As of Jan. 9, Veritas Café has re-opened, with a new manager, altered menu and fresh look.
On Dec. 12, The Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Students’ Association terminated its contract with Sandor Dosman, operator of Veritas Café, which is located in the quad, beside the GSA office.
His termination was a result of a help wanted ad that Dosman posted on social media. The ad read, “‘I need a new slave (full time staff member) to boss (mentor) around at Veritas Café!”
More info about Dosman’s contract termination can be read here.
After the termination, news outlets across Ontario began reporting on the situation and GSA president, Samantha Deeming, was harassed via social media for being “too sensitive” or unable to “take a joke.” Deeming’s emails were and still are being monitored by Waterloo Regional Police.
As a result, both the GSA and the university refused to make any further statements and acknowledged that legal agreements kept them from speaking about the situation.
On Monday morning, Veritas Café was busy with people as they handed out free coffee to celebrate their opening after the brief hiatus.
Patrick McMahon, new manager of Veritas Café, said he is excited to be back on Laurier’s campus, as he was the restaurant and catering manager of Wilf’s five years ago.
McMahon also currently runs the Woodstock Farmers Market, runs a community centre’s communal lunch and catering business, works with the social planning council of Oxford and teaches children’s cooking classes.
“The mission was to get the space back open to the students,” McMahon said.
“What I do … is I bring local food, fresh food, from sustainable sources. We try not to use … big corporations in my business plan so that we’re always supporting small businesses. In terms of what we’re doing for our staff, [we’re] paying a living wage. We’re just trying to be a positive space on campus for both students and staff.”
Veritas’ revamped menu features gluten free and vegan options. The baking will also be done in-house.
Deeming explained that McMahon’s name was passed on by university partners as a person the university can trust to get the ball rolling.
“His name came up a couple times, so we gave him a call and we said, ‘hey, can you help us out?’ And … it seemed like the perfect timing. He works with the Woodstock Farmers Market right now and in the winter, it’s a little bit quiet. He had the opportunity to provide us with some of his time,” she said.
Customers of Veritas prior to Dosman’s contract termination were also pleased to see familiar faces behind the counter at Veritas, as the majority of Dosman’s staff are now working for the GSA, under McMahon’s management.
“The staff from Veritas have been wonderful and they’ve helped as much as they can. They’ve been in hours on hours, trying to get everything up and running and they’re really excited,” Deeming said.
Along with slight menu changes, Deeming also explained that the GSA will now be running Veritas as a social enterprise.
“We’re not looking at the bottom line of profits and any profits that we do make go right back into the graduate student community. We’re looking at different ways that we can spend those funds, in terms of scholarships, bursaries, providing food programs for graduate students specifically through Veritas … as well as a GSA initiative was providing staff with living wages, again because we’re not looking at that bottom line of profit.”
Deeming, who received a tremendous amount of negative feedback for the GSA’s decision to terminate Dosman’s contract, said those in place at Laurier who offer assistance when experiencing gendered violence offered her excellent support.
“A lot of the comments that were made privately to myself contained language surrounding the fact that I was a woman. That was difficult. Very difficult,” she said.
“It was shaking. A lot of the things that I received personally, you wouldn’t be able to put in print. There was a lot of negativity, followed by there was a lot of private support that was sent … There were a lot of faculty and academics from across the country who reached out to us to show their support.”
Deeming and the GSA were also ridiculed for not releasing statements in December.
“I consider myself a fighter and I don’t like not being able to speak and defend myself,” Deeming said. “I wasn’t able to defend [myself] based on legal advice and I totally respect that and I understand that. But it makes it very difficult when that’s what you want to do — when that’s your initial reaction.”
While Deeming appeared to receive the most amount of public negativity, Ellen Ménage, executive director of the GSA, also received backlash for the GSA’s decision.
“As an executive director with over ten years’ experience working with student leaders here at Laurier, I was particularly concerned by the comments that reflected an ageism perspective. The narrative around student leaders not being able to make good decisions, or the idea of them being kids.”
“I think that for me, in particular, I’m passionate about the work I do, and my commitment to the graduate students here at Laurier and I was really disheartened by the number of people that felt that our student leaders were not in a position to make solid, important decisions for the future of our organization,” Ménage said.
The decision to terminate the contract, Deeming explained, was not made as quickly as some individuals may assume. The GSA had attended several meetings and consulted legal counsel before deciding to terminate Dosman’s contract.
“In a non-for-profit government structure, there are obviously policies in place … multiple people go into making decisions like this. It’s not just one individual,” Deeming explained.
Another factor that Deeming clarified was that there were alleged prior issues with Dosman himself before he had posted the ad. While the majority of the community’s response to his termination has been that the decision was made too quickly or without a second chance, Deeming claimed that second chances had already been given to Dosman prior to this incident.
When asked if there was a reason for Dosman receiving more than just a slap on the wrist, Deeming said, “Yes. And then what I can say is that we protect the confidentiality of all the people that were involved and that’s about all I can say towards that.”
Deeming also talked about how this issue will hopefully start a larger conversation about the importance of tolerance and inclusivity on Laurier’s campus for all students.
“A lot of our members are looking for us to make a stance on social justice and protecting the rights of minorities and underrepresented groups.”
“Not saying that that’s the reason why this decision was made, in any means, but we look at that larger picture as well and supporting that community feel that everyone is equal on campus. A joke, to someone, might have hurt someone else and that doesn’t make it right,” Deeming said.
On Jan. 9, the university released the following statement in regards to Veritas Café: “The university is pleased about the opening of Veritas Café. Laurier strives to foster an inclusive, welcoming and respectful community environment and we appreciate the efforts and support of those who are committed to a similar vision.”
January 20th Update:
Since the re-opening of Veritas Café, Dosman has hired Daniel Strigberger as his lawyer.
Strigberger outlined that he and Dosman have identified two potential issues with the contract termination and the re-opening of the café: an alleged breach of the contract and the GSA’s response since the termination.
Along with claiming that the GSA had issues with Dosman prior to his help-wanted ad, Strigberger also said that when they re-opened, there were insinuations that the way Veritas was run beforehand with Dosman, wasn’t fair or inclusive.
Last Friday (Jan. 13), Strigberger sent the GSA a notice. He said that the issue has come down to libel and defamation.
“We’ve asked Miss Deeming and the GSA to retract what they’ve said, suggesting or saying that there were previous issues,” Strigberger said.
“If they had any prior issues with him, they never brought it to his attention and the first time he heard that there were possibly any prior issues was when they released their press statement.”
Strigberger said that the GSA responded yesterday (Jan. 19) but he could not comment on what the response was.
The Cord reached out to the GSA on Jan. 20 for a comment but have yet to receive a response.
This article was originally published on Jan. 11 and updated on Jan. 20.