing that the HR committee erred in their findings and in a meeting on February 5 the board voted to reinstate his pay, however they voted against apologizing or acknowledging any wrongdoing in his case. Li told the Carillon that he could not comment on the situation.

It’s clear that internal communication problems, like the ones that were first identified by the HR committee in the summer, are largely responsible for the apparent crisis on URSU’s board. This turmoil has had an impact on the union’s ability to advocate for students. Said told the Carillon “with so much time and energy being spent on internal conflicts by staff, board members, and the executive, I don’t think we’ve been able to tackle certain student issues as effectively as we’d like.” There has been little movement – or even communication – with regards to the recreation and athletic fee. The January 20, 2021 date that had been set for URSU membership to discuss proposed changes to the constitution was cancelled and Lehal has put off requests for an interview regarding the subject. Regardless of who is responsible for the internal culture at URSU – and it seems that many hands are making light work in that regard – the entire board has an obligation to students. Whatever interpersonal grievances they have against one another should not prevent them from doing their jobs, and if they are, they should evaluate why they joined student government in the first place.

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