At about 2 a.m. on March 22, a post appeared on Facebook claiming that Coden Nikbakht, the sole presidential candidate for the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, has used drugs to sexually assault an unspecified number of unnamed women.
In response to the allegations, outgoing USSU president David D’Eon made another Facebook post on March 22, calling on Nikbakht to withdraw his name from the race and stating that he will refuse to transition Nikbakht into the his new role of president, if Nikbakht is elected.
“Recently, there have been brave women who [have] come forward with their experiences and stories of [Nikbakht] using drugs to sexually assault them and another individual had been harassed by his immediate circle of friends March 20th 2018,” the first post read. “These people who had come forward will not be named, but they deserve respect and support for coming forward with their stories as it is never an easy thing to do.”
In his corresponding statement, D’Eon also noted that he takes full responsibility for his statement, as it violates section 88, subsection 4, of the USSU bylaws, which states that current executives will be considered in a conflict of interest if they discuss USSU elections. Jessica Quan, vice-president academic affairs, Deena Kapacila, vice-president operations and finance, and Crystal Lau, vice-president student affairs, have all stated to the Sheaf that they support D’Eon in his statement.
“I will get some flack for this, as any President has legal responsibilities that I take very seriously, but I will defend that my social responsibilities to this campus trump any concerns I have over the repercussions I will face. I will be filing a complaint against myself, and fully accept any sanctions placed against me,” D’Eon said, in the Facebook post.
The original Facebook post that made the allegations against Nikbakht was created by Betty Pewapsconias, a third-year arts and science student. When reached for comment, she told the Sheaf that she felt the need to speak about what she sees as a vital issue on campus.
“At first, I didn’t know anything about the allegations until I started talking to a couple friends of mine, saying, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m enraged, I’m disgusted, I’m disturbed, I’m terrified.’ I felt that if I didn’t do anything, potentially no one would do anything… It wasn’t about how I felt anymore, it was about what we were going to do,” Pewapsconias said.
Leigh Thomas, a third-year regional and urban planning student, supported Pewapsconias through the process of making her post, and he noted that members of the campus community should not focus on the women who have come forward to make allegations against Nikbakht; rather, they should focus on Nikbakht himself and hold him accountable.
“I would say for [Nikbakht]: drop out of the race. You don’t deserve to be there. You are not an advocate. You’re not any kind of leader. That’s a statement. I don’t want the people you have assaulted to walk around here feeling unsafe, like they can’t go to the USSU for help… That’s huge. That’s a position of power over students. If you have done that, leave,” Thomas said.
Quan also released a statement shortly after D’Eon, which states that she stands in solidarity with victims of sexual assault.
“A few weeks ago, one of my closest friends came forward to me and told me that [Nikbakht] had raped her in the past… With the consent of my friend, I’m speaking out. [Nikbakht] victimized not just one, but several individuals. We cannot have a predatory perpetrator of sexual violence in a position of power,” Quan said, in her Facebook post.
Caroline Cottrell, general manager of the USSU, declined to comment on the posts from D’Eon and Quan, stating that, as a staff member, she must be neutral in USSU elections.
Thomas stated that he personally knows a survivor involved in these allegations and that he is hurt that he could not do anything to protect someone close to him. He also provided the Sheaf with a message for survivors of sexual assault.
“You’re not alone. Don’t ever feel like you’re alone,” Thomas said. “There’s people like us here that always have that heart to listen, take time to listen. And that we love you. And that we hope you’re taking care of yourselves during this time and doing things that you need to do to help you, because no matter how hard we try, we won’t understand unless we’ve been through it.”
Pewapsconias’s Facebook post also included a link to a video of the USSU election forum in the North Concourse of Place Riel on March 19, which shows the election candidates’ responses to a student wearing a cap with the words “Make American Great Again,” who asked what the candidates plan to do to maintain free speech on campus.
In response to the student’s question on free speech, Nikbakht first asked if the Make America Great Again hat was legitimate Trump merchandise and where the student had purchased it. He then stated that freedom of speech is important.
“There’s a line between freedom of speech and what we would call hate speech… [The USSU does] have policy in place, we feel a certain way about it, but if you as a student feel like those policies aren’t being exercised properly and your voice isn’t being heard then that’s something that I’m going to open my door up for you to welcome you in and to hear those concerns,” Nikbakht said.
Pewapsconias’s post challenges Nikbakht on this response, stating that he did not address the implications of the hat, which is associated with the Trump administration.
“We can hear [Nikbakht] showing his interest with [the] ‘Make America Great Again’ hat at the USSU Forum, and [failing] to acknowledge that the saying does not only support Trump, but it refers to the ‘Great America’ that continues to dehumanize, objectify and terrorize people of colour, women and various minority groups throughout history,” Pewapsconias said, in her Facebook post.
While the post focuses specifically on Nikbakht’s campaign, it also calls out the other USSU executive candidates for their responses to the free speech question, stating that all the candidates gave neutral statements to garner votes, “failed to acknowledge that the ‘Make America Great Again’ movement is rooted in white supremacy” and “missed an opportunity to challenge racism.”
When reached for a response to the allegations, Nikbakht provided no comment.
Jessica Klaassen-Wright / Editor-in-Chief and Tanner Bayne / Culture Editor
Photo: Tanner Bayne / Culture Editor