In 2013, a handful of Queen’s students revealed a video online in which a then AMS Vice-Presidential candidate performed a racist depiction of Mexican culture. Five years later, the video is still online and the same candidate is running again for the same position.
On Jan. 16, AMS Chief Electoral Officer Matt Ierino announced the single team that will be running for the executive this year. Team ECN consists of Presidential candidate Emily VanderHeyden, ArtSci ’18, Vice-President (University Affairs) candidate Natasha Kornak, ArtSci ’19, and Vice-President (Operations) candidate Craig Draeger, ArtSci ’18.
After the team had formed, The Journal received a link to the video from Draeger’s past, in which he’s depicted wearing a sombrero and imitating Mexican stereotypes. The video appeared on a website titled “Demand Better than Racism!” created in 2013.
As of 3 p.m. on Thursday, the video has been removed from the webpage.
Draeger is no stranger to student politics — in 2013, he was running for the same position he’s running for today. In fact, the “Demand Better than Racism!” website was created in an effort to dissuade students from voting for his team, called Team PDA.
2013: Team PDA
In early January 2013, three teams were running for AMS executive: Team BGP, Team TNL and Team PDA. At the same time, Katie Conway, ArtSci ’13 MA ’15, was working as the AMS Social Issues Commissioner. She recalled the 2013 election that race as being “the most toxic election [she] ever saw at Queen’s.”
“There was a lot of animosity between PDA and one of the other teams,” Conway told The Journal on Wednesday. “And there were problematic things that came out of the PDA campaign.”
According to Draeger, the 2013 election did contain some “strong personalities,” but the animosity that stemmed on campus then was more so a reflection of student culture on campus at the time.
“I really feel like the AMS is downstream of the culture on campus,” Draeger said, explaining he feels the AMS is more affected by the culture of the student body than the AMS can affect student culture. However, Draeger believes this race will be different.
“I’m optimistic … I think we’re all a bit more willing to work together. Conflict can be inevitable in spaces with passionate people, but I think we need to recognize that even when we’re opponents ideologically, we’re not enemies,” Draeger said.
Conway — who has known Draeger since 2009 — said the video of Draeger did cause a “fairly large reaction” at the time. However, she said there were larger concerns about the candidate that arose prior to the video’s circulation.
“The concerns about PDA didn’t necessarily stem from the video or content that came about during the campaign, but that came out before,” Conway said. “People were upset about the video, but those concerns were already there.”
According to Conway, Draeger’s conservative political views “weren’t a secret” on campus, many of which AMS volunteers at the time — especially those in the Social Issues Commission — “didn’t necessarily agree with.”
Draeger’s views mainly came to light in 2012 when he campaigned against renewing a fee supporting the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), a grassroots student organization committed to social and environmental justice.
“Obviously some students agreed with him on certain things, but students that I would see come to the SIC … [they felt] his stance on OPIRG was concerning for volunteers in the social justice community at Queen’s,” Conway said.
“He wouldn’t be the first AMS executive to be heavily involved in a political party, [but] there were concerns about Craig before that video came out based off what happened with OPIRG and his political affiliations.”
A 2012 Journal article reported on the “no” campaign against OPIRG’s fee — a campaign they dubbed “NOPIRG.” The four-dollar opt-out fee started at Queen’s in 1992 and was up for its triennial review in 2012.
Draeger took a three-day leave of absence from his position as AMS Clubs Manager to participate in the NOPIRG campaign.
“If a member of the AMS wants to participate in any election or campaign throughout the referendum period, they have the right to, but they have to take an unpaid leave of absence,” Draeger explained to The Journal on Thursday.
“However, paid AMS employees at the time were breaking the rules and participating in that fee referendum. So I asked my supervisor at the time in response to that … if I could take an unpaid leave of absence to participate in the fee referendum process. And I was granted that enthusiastically, and I did exactly that,” he continued.
“The rules were followed and I returned to my job a week later. I treated [OPIRG] fairly and impartially going forward because that was my job.”
2008: The video
According to Draeger, the video originated from a summer business he began with a friend in the summer before he came to Queen’s. The business designed web-based ads for a variety of organizations and companies, one of which was a chain of restaurants called Moe’s Southwest Grill.
“I regret having done it, I’m ashamed of it, I take responsibility for it,” Draeger said of the video. “I’m not sorry for the fact that people take offense to it, but I am sorry if anyone has ever felt devalued as a result of it.”
“It’s not funny,” he continued. “I would say that it was a culturally insensitive and unacceptable thing to do. I deeply apologize to anyone who has felt lesser as a result of seeing it. I’m really trying to avoid defending it because I don’t think it should be defended, but I just want people to know that I’m sorry.”
When asked if his current teammates were aware of these past controversies, Draeger confirmed they indeed are in the know.
“I told them everything about myself going into this … [because] there have been times when I have been involved in controversy at Queen’s.”
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