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.
Despite the fact that this took place during the DSU election for which Brisha is 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.
The timing of Brisha’s removal coincided with the election because disciplinary action against councillors must be brought forwards 14 days before it is voted on. After spending time reviewing evidence, the oversight committee provided notice of disciplinary action to council on Feb. 28.
Brisha lost the election to Aparna Mohan, according to unofficial results revealed on March 16.
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.”
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.
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. Read the full statement here.
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 they indicated a lack of work on various projects.
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.”
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 un-dated 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. “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.
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) Frey 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, he did not elaborate on this new information.
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. The Gazette will continue to report on the situation as it develops.