Mazen Brisha was removed from his position on DSU council Monday, March 14.
A motion proposed by the executive oversight committee passed with at least a two-thirds majority to remove Brisha from his role of vice-president (student life) for violating union by-laws.
Motion 11.1, which removed Brisha from office, stated he had failed to call a meeting of the student life committee, failed to adhere to mandates from the DSU executive oversight committee and has reported false information to council in various reports throughout his term.
Prior to the March 14 meeting, Brisha provided a written statement to councillors in response to the motion to remove him from office, which he also shared with the Dalhousie Gazette.
In it, Brisha said that removing him from office would open the union to “legal action for wrongful dismissal.”
In an interview with the Gazette, Brisha said he intends to follow through with a lawsuit. “What I plan is a lawsuit, probably a small courts lawsuit, since I don’t have the financial power that the union has. I would ask for compensation.”
Brisha also refutes the oversight committee’s findings that he failed to call a meeting of the student life committee. He said he called one in July, one in September and one in October. He said he tried to call more meetings but said they didn’t hit quorum.
In regards to the oversight committee’s charge that Brisha reported false information to council, he wrote, “I have never intentionally attempted to mislead the council or provide false information in reports.” He said that there is also a lack of evidence that proves he “falsified information” in his reports.
“However, it would be untruthful of me to claim that all reports submitted by [sic] during my term have been perfect,” he said in the statement.
Brisha said he would send the documents submitted to the oversight committee to the Gazette. He said they did not indicate any wrongdoing. As of March 23, Brisha has not sent these documents. When asked to provide the documents while being interviewed by the Gazette, Brisha said he could not find the emails on his phone and would send them at a later time.
Brisha calls removal amid election a ‘smear campaign’
Despite the fact that this took place during the DSU election for which Brisha was a presidential candidate, council chair Jamie Samson said during the meeting that Brisha’s removal had nothing to do with the election. The chair said councillors are not to discuss the election at all during council meetings, including during in-camera sessions.
In an interview with the Gazette, Brisha said he believes his removal was timed with the election. “The motion that was discussed on March 14, to me, is a clear targeted attack against me with the intention of influencing voters. And I see it as an intentional deliberate smear campaign.”
In an email statement to the Gazette, outgoing union vice-president (academic and external) Frey Verth addressed Brisha’s claims about a ‘smear campaign.’
“There is no sustained ‘Deep DSU’ or some form of conspiratorial linking [sic]. Your average student union is a mix of benchwarming CV chasers, idealists and advocates, elderly grumps and labour reps,” wrote Verth.
The timing of Brisha’s removal coincided with the election because disciplinary action against councillors must be brought forward 14 days before it is voted on. After spending time reviewing evidence, the oversight committee provided a notice of disciplinary action to council on Feb. 28.
Brisha lost the presidential election to Aparna Mohan.
The timeline of Brisha’s removal
The executive oversight committee, whose role is to monitor the actions of the DSU president and vice presidents, conducts annual performance evaluations of DSU executive members, which began in December 2021.
In late January, the committee submitted their findings to council.
“The committee is concerned about several issues regarding the conduct of the VPSL this term,” the report said. The committee said it was “unclear what exactly his mental health initiatives have accomplished.” Additionally, Brisha did not engage the disabled students representative in his work on these initiatives, the report said.
“His other main area of work this semester was on food insecurity, but it quickly became clear to the committee that exactly what he accomplished needs to be scrutinized,” the committee wrote.
At that time, the committee proposed a series of recommendations regarding their concerns, including one that would determine whether Brisha “misled union members as to the work he undertook on [food insecurity].”
“Far more transparency is needed on the work he allegedly completed,” the report said. The recommendations included a request for detailed documentation that demonstrated Brisha’s goals and outcomes regarding his work on mental health and wellness.
The committee requested all documentation related to Brisha’s work on food insecurity, to “determine what work the VPSL accomplished.” A motion to implement the report’s recommendations was passed in January.
In his written response to council, Brisha said removing him from office would “suspend the mental health forum for the rest of term.” He otherwise does not mention his work on mental health or food insecurity initiatives throughout the year. It is unclear whether the forum will in fact be suspended due to the VPSL vacancy.
According to the VPSL performance evaluation, Brisha submitted 59 documents in response to the oversight committee’s requests. The committee said these documents indicated a lack of work on various projects.
Brisha said he would send these 59 documents to the Gazette, claiming they did not indicate any wrongdoing. As of March 24, Brisha has not sent these documents.
In an update in mid-February, the committee said an unspecified number of these 59 documents were duplicates. Two of the documents submitted in relation to food insecurity were unable to be opened, as they contained “unreadable content,” according to the committee.
The committee was not satisfied with what was provided and requested additional documentation by Feb. 25.
The oversight committee motioned to have Brisha removed from office during council on Feb. 28. After an in-camera discussion, Brisha was given more time to submit evidence of his work.
On March 14, the motion to remove him passed.
In his written statement, Brisha said the motion to remove him was excessive.
“I find it extraordinarily unreasonable that no other disciplinary actions were discussed or tabled first,” he said. “To launch a first motion in the form of removal is excessive, unempathetic and bordering on abusive.”
Manager said Brisha didn’t work with food bank
In an interview with the Gazette, Brisha said the documents which could not be opened by the oversight committee proved his work on food security.
They contained information relating to interviews with students and people at the food bank, “it was mostly just going around the food bank when people were going and having a conversation with them,” said Brisha.
The Gazette reached out to the food bank to find confirmation of these interviews or conversations, and to confirm Brisha’s presence at the food bank in general.
In an email response, food bank manager Micha Davies-Cole wrote, “Mazen Brisha has not worked directly in any capacity with the DSU Food Bank … he has not worked on site at the food bank nor has he engaged myself, the Food Bank manager, in any other forms of work or off-site communication.”
Davies-Cole said they spoke to Brisha once, on the morning of March 14, to ask about the interviews Brisha said he had done in his report to council. Davies-Cole said Brisha told them he sent an email to students in residence about the food bank, but wasn’t told much else.
“I have no information on who was surveyed, what was asked, or any responses, as none of this was done in connection with the DSU Food Bank.”
Brisha’s anti-union Instagram post
On the evening of March 17, three days after his removal, Brisha made a post on his DSU election campaign instagram account.
In the post, Brisha addressed what he called “the dark side of the DSU.” He again called the motion to remove him a “shocking smear campaign launched against me by certain members of the DSU.”
In the instagram post, Brisha wrote he was targeted because of certain views he has about the DSU, writing “I think the DSU is ineffective, fails to address students’ issues, and if no improvements are made it should be abolished.”
Brisha believes he was targeted because of some perspectives he had on DSU operations, “I’ve openly criticized the DSU multiple times, even saying that if it’s not improved, it should be abolished. I’ve openly considered turning the union into an association working with Dalhousie.”
Incoming DSU president Aparna Mohan commented on the Instagram post, writing “I truly am really sorry you’ve had the experiences you’ve had. Ultimately, the Union is what WE put into and invest into it and we have larger battles to be fought with the declining social mobility of university graduates and value proposition of a university education.”
VPAE Verth said that if a student life VP wants to make radical changes to the DSU they should focus and increasing student participation, “just get 250 students or so to show up for and AGM. There you go. Woo! Radical change.”
Alleged lack of student life committee meetings
The oversight committee submitted an implementation plan for its January recommendations to council on Feb. 7. In it, the oversight committee said it had requested documentation proving accessibility was discussed during a student life committee meeting.
In a Feb. 17 update, the committee said Brisha submitted one document in response to this specific request: a screenshot of an undated email from the Dal ASL society requesting marketing support for a conference. The update also said, “we note that the student life committee has not met during the 2021-22 term thus far.”
According to DSU by-law 5.8.f., the VPSL must attend all committees of which they are a member. Brisha is the chair of the student life committee.
In his written statement to councillors on March 14, Brisha denied the allegation that he had not called a student life committee meeting.
“[Student life committee] meeting dates were as follows [sic] July 21st, 2021, September 23rd, 2021, and October 20th, 2021,” Brisha wrote.
In an interview, Brisha said he called more than just these three meetings. But he said they did not hit quorum. “I have never said that I called only those three. These are the three that hit quorum. One of the main struggles of the VPSL is committee engagement.”
In his written statement to council he wrote “I have submitted a collection of [student life committee] meeting agendas and minutes as well as corroborating evidence of correspondence between myself and [student life committee] members that highlights me calling meetings.”
Brisha did not include the evidence in the statement. He instead included a screenshot of an email he sent to the council chair containing attachments of student life committee minutes.
“This documentation was submitted to the DSU chair prior to council but was not circulated under the discretion of the chair,” Brisha wrote in his statement.
Brisha said he would send these documents to the Gazette as well, but did not do so prior to publication.
What happened at council
Most of the discussion to pass motion 11.1 removing Brisha took place in-camera, meaning the Gazette did not have access. But prior to the in-camera session, Brisha moved to change the agenda.
He motioned at the beginning of the meeting to strike item 11.1. He said the basis of it was invalid due to his calling of student life committee meetings.
Vice-president (academic and external) Verth responded to this in the chat. They said there were other reasons the oversight committee wanted to pass the motion including “general absenteeism.”
At that point, council chair said the agenda could not be altered and the motion to pass the agenda went through.
After an in-camera session lasting almost 90 minutes, that largely excluded Brisha, council held an anonymous vote requiring a two-thirds majority to remove him.
The motion passed, and Brisha immediately moved for it to be reconsidered. He said new information had become available, but he did not elaborate on this new information.
In an interview, he said this new information included word documents. “Most of the submissions were all PDF documents. I wanted to submit word documents as well. And then some of the new information was also based in correspondence with certain members of the council as well as my intent to resign from the position.”
Council chair said this wasn’t acceptable, Brisha said it would only take a moment. At that point, a five-minute recess was called to clarify if this reconsideration would be possible. During the recess, council chair consulted with the union’s policy and governance coordinator Levi Clarkson. Chair said reconsideration would not be possible unless someone from the oversight committee voted for it.
Brisha then tried to motivate anyone on oversight to reconsider the motion but was also told this is not allowed by the council chair. The chair then consulted with the DSU’s lawyer to confirm it could not be reconsidered. The lawyer confirmed the decision.
Despite Brisha’s efforts, item 11.1 passed, meaning he would have to leave his office by 4 p.m. Friday, March 18. Then, Brisha turned on his camera to announce an immediate resignation in protest.
“I will not be waiting until the 18th, I’ll be resigning with immediate effect. Stepping down from any and all responsibility of my position, as an illustration of the unjust procedures of the union and its inability to uphold its bylaws and its promise to students,” he said.
The meeting adjourned shortly after.
A lawyer’s take on a potential lawsuit
Brisha said he has no intention of challenging the recent DSU election results, but he told the Gazette he plans to sue the DSU, likely on the grounds of wrongful dismissal.
“It’s more about the message I’m sending across. I’m not in a hurry to sue,” said Brisha.
Verth said that any lawsuit against the student union would lead to wasting student fees on legal defence — diverting money away from helping students.
“We have finite resources, how much time we can spend dealing with particularly litigious individuals definitely needs to be cut to a minimum,” said Verth in an interview.
The Gazette spoke to lawyer Liam McHugh-Russell, an assistant professor in the Schulich School of Law who specializes in-part in labour and employment law, to see if Brisha has a case given information provided publicly by the DSU and by Brisha.
McHugh-Russell said a case like this hinges heavily on the DSU’s employment terms with their executive. He said typically, a wrongful dismissal case relates to things like notice periods before dismissal, “if you’re not given a notice or you’re not paid between the notice period and termination, then you can bring a claim for wrongful dismissal to the labour relations board of Nova Scotia.”
McHugh-Russell said Brisha’s March 14 resignation could affect a wrongful dismissal claim, “for someone that’s been in a position less than a year, they can’t really expect more than a month of notice … in such a circumstance, if an employee resigns during the notice period, then that ends the employer’s responsibility to continue paying them during the notice period and in a typical employee-employer relationship there’s not much there for a lawsuit.”
McHugh-Russell said if there was anything unjust or abusive about the process to remove Brisha, then Brisha could find grounds to sue. But McHugh-Russell said more information would be needed surrounding accusations of an unjust process before he could definitively say if there could be a case.