Up until 2014, there was very little Students’ Association oversight into the goings-on of the college’s clubs.
Before 2012, there was none.
Was that a contributing factor in the growth of radical Islamism among some members of the former Algonquin Muslim Students’ Association during those years?
Finding anyone to accept responsibility for answering that question for the Times hasn’t been easy.
Current club coordinator, Patrick Newell, said Don MacRae, who is currently the manager of the Students’ Association, was overseeing clubs before the first coordinator, Faris Lehn, was appointed in 2012. MacRae, however, told the Times in a March 14 email that wasn’t the case.
“I am sorry,” he wrote in a March 14 e-mail, “but I have never had anything to do with the club activities in the past.”
Before 2012, in fact, there was actually no one who was overseeing the college’s clubs.
MacRae referred the Times to current SA controller, Stafford Rollocks. And Rollocks referred the Times to current SA accountant Yessica Hondermann as the person who would have any information about clubs before 2012.
Hondermann, the accountant for the Students’ Association, was the only person who was remotely involved with clubs at that point, and it was only from an accounting and funding perspective.
Even then, she says, she was involved with the applications for funding for mainly just one club – the Chinese Students’ Association– in 2011.
There are currently 44 clubs at the college and their activities and events have been vastly undocumented before 2014.
“The clubs were completely different when I was (doing this),” Hondermann said, “because there was not too much activity.”
“I gave $500 a couple of years for the Chinese Students’ for their Chinese New Year. I mainly gave funding for supplies, like decorations, banners, foods and supplies. But not for any big events or anything like that.”
Hondermann said she “was not looking at the activities.”
When asked if there was anyone overseeing club activity, she said, “No, everything changes in 2012, when Faris (Lehn) takes over.”
Lehn confirmed that from 2012 to 2014, at least during his time of working at the college, if the Students’ Association did not provide funding for a specific club activity, there would be no reason for the SA to oversee their events, charities or fundraisers. In other words, the majority of club activities and events have not been documented, and fundraisers or charitable donations are not traceable through the SA.
Clubs were almost solely student-run before 2014.
Between 2012 and 2014 are the years that Algonquin double graduate and the college’s Muslim Students’ Association club treasurer, Awso Peshdary, was charged with recruiting and financing a terrorist organization and coercing another former Algonquin student and MSA club member to fly to Syria and join ISIS. Peshdary was also a student at the college in Arts and Sciences in 2011.
The SA would not comment on which years Peshdary was the MSA treasurer.
Posters for MSA events from November 2013 were retrieved by the Times from the ACMSA website. The events took place just months before Khadar Khalib, 24, is believed by the RCMP to have left his studies to join ISIS under Peshdary’s counsel. One poster states that the club was collecting donations for the National Autism Foundation.
When asked by the Times, the charity said it had never received a donation from either Peshdary, the MSA, Algonquin or the Students’ Association.
The Times asked Newell to look into the event but he said that the SA also had no information available on the subject.
It is unclear where the funds went and which other club activities’ donations may not have ever reached their advertised destination.
“We cannot follow up with every group on campus that is raising money in order to ensure the money raised is going to the charity or cause advertised,” Newell wrote in an e-mail to the Times on March 22. “If clubs do host approved ‘fundraisers’ the funds must be deposited into the Students’ Association account for a cheque to be processed and then sent to the appropriate charity or cause.”
But, as Lehn had mentioned, this is only the case if the Students’ Association has provided funding for an event or activity. A lot of club activities at the college do not receive funding or get official approval. In the past, these events would fly under the radar and would make investigating club activity near impossible.
Newell would not comment whether there was a rule to keep clubs from profiting through their activities.
“As I was not in this role during 2013, I cannot comment on how clubs were managed on campus then,” wrote Newell.
He added that today clubs must book on-campus spaces, including tables, through him. And if these guidelines are broken, clubs could face suspension for up to a full year.
As for the oversight and monitoring of club activities, Newell trusts that the activity logs and club guidelines he implemented in 2014 are strong enough to avoid similar situations in the future.
No one at the Students’ Association has been able to answer where the MSA’s Blue Hijab event fundraiser donation went.
Considering the low level of oversight and records kept on clubs’ activity during those years, it is unlikely the question will be answered with certainty.