This letter is a response to the article “Controversies Continue for Kwantlen Student Association.”
On behalf of the Kwantlen Student Association, I wish to respond to the article published by Maclean’s (Controversies Continue for Kwantlen Student Association, September 2, Josh Dehaas) in which your reporter sought to prove that our current student council was facing “numerous controversies.” In an attempt to prove his point, Dehaas has insinuated a great deal about the KSA’s current council and its directors. We intend to set the record straight.
First, Dehaas reported that the current council has ignored potential conflicts of interest regarding a lawsuit against former council director Aaron Takhar. Takhar is one of five former directors accused of breaching their fiduciary responsibilities to the student association, none of which has been proven in court. As we confirmed for Dehaas by email, Director of Finance Nina K. Kaur is a relative of Aaron Takhar, and has removed herself from any decision-making concerning the lawsuit. Tarun Takhar is not related to Aaron Takhar, despite Dehaas’s characterization of their relationship as “unclear.”
More importantly, the current council is a new team of student representatives with whom the implied connection to Takhar is completely unfounded. In fact, the current council has taken a number of proactive measures to address the legacy of issues it was handed by previous councils. For example, the current council has engaged Deloitte, one of Canada’s top accounting firms, to conduct a comprehensive accounting and governance review of the student association’s records. The review will ensure the correct policies and procedures are in place to enable good governance and money management moving forward. This is the first time the KSA has ever conducted such a review. Our members are very pleased with this initiative.
Second, Dehaas reported that the KSA “impeded journalists” by withholding funding from the student newspaper. The Runner’s funding was held in trust with the university while we resolved issues concerning journalistic accuracy. The funding has since been forwarded to the newspaper’s board of directors, and we have requested the use of a third party mediator to resolve outstanding issues and rebuild our working relationship with the newspaper.
As elected student representatives, the KSA’s primary concern is for the responsible management of student money, a portion of which goes to support The Runner. We became concerned that The Runner’s reporting was not being held to acceptable journalistic standards, and had the potential to seriously damage the reputation of our student association as well as our school.
It is important to note that Matthew DiMera—who is referenced in Dehaas’ article and provided the file photo for the story—has been a significant critic of the KSA in his work at The Runner. DiMera also ran, and lost, in the most recent student election.
Finally, with regards to student council spending, Dehaas insinuates that the current council has been prejudiced or irresponsible in its decision making. He claims that our council funded a “seemingly religious parade,” the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade. The event, a celebration of harvest, is a significant community event attended by up to 200,000 people annually and an important occasion for many of our members. And, like the Chinese New Year parade and the Christmas parade, the Vaisakhi Parade welcomes participation by people of all faiths.
Dehaas also addresses funding for our annual back-to-school celebration, Cram Jam. The budget was raised this year, but was in line with spending from previous years. As we mentioned in our email to Dehaas, Cram Jam is subsidized every year to make this event affordable and accessible for all students to attend. Similar practice is employed at other college and university campuses where ‘frosh weeks’ are the norm. For those who attended Cram Jam this year, the event was both safe and memorable. Students continue to ask us when we will host our next event.
We want to articulate our extreme concern and frustration at Dehaas’ overall reporting effort. In addition to factual errors (which have been noted in the article), we believe there are areas where he has been deliberately vague.
Dehaas writes that DiMera, acting on the part of The Runner, visited the private residence of one of our directors. Our directors maintain he was never at their home and that his story was a fabrication. Dehaas fails to recognize the complicated nature of this particular source, and rather than presenting DiMera’s story in quotes, Dehaas presents it as fact.
Dehaas reported that the KSA reduced summer attendance requirements and increased pay based on an increase in workload, insinuating that our council is doing less work for more pay. He fails to mention that this council maintained the summertime meeting attendance record of previous years, with or without the rule.
Dehaas reports that Richmond Campus Director Harj Dhesi received a cut in pay, writing simply, “The executive said he was ‘not doing any work.’” Maclean’s was provided with the full report on this matter, explaining in detail the reasons for the pay cut. None of it was included.
It is our opinion that Dehaas shaped the evidence to sensationalize the story for his readers and to prove his hypothesis that the KSA is facing numerous controversies.
As always, the KSA welcomes feedback from our members and fair journalistic inquiry. Unfortunately, Dehaas provides neither.
Sean Birdman, President
Kwantlent Student Association