In a March 12 email addressed to the Graduate Students’ Association executive, councillors and members, GSA president Izabela Vlahu announced that she is considering legal action against members of the organization.
The revelation comes after the March 5 disclosure of leaked financial documents said to be obtained by illegal means from within the GSA offices. Revealed via an email sent to graduate students from the address email@example.com, the files included photographs of cheque stubs, expense claim forms, receipts and time sheets alleging illegal mishandling of finances committed by the president. Referring to the assertions as “completely unfounded,” Vlahu wrote that she was examining her options as a means of protecting her character.
“The well-being of the Graduate Students’ Association, as well as its reputation are dear to my heart,” Vlahu wrote. “However, my personal and professional reputations are equally sacrosanct and need protection. Since the university does not appear to have legal mechanisms to protect my reputation from scurrilous attacks, I am exploring other options. Those options include legal action against any individual who has contributed to the defamation of my character and in particular the current signatories of the agenda for [March 12’s] Special Council Meeting.”
The meeting in question was the second of two held in a single week for the GSA. The first, scheduled for March 9 in order to discuss the leaked documents, was unable to meet the necessary half-plus-one majority for quorum. After enough supporting signatures from councillors were collected, the March 12 meeting was called in order to address a specifically delineated agenda agreed upon by those who drafted the original petition. It was likewise unable to garner enough attendance in order to meet quorum and instead operated as a discussionary meeting of council in which no agenda items could be voted on. Lack of quorum has been an ongoing issue for the GSA in the past and the possibility of legal ramifications for attending could lead to further stalling of voting on pressing issues facing council.
Archeology and anthropology representative David Bennett addressed those in assembly and said that some members of council had elected not to attend out of fear of legal repercussions.
Daniel Karran, a geography and planning doctorate student and member of council, verified that he had personally been contacted by three council members who had chosen to avoid the meeting rather than risk a potential lawsuit.
“There are people that were on the petition — that signed the petition for this special council meeting — Izabela threatened to sue us. I was one of the people that was on the petition,” Karran said. “Having a special meeting is part of our constitution. It’s written into our constitution. So I just made it clear that they were not going to be legally responsible for that, but I had a number of people who were scared to come to the meeting because of the threats that were made by the president in her email.”
He also cited an email from vice-president operations and communication Xin Lu informing councillors of the March 12 meeting as another possible item which may have driven down attendance.
“Please be advised that the attached agenda has been prepared by the petitioners and has NOT been vetted by the executive,” wrote Lu. “Should council take a position based on anonymous allegations and those allegations are proven to be unfounded, the GSA will become liable. Furthermore, any individuals in support of such decisions would become personally liable as well. All council members are advised to exercise extreme caution with this agenda.”
When reached for comment, Vlahu confirmed that she had been in contact with a lawyer and said that her email had been written with the best interests of those it was addressed to at heart.
“I provided clarification to council to clarify to them that acting upon unfounded allegations and trying to take actions against the president based on unfounded allegations have consequences,” Vlahu said. “And I reminded them of the fact that as a governing body, they have the responsibility to make decisions which will not put the GSA or themselves in any kind of liability, and I believe that is my responsibility as the president to do.
“The bottom line is that reputation of defamatory comments is defamation as well, and I intend to defend my reputation against these attacks.”
Vlahu further implied that councillors had been misinformed in regards to the purpose of the petition they signed in favour of the March 12 meeting.
“It seems that there is a big confusion with that petition, because apparently the students who initiated the petition and were collecting signatures from misinformed members of council as to the intention of the petition,” Vlahu said. “Some believed they were signing just to inform fellow councillors as to whether they will be attending the meeting or not should a meeting be called. Others believed they were simply signing to call a meeting and had no idea that they were actually signing off on an agenda.”
With 25 names in support, the petition in question dictates that “the undersigned call a special council meeting for Thursday 12 March 2015 to discuss the following motions. ” A copy of the agenda in question is reported to have been distributed at the March 9 meeting when the petition was making the rounds for signatures. While Vlahu said that she intends to verify the validity of the claims against those who created the petition, she remained set in her aim to reclaim her public image.
“Unfortunately, whoever has initiated the petition and initiated the documents seems to also have misled fellow councillors, so I will first get to the bottom of this and see what’s going on before I pursue other actions,” she said. “Basically any individual that has had anything to do with defamation of my character I will pursue action against.”
Vlahu was not in attendance for either the March 9 or 12 special council meetings and indicated that she has opted to remove herself from the proceedings out of her own best interests.
“There was a GSA leak last week and then there was a series of attacks against me, so I decided to be safe,” Vlahu said. “My recent experience at the council meetings of the GSA are not a safe place, unfortunately, for me, and I have decided to protect myself from physical and emotional harm.”
Looking forward, Vlahu reiterated statements made to the Sheaf on March 7 that she was in the process of seeking an outside audit of GSA finances.
“Any kind of financial documents — their validity and whether they comply with the non-profit corporations act or any other thing or any kind of abuse — needs to be confirmed and investigated via certified, professional auditors, and that is exactly what I’m doing. What is happening right now with students trying to defame my character is not doing anyone any good,” Vlahu said. “They need to stop and they need to use proper process to address any potential concerns.”
Vlahu further claims that, prior to the leaked documents coming to light, no one from council had approached her directly for access to the GSA financial records. However, at least two emails have been forwarded to the Sheaf, dated Feb. 20 and 24, in which councillors have requested access to GSA financial documents.