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Students vote to remove SSMU President Darshan Daryanani after tumultuous year in office

*Content warning: Gender violence, sexism, harassment

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Darshan Daryanani was impeached in a Special General Assembly (GA) on April 11. The three-hour meeting culminated in the approval of a motion to remove Officer Daryanani from his post, which surpassed the required two-thirds majority with 351 votes in favour, 27 opposed, and 22 abstentions. In the following online ballot held from April 14 to 18, the GA’s decision was ratified, with a McGill undergraduate voter turnout of 12.6 per cent.

Allegations of discrimination, the ill-explained five-month absence of Daryanani, and repeated testimonies about a toxic work environment at SSMU fuelled much of the controversy surrounding the Society over the 2021-2022 academic year. Demands for transparency and accountability accumulated over months: Public mentions of impeachment were first made on Nov. 11, 2021, the fifth Legislative Council (LC) from which Daryanani was absent. A motion that would have mandated Daryanani to hand in a letter of resignation passed in LC on Nov. 25, but was ultimately postponed by the Board of Directors (BoD). 

Daryanani’s reinstatement on Feb. 14 dominated the conversation at both the Feb. 17 LC and the Feb. 21 Winter GA. At the annual Winter GA, Councillor Pérez Tiniacos asked the executives if they would resign upon receiving a letter from the LC stating that executives and councillors do not feel safe with the executive’s presence in SSMU. Such a letter would require the support of at least 50 members of the Society. All executives said that they would resign, while Daryanani did not directly address the question in his response. 

“If I [resigned] as soon as I received a suspension letter, I wouldn’t be here today,” Daryanani said at the annual Winter GA. “But like I said, the reasons to suspend me were deemed inadmissible and unfounded.”

In late February, 12 councillors put forth a petition to hold a Special GA that would address the possibility of impeaching Daryanani. The document received over 200 signatures, easily surpassing the mandated 50 required by the SSMU Constitution.

On April 11, hundreds of McGill undergraduates gathered on Zoom to deliberate Daryanani’s removal—an event that quickly devolved into chaos. The volume of last-minute sign-ups delayed the meeting by nearly 45 minutes, but quorum was maintained due to sizable student interest— a first in recent McGill history. 

An hour into the scheduled start, Pérez Tiniacos, who moved the impeachment motion, introduced the grounds of ‘impropriety’ that he and other councillors believe warranted Daryanani’s removal. He emphasized that SSMU representatives no longer saw Daryanani as a leader, but as an obstacle to the Society’s operations. 

“To some, this impeachment may not make a lot of sense, especially seeing how late it is in the school year,” Pérez Tiniacos said. “But let me remind you, it will cut off the President from whatever is left of his $30,000 salary paid by student fees, it will invalidate his title as President, it will provide safety to all the workers, and ease the transition to next year’s Executive Committee. But most importantly, it will show the student population this type of behaviour is not tolerated within the SSMU and that we hold everyone accountable for their actions.”

Daryanani stated that he saw the meeting as an opportunity for him to question the true motives of SSMU members and the BoD in introducing this motion. He then directly addressed those individuals and questioned whether his impeachment was warranted.

“Why did [the BoD] suspend me for nearly five months? Prior to my suspension, why did I not receive any sort of warning, and why did nobody even bother to talk to me?” Daryanani asked. “On what basis have [the councillors] convinced 231 signatories to call for my impeachment? [….] Do [students] think it is reasonable for me to have been unjustly suspended from an elected position for five months, only to be reinstated, and then again removed for no clear reason?”

In the question period that followed Daryanani’s statement, SSMU VP Internal Sarah Paulin invited the movers of the motion to respond. Councillor and seconder Nathaniel Saad expressed concern about whether the President had read the motion, which defined the charges against him as “a failure to observe standards or show due honesty or modesty; improper language, behaviour, or character.”

“[The President’s language attempts] to discredit the Board of Directors by answering criticism with criticism, but never actually presenting a counter argument,” Saad said. “[The basis for impeachment] is clearly in the motion and we’ve been saying it for the last two months.” 

The Special GA also served as an opportunity to discuss the resignation of VP External Sacha Delouvrier, announced at the April 7 LC, which occurred before his impeachment process could begin. The councillors that created the petition for Daryanani had also created one for Delouvrier. According to Pérez Tiniacos, Delouvrier stepped down after receiving the document from councillors. Delouvrier stated publicly at the April 7 LC that his departure was for health reasons.

Member of the gallery Mikael de la Brindille requested examples to support the claims of impropriety against Daryanani, questioning how members were expected to vote on impeachment when requests for evidence were regularly denied on the basis of confidentiality. 

“I totally understand the frustration,” Councillor Mary Zhang said. “However, I would like to reiterate that the topic at hand is extremely sensitive to the people that are concerned [….] We should not have to hear [dehumanizing details] just to make a call [to] action in the right direction.”

Following the request for evidence, Councillor Charlotte Gurung shared her account of the Feb. 21 GA, when interactions with Daryanani left her uncomfortable and anxious because she felt his behaviour was aggressive and his tone threatening. She also implored the audience to consider how having personal, distressing interactions aired to a crowd of 370 could worsen the situation for those involved.

Member Ghida Mawlawi, on the other hand, urged the attendees to consider Daryanani’s viewpoint.

“No one mentioned the fact that an independent investigation […] found those claims were unfounded,” Mawlawi said. “Has anyone considered that Darshan’s tone was angry because he had just been suspended for four months for no reason? I don’t know if you guys are noticing, but it feels like all of you are ganging up on President Daryanani.”

Daryanani also expressed disappointment at the process. According to Daryanani, when he filed a complaint against another executive for racially targeting him, the executive received equity training rather than a suspension and public scrutiny. 

Following its approval at the Special GA, the motion to impeach Daryanani required ratification by undergraduate students before it could officially take effect. At 5:05 p.m. on April 18, Elections SSMU certified that students had approved the motion to remove Daryanani from office and he was impeached, effective immediately. 

“We’re all very happy that the motion was officially ratified,” Pérez Tiniacos told the Tribune. “But more than just a celebration, I think this also has to be a point of reflection on how this environment within the SSMU that was perpetuated was definitely not the first.”

As stipulated in the motion, the president’s portfolio—as well as that of the VP University Affairs and the VP External—has been divided up amongst the remaining executives, who have effectively been working as a three-person team since February. The remaining executives will also undertake the training for incoming executives as a group, and are looking into consulting previous office-holders for help with the transition. 

“Something we’re going to be stressing a lot for next year’s execs is ‘take care of each other,’” Sader said in an interview with the Tribune. “You cannot talk about a lot of things to your partners, your friends, your family. You can only talk about it to each other; you need to be able to rely on each other [….] I’m confident in the next year’s execs that they’ll be able to do an excellent job—they all seem to be kind people, and that’s what’s important. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work together and kind of stick through it together.”

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