Update on UBC Student Union complaint to the UN

Emergency Council meeting being set up to retract complaint, ask AMS President Blake Frederick to resign


For the first update on the story, click here.

Amazingly enough, student councillors don’t like finding out that they’ve launched a formal human rights complaint to the United Nations over  press releases, and news stories, and tweets.

An motion to call an emergency meeting of AMS Council has been brought forward, with the following items being on the agenda:

1. That Council retract the complaint to the UN against the VC and Canadian governments, and direct the AMS Communications Department to issue a press release stating that this was not the will of the Society.

2. That Council prohibit the expenditure of any further AMS resources of any nature on this action.

3. That Council request that President Blake Frederick resign from Council.

4. That Council request that VP External Affairs Tim Chu resign from Council.

If the motion to ask for resignation passes, and Frederick and Chu choose not to resign, council will serve the two of them with notices of impeachment.

Why are they so upset? Well, filing an official human rights complaint with the United Nations is a pretty big deal. In their steps to do so, there was a pretty giant lack of communication.

— In March, the executive committee signed off on the following:

“The AMS will pursue a legal battle with the Province on the basis that the recent Education funding cuts are against the UN charter.”

— The AMS (meaning, Frederick and Chu) looked for firms that would take on the case. They decided upon Pivot Legal Society, which is pretty much a straight forward legal advocacy group for the disadvantaged.

— In October, Pivot Legal Society informed the AMS that the case was feasible, and they would go ahead pursuing the case with their consent. Frederick and Chu claimed that the executive committee agreed to go forward with the case, even though a specific motion was not passed. Two other members of the executive committee (VP Finance Tom Dvorak and VP Academic Johannes Rebane) disagreed that the question had even been brought up.

— The AMS collected affidavit from people concerned about high tuition rates, and gave them to Pivot Legal Society. They determined that Markle (who was no longer a student) had the best story—despite the fact Markle made upwards of $20,000 in 2008/2009 as an AMS Executive—and thus would be included in the complaint. The AMS is paying for Markle’s fees.

— The Communications Planning Group, which you would think would play a big part in this, was not notified of the press conference, the press release, or that this was even on the table. The student newspaper The Ubyssey wasn’t even informed of the press conference (other local media were). Nonetheless, the press conference happened. And the controversy began…

On the whole, it looks that at most 4–5 people within the student union knew what was going on, and that they deliberately tried to keep this decision as secret as possible. While it’s fair to argue that there were on-the-record minutes that said the AMS was investigating this, it seems absolutely preposterous that something of this magnitude (assuming you believe that the United Nations has legitimacy in the area of provincial post-secondary education, which is extremely questionable) would be kept so quiet, and never debated publicly. Oh, and the society is on the hook for thousands of dollars in legal fees. Given all that, don’t be surprised if a) This complaint to the United Nations is quickly retracted, and b) Blake Frederick’s reign as President ends within a fortnight.


Update on UBC Student Union complaint to the UN

  1. Thank you for this article Justin!

    This situation is completely ridiculous… and thank you for SOMEONE finally pointing out the $20 000 or so that Tristan made as an AMS exec. It does mention in the affidavit that his work was “mostly unpaid” though… i guess it’s a very loose translation of “mostly.”

  2. See, during my tenure, when we almost considered entering into legal action, we held at least two hours worth of executive committee discussions on the issue and I had the court give us more time to decide.

    In the end, we decided saying no (against my desire, actually), but being outweighed by larger consensus is kind of a principle of democracy, isn’t it?

    For reference, this was whether or not to intervene in the Student Evaluations of Teaching case between the UBC Faculty Association and UBC proper.

  3. “The AMS will pursue a legal battle with the Province on the basis that the recent Education funding cuts are against the UN charter.”

    Seems pretty straightforward to me…

  4. If the actions taken were indeed as clandestine as alleged, which to me is doubtful in such a case where the issue has been discussed at least somewhat, then Fredrick and Chu should be held accountable by means of impeachment. However, for the most part I agree with “Al” that the motion appears straightforward on the surface, but it lacks the necessary itemisation as to how and when to pursue it. I am inclined to believe that Fredrick and Chu were mistakenly acting to fill in the holes as they saw fit in order to bring the motion to fruition. I think that they believed they were acting within their mandates in the best interest of the AMS and all of its members; whether or not they were is another question entirely.

    Call me naive, but I do not see any malice or power grabbing here. I see a simple case of the inexperienced jumping the gun and over-reacting, rather than disrespecting the AMS as a body and its procedures. Fredrick and Chu made a stupid mistake by going straight to the UN, as there must have been less drastic routes, yes. That said, it may have ultimately been what the AMS as a body was forced to do, after exhausting all other avenues, but we’ll never know. I fear that the real issue of unfair tuition and funding allocation will be lost in this rather soap-operatic controversy; something has to be done, and if that means going to the UN eventually, collectively, unbelievably, then so be it.

    Impeachment, whether it is actual or symbolic depending on what the Societies Act allows, for sheer stupidity is certainly not unprecedented. Some may even call it common. However, I for one would much more trust existing administration who are appropriately contrite and chastised in the court of public opinion, and therefore more likely to make wiser decisions in the future, to an unknown quantity that may well develop a bit of a saviour complex after such a debacle. Still, I admit that it remains to be seen if Fredrick and Chu made an honest mistake or a dishonest one. Call me a bleeding heart, but I believe in being given the opportunity to demonstrate learning from one’s honest mistakes, the more colossal the better.

  5. Before withdrawing the complaint one hopes that they will first check what students want – and particularly what students from working class backgrounds want. After all, the financial barriers to education arent really that serious for middle and upper class students, but are crushing for working class students and actually keep a lot of people from ever attending university. I think the complaint is entirely appropriate – Canada has been violating its obligations under treaties that it helped to write and that it ratified. We should complain.

  6. If you’ve ever sat in on council, I think its pretty clear why Chu and Frederick had to go this way, as council, despite representing the student body, rarely seems to make this their concern.

    But otherwise, I would just like to mention a major flaw in the proposed impeachment mentioned by Frederick and Chu in their open letter to council:

    We also find it curious that we have been targeted exclusively on this issue by some Council members. It is important to note that we raised the topic of the UN complaint several times at our Executive Committee meetings and that VP Finance, Tom Dvorak and VP Academic and University Affairs, Johannes Rebane signed the contract with Pivot Legal Society to go forward with the complaint. We believe that if any call is made for our resignations, they must be coupled with a call for the resignations of Tom Dvorak and Johannes Rebane.

  7. Having been involved in post secondary education in two different provinces, I really have only one thing to say … grow up. I realise tuition costs are high but in all honesty, in many provinces they are higher, not to mention in the States were they are astronomical.

    A UN challenge to make tuition costs lower? Personally I would prefer if the AMS didn’t waste money like it’s going out of business. A major chunk of our tuition fees don’t go to university credits but to Recreation and Athletic fees (while providing a tiny free gym on campus), three separate AMS funds (SUB renewal, the AMS fee, and the AMS Student Services fee), and the list goes on. The AMS is only slightly less guilty of nickel and diming the students as the university is but at least the University is giving us a degree at the end.

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