Transcript of Pro Tem's Interview with Brandon Cheong

The following is a complete and unredacted transcript of Pro Tem’s December 20th interview with Brandon Cheong, the former President of the GCSU, accused of financial mismanagement and sexual violence, in reaction to the December 14th meeting concerning his impeachment.

This interview was conducted by Sarah Tadjana (EIC) and Camille Slaght (Assistant EIC), and was transcribed by Sarah Tadjana.

 

Why did you choose to stay on as President following the discovery of the thefts on May 3rd, 2017?

Well first of all, I didn’t know the thefts had happened until after I had started my term. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have just come in and to have this thrust upon you. I didn’t find out about all of this until May 3rd [2017] which was almost a month after I had been re-elected.

I ran again to see through some of the initiatives that I had started in terms of I don’t really know how plausible, in what I’ve seen from previous presidents I’ve served under as a club leader and as VP clubs, how much they’ve really able to do in one year or a lot of it just falls through. But, I thought that maybe with two years some of it would stick a little better. There were some things that we were just completely inventing as new programming that Glendon had never done before, like the Glendon Indigenous Strategy. Also just supporting, as an ally, the indigenous students at Glendon, getting the cottage as student space, a lot of these things I had started in my first term. This is the first time in memory that we’ve had such a consistent relationship with the principal’s office outside of something that more combative. I recognize that I’ve also been criticized for that, that I don’t have a combative relationship with the administration. I think we have a good working relationship. The fair thing is if the students want a president who will stick it to the man, then they have an opportunity every year to do that. But we’ve managed to accomplish a lot by having students at the table, things like the bomb threats. I’m very proud of that, I don’t know why I feel so ashamed talking about these things.

 

Do you admit to any fault in regards to the thefts that occurred under your supervision?

I can’t separate myself from it. I mean, it happened while I was president and was discovered while I was president. I’ve said repeatedly that I take fault for not having had more oversight in the day-to-day financials of last year; however, the individual responsible was quite frankly selfish and — to be clear — it was not me. I have done everything within my power to ensure that that person is held responsible for their actions and to ensure that those funds are restored to the constituents that it was taken from, and that process is still underway. Currently, we’re waiting for the security department at York to release the verifiable security reports around the incidents of fraud to our insurance company that way they can see that there is institutional evidence for verification and that steps have been taken. We’ve also referred the matter to the office of community relations and I can’t discuss the confidential tribunal. We are still in the process of our insurance company returning, as of today, December 20th, it looks very likely that it will be returned and then they would take step to retrieve the funds from the individual responsible. If this person is aware that their name is used in public at any point, they have a right to say that the tribunal system has been compromised and they could appeal the decision by stating that we did not come to a decision in good faith. So far, that has been the only concrete action that we’ve managed to accomplish against this person.

I do acknowledge my being in charge while all this happened. We’re trying to get it all back. Ultimately, my fault lies in that I trusted my team too much, so my oversight to these critical roles was limited. I’ve learned my lesson, and this year I’m very involved in the finances. All cheques, receipts, requisition forms and related financial documents are jointly filed by the appointed CFO and myself on a weekly basis to ensure that things are not being misplaced or going unnoticed, as it might be, were this paperwork to be done retroactively. Moreover, I will note that during my time as President, the number of undocumented receipts has declined from 50 in the year previous to my first election to 4 in the past academic year. Additionally, since the thefts were discovered on May 3rd, I have done everything within my power to ensure the person responsible is held accountable and to ensure that the funds taken are restored to the students they were taken from. Steps have been taken, we’ve referred the matter to the appropriate parties, and are currently still in the process of the insurance company returning the funds; as of December 20th, it looks very likely that it will be returned.

 

What is the current state of the 2016-17 audit?

The fraud investigation took up a lot of time which is why the audit was late but also a lot of the financial document keeping last year wasn’t done so we had to do a lot of that during the summer, the new CFO Frank Borelli and I, so that audit has been completed. We’ve submitted it without [the finalized information from the fraud investigation], and we’ve received confirmation. That is, the audit needs to be confirmed that it was handed in by a third party which was our auditing firm, and they’ve done that. And we’ve also submitted all the documentation outlining our spending plan and everything else the spending is going to go towards, so with that they’ve released 25%. The other 35% is going to be due once that audit is complete and we’ve received the letter to management. The remaining 40%, depending on if it’s going to be released in installments or not, will be pending our interim review which will be our halfway point that chronicles our spending from May to December of this year. So far, I’ve been running a council with no money for this year — I’ve had 0% of our levy. And we still have money in the bank. We owe quite a bit to our vendors, but they’ve been understanding.

 

What is your response to the claims of financial mismanagement brought against you in the impeachment petition?

Since I’ve been charged with financial mismanagement, the fact that the office of the SCLD agreed to release 25% of the GCSU levy for 2017-18 is a demonstration that our finances are not being mismanaged to any level, but also to this perception within public opinion that we don’t know what we’re doing. The Office of Student Success Strategies (which is what SCLD now is known as) does not release your levy if they have reservations about the state of your ability to manage funds. And this was all very recent. York has also verified that they have found no one other than the individual responsible for the act of fraud responsible for the losses. I’ve read that the post-modern truth in journalism is where the facts don’t matter, it’s about how people feel about these things. It is insurmountable.

I don’t want to seem like I’m denigrating Alexia [Brown] as the [former] CFO. None of the cheque reconciliations were kept up to date throughout the year, I was told, though, that it was being kept up to date. Finally in March, when I was like, “We’re not leaving this office until I see everything,” I found out that none of it was viewable. So then we spent the entire summer doing everything all again. The other thing that was not kept, there was no record of our cheque reconciliation, the person was keeping requisition forms, but we’re supposed to have a reconciliation that shows all the cheques together, but this was never done. I should have asked sooner than the end of last year to see it all, that was my mistake. We write about 300-400 cheques a year. I’ve been told that I mismanaged the fiscal year. When I became President, we were missing between 30-50 requisitions, there were no receipts for around 40 cheques. There were no reconciliations. The 2016-17 year that I supposedly mismanaged, there were only 4 missing, and all were explainable to our auditor, and have been easily explained. I know it’s not perfect but it was a significant improvement, and I pride myself on that significant improvement. For me, I have all of the paperwork that shows last year’s financial, granted the fraud investigation threw a giant wrench in everything but I must also take responsibility for the fact that I trusted my team too much that my oversight for these critical roles was limited. This year, I am very involved in the finances. I’ve also committed to making sure that even if my term ends on May 31st that the documentations for this year’s fiscal audit are all there before I part ways completely. That agreement is there for the CFO, but not for the President. I have taken that upon myself to set a precedent.

 

In the minutes from the December 14th meeting, you claim that the financial mismanagement claims levied against you are “baseless”. Do you stand by that statement?

Yes. I don’t believe the university would allow me to continue to occupy this role or just recently release such a large amount of money to my office under my leadership if there was any notion that I might be unfit or improper to manage those funds.

 

In the minutes from the December 14th meeting, you claim the motions in the petition as being slanderous towards you personally. Would you care to elaborate on that statement?

There were students who had spoken to me, electronically or otherwise, who had brought to my attention things that were being said while the parties involved were garnering the signatures against me. I don’t want to repeat these things — I won’t slander with slander — but I found that it gives no context when you say that “his management resulted in $15,000 of losses”. And you’ll note in the minutes that the council had very little to say about the finances, and, this is just my opinion, but I think that’s because they saw that that was not the case. Our finances are not being mismanaged. Mind you, I acknowledge that a little under half of the voting members present felt that a strong enough case had been made that I should be removed, which is fair, that is their representation of the student’s that elected them, or what they were appointed to do because some had been appointed recently. In terms of what I found to be hearsay, I’m not going to repeat any of it. It was unfortunate that so much of it seems so political and not really geared towards the wellbeing of anything, a lot of it just sounds untruthful. The tone in itself was not collegial, I did not address the persons moving the petition or salvage the damage to my reputation. In my opinion, that is not a good use of my time. My time is better spent with my work. I can’t stop people from gossiping about me, and I’m not going to try either, they’ll just gossip more.

 

Regarding the complaint of sexual violence presented against you at the Dec 14 meeting by VP Villemont, could you comment on the formal nature of this complaint and your response to it?

As far as I know, no formal complaints have been filed. To address what was said by my counterpart, I apologized during the meeting for creating a work environment that VP Villemont and to anyone that I had made to feel uncomfortable, but during the meeting also to Elodie for creating a work environment that she deemed hostile, toxic, or violent. And there’s not much else to say on that, other than, “Sorry.” I’m not gonna try to vindicate myself on that, what is important for me to note, as President, and as a person, and as a man in the context of 2017, is that failure is a humble and necessary teacher in situations like this. I don’t get to choose how she brought this up, or where, or why, or when, that was her right to do so — especially if she felt uncomfortable. And I’m not going to try to shy away from that, the only thing I can say is “I’m sorry.” What we will do, as a team, and we have to acknowledge that we’re very divided after this meeting, in terms of vote count but perhaps not in attitude (we had our executive meeting yesterday and all attended, we’ve planned out our programming for next year). Still being in my role, with Elodie’s specific remarks I can only work towards being better at the helm of our team and making our office a better place, I think it would be disgusting if I tried to say or do anything other.

 

Regarding the complaint of unprofessional behaviour which was presented against you at the Dec 14 meeting by Union Member Megan St. Pierre under the grounds for your behaviour having damaged the student relationship with the Council, could you comment on the events which led to this encounter?

There was an event being hosted by the Principal’s office in the GCSU space, which is the Breezeway, I don’t know what that event was, I don’t know what they were invited to set up to do. I recall letting the team setting up know that it was in the Breezeway. If that was dismissive, as I said in the meeting, I apologize if that was perceived to be dismissive, that wasn’t my intention. However the subsequent conversation I did perceive it to be hostile. I remember becoming intentionally cut off, I told her I didn’t want to speak to her anymore. She followed me into the office screaming at me. Which is verifiable, I wasn’t the only one in the office. She was screaming, “You can’t walk away from me, I’m a student!” So I said to her, “I’m a student too, and I don’t want to talk to you right now.” I’ve never seen or heard tell of any formal complaint that she claims to have filed. I’m sure it is a very accurate recollection of what she perceived to be as those events. They came into the office asking where to set up, and I think it was the fact that I gestured specifically that it was outside which was seen to be rude. The door was closed, so I was probably just gesturing that it was outside. However if that was perceived as hostile or rude, then I’m sorry for that — as I said in the meeting — however the subsequent conversation was just out of my capacity in that moment and I chose to walk away from it and that was also perceived as hostile; however, to say that the other party in this was not at all hostile I think is an understatement to what actually occurred. But you know I’m in a position of authority, it will get me nowhere to say that she came at me first. She was just really rude, she was saying to me like “You’re being inappropriate and unprofessional,” to which I responded, “Ok, I don’t understand where this is coming from..” And she was like, “Oh, you don’t understand?!“ And then she was like, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” I don’t like when people talk to me like that especially them being 1) educated and 2) my parents experienced a lot of that being immigrants, I don’t appreciate it at all if someone is going to use that tone with me. She said during the meeting that she found nothing wrong with her tone, and I don’t think that will change. That’s why there’s only so much I can do. She made it clear The president has said multiple times, she did walk after me yelling at me, Keesha Nurse was there, she can corroborate. I think that the incident was over my tone initially. She has a right to feel grieved, again because I’m in a position of authority. And I get it, it’s intimidating talking to me, I’m not the most easy going person especially being President and in addition to being President, I don’t have an approachable gait or demeanor, that’s just the way I am. I would get a lot of complaints about that during my year as VP Clubs. If you think I’m too scary to come to in person — and I would say this to all of the clubs when I was VP Clubs — if you don’t want to approach me, maybe talk to someone on my committee, or email me, or if you’re not comfortable at all, talk to the President and some of them did, and [then-President] Myron Khan did a couple of times tell me that I was a little arrogant and that I was unapproachable. I worked on it, but I guess I didn’t work on it enough. But I also acknowledge my shortcomings. I acknowledge that I was firm with Megan St. Pierre, I also said please leave me alone, and I did repeat that a couple of times.

 

How do you plan to move forward with this council, inclusive of the members who voted against you?

It’s the same as after any election, you have to be president for the people who voted for you and the people who didn’t. I have to be President for the movers of the petition, the people who signed the petition, the people who spoke against the petition, and for the people who have no idea what’s going on here at all. A big thing I was charged with is my aggressive tone in condemning apathy that students are apathetic, I really won’t back down from that one thing. I really wish we had more involvement on this campus and I’m not sure why I’m being persecuted for having that position. Everyone spoke on this, they found that I was dismissive of student agency. Enrolment is down, but not so much to acknowledge the fact that half of our clubs no longer exist despite the fact that we’ve raised club funding, we buy their banner for them, we do everything for them, we walk them through how to run every single event, clubs on campus have almost completely disappeared during our time here, the levy organizations are strong in my opinion as opposed to previous years that I’ve seen but not as visible as we used to be. The GCSU events are running smoothly and with good attendance but not with anyone new, we’re not reaching students. Part of that I take responsibility for, as a student and as a President of the GCSU. A part of it is that the obligations of being a student are so much more than they were even when we started in terms of how much more expensive things are even from five years ago. The fact that most students now have jobs, our residence have students, the residence is full but 20% minimum are Keele students so how involved are they here. It’s been a quiet year for Glendon, it’s the first time I’ve seen it like this I haven’t seen this little involvement since the strike in 2015. I can’t imagine what it would be like this year. So for me, yeah, the apathy is a lot to deal with, I am in no way condemning the people that showed up to the meeting to speak their mind. Two very critical moments, the fraud investigation and the impeachment of the President of the GCSU. Part of that is the poor advertisement of these events. Alexia had mentioned that many people were told that the meeting wasn’t public. The constitution outlines how an impeachment is supposed to run.

 

What changes have you made to the GCSU constitution?

So last year, under my first term as President, we eliminated the selection of the VP Finance by the electors of Glendon. We no longer elect the VP Finance, this was because we thought it would be more accountable if we could hire someone qualified as opposed to leaving it up to a potential popularity contest. We’ve had trouble with our finances in an electoral system and then we had trouble in our finances with a hired process, so we haven’t really figured it out yet. Keele is recommending maybe getting rid of this position altogether and getting a bookkeeper. The current CFO, Frank Borelli, was elected via hiring committee, as was last year’s CFO, Alexia Brown.

Something that we’re hoping to do, this is an initiative that VP Operations Villemont brought forward, that I wrote the motion for, is to introduce a Chief Equity Officer. This would be another VP — or the equivalent of a VP — but this person would sit on the Executive committee but would be charged with essentially equity, diversity, inclusion, sexual violence prevention, all of that work that needs to be done that doesn’t really fall into anyone’s purview currently. Our current VP Campaigns and Advocacy position doesn’t deal so much with the training of people on council, so this position is really to minimize the chance for the kinds of things that we’re seeing come to light here. If someone feels uncomfortable or if an incident of misconduct occurs, this person would then bring them to whatever support they might need and preside over whatever corrections might take place. The role currently falls to VP Ops, but managing the team and the policies and working schedule of the GCSU in addition to that is a little difficult. It shouldn’t just be one part of a job.

 

How will you and the GCSU move forward in the coming semester to restore students’ trust?

Where to start? I think we’re overall just, we did not handle — and I personally, I suppose — did not handle the fraud investigation well. It was not communicated to our students, and that’s a failure on my part and I think that’s where a lot of the mistrust and rumours stem from. So if there are updates, we need to let the student body know, we need the opportunity again to clarify as best as we can at the AGM, if it fails again then I don’t think we would try again for another one this year. Right now my focus is on ensuring that there is continuity in the work that we’re doing. That perhaps is not the most sentimental answer, but for me a large majority of what needs to be done is to ensure that the programming from January to March is sound; that we’re prepared for the election at the end of next term; that we represent the students well during the strike; that our work goes on.

I think we need to reconsider, holistically, not just myself — although I take responsibility being at the helm of the team — about how we communicate with students. We’ve tried new things, we have the website now, social media’s a little different, we’re not conveying — I think — a sense of trust or accountability. I don’t have all of the answers around how to do that, but we’ll try our darnedest in terms of ensuring that our documents and record keeping are accountable. Perhaps ensure that our meetings are better advertised. Reminding students that committee membership is open to all members.

 

What will you do to improve the working relations and atmosphere within your Council?

For my team, that’s the next thing, to ensure that they feel safe; that they feel that we can work together. We had our end of year dinner together, I unfortunately could not attend, but I think 21 of us showed up, so that’s a clear demonstration. I couldn’t go at the last minute, everyone knew I was going, it wasn’t like everyone was like, “Oh, he’s not going, let’s all go.” We also had our executive meeting, and everyone either attended or phoned in. We had unanimous consensus on all of our activities for next semester from the executive committee in terms of what we’ll be doing month to month.

We also have plans of running a campaign to remind students that they have a voice. And I think perhaps that’s also where I’ve failed as President, in reminding students that they the people are at the heart of all our work. We do this for them, for our betterment as students, and if they don’t recognize that, even if that is our intention, then we need to do more to ensure that they understand that the power lies with them and that we are only mediums, conduits, of that.