something just hit the fan, people. – part i of the UBC/UN saga

November 26, 2009

big news, friends.

yesterday (nov. 25, 2009) Blake Frederick of UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS), along with another UBC graduate Tristan Markle and a Pivot Legal representative, sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations, lobbying for an investigation into Canada’s ratification of and subsequent failure to adhere to the principles on post-education fees stipulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976. Mr. Frederick stated in following interviews that he felt that he and the rest of his AMS executive team have exhausted all other venues of lobbying Canadian governments (on both provincial and federal levels), and as a last resort made the decision to turn to the United Nations and request an international examination of Canada’s ‘human rights violation’ as per the 1976 covenant.

here’s the letter. here’s the 1976 agreement. here’s a news piece on it. and here’s the AMS press release.

most comments and forums showcase a violent, violent backlash from the internet community, including UBC students, against Mr. Frederick for his actions – he’s been called UBC’S very own George W. Bush (aka. village idiot); a ‘spoiled brat’; the vaguely insulting (but mostly confusing and very UBC-specific) ‘knolly’; and most commonly, a ‘tool’. some of the uglier comments revealed the agelong prejudice against ‘useless degrees’ such as arts as well as disbelief and an inability to ‘take Canadians seriously sometimes’ (see for reference: this article).

i’m still reeling from the shock. who wouldn’t be, after finding out that the top elected representative for the UBC student community had gone to the United Nations – the international institution that deals with genocides, conflict-ravaged regions, and severe humanitarian crises on a daily basis – with such a relatively trivial matter? granted, tuition fees are an important affair dear to the hearts of many a student at UBC, but in the international context, side to side with global problems like poverty and gender based violence, it becomes an issue of very little gravity. not to mention, no consultation with the student body on this matter took place prior to this. at the very least it would have seemed prudent to conduct a student referendum on such a serious and important matter – even in the face of record low student voter turn-out during UBC representative elections, I am strongly compelled to say that students, if consulted, would have definitely had some opinions of their own on this drastic measure.

but after considerable thought and at the risk of incurring the wrath of UBC students in Vancouver, I’d like to posit the following: Blake Frederick, although human just like the rest of us, must have been elected for a reason. he, more likely than not, understands how politics, media, and publicity work. we cannot assume that Mr. Frederick simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and, either grumpy from having slammed his bespectacled face into his bedroom wall or short a few brain cells from the impact, drafted the aforementioned letter and sent it off without any further consideration. as a UBC student I will attest without hesitation to the fact that AMS has been fighting against budget cuts to education funding which covers student aid (recently a whopping $16 million has been cut, if anybody’s interested) and rising tuition fees (an annual event so predictable that I now set my watch to it) for ages and ages. results have been sparse and to be honest, few and far between.

now, there are many factors to why student representation in government has been so wanting, but I believe that it is not due to the executives’ lack for trying. campaigns have been organized, and lobbying has taken place – I do not doubt for a minute that Mr. Frederick was being absolutely honest when he stated that these conventional venues of protest had turned up little success. perhaps Mr. Frederick knew that these issues would never be publicized through ongoing efforts. perhaps sending a letter to the U.N. was his way of really getting the issue out into the public. let’s just say that Mr. Frederick was thinking along those lines when he decided to go the whole nine yards – like the man who dramatically takes his neighbour’s dog who poops all over his yard to the Supreme Court: rather ridiculous, but absolutely impossible to ignore, right?

and who can say his plan, if I have assumed correctly, hasn’t panned out? poor Mr. Frederick, whose reputation among a great deal of the students who populate the UBC Point Grey campus has undoubtedly dropped, might have forseen the cost of such publicity and willingly staked whatever reputation he had on this move in a rather backwards attempt to ensure an increase in awareness, if not some change in the long run.

undeniably, some will see this perspective, painting Mr. Frederick as a poor misunderstood fellow, as a bit farfetched. After all, his rogue stunt has definitely put the future of UBC’s reputation, along with those of its graduates, in jeopardy. however, I feel it serves sufficiently as another point of view to consider and a necessary counter-weight to all the claims from students that somehow, we (or at least whatever small population of the student body that votes) have accidentally elected a dunce. Mr. Frederick may be a tad dramatic, but he is no fool.

a quick update: an AMS council meeting has been called for this saturday – the resignation of both President Blake Frederick and another executive, VP External Tim Chu, has been requested. barring willing resignation, the requirement to impeach a council member is a 2/3 majority (see page 11).

more on the situation as it develops.



10 Responses to “something just hit the fan, people. – part i of the UBC/UN saga”

  1. Julia Says:

    i read all of this haha. thanks for the info – it was super interesting! very well written, chanelle :]

  2. Jason Ng Says:

    Great post as well! The councillors I’ve talked to are all very surprised about this, I think some of the intense reaction is just shock that Blake doesn’t appear to have learned from the incident earlier this month.

  3. Alex Lougheed Says:

    Great post Chanelle. The mobs can get very emotional at times. Be it this event, issues of equity, or anything elections related–overall it contributes to an atmosphere that is not that fun.

  4. Matt Says:

    I’m all for this move, at least in principle. It’s annoying when laws get passed and no one enforces them.

    I can think of a counterargument that “free” actually means like “free speech” not “free beer”, so that as long as our institutions of higher learning weren’t subject to arbitrary IP barriers they’re fine… but of course that makes no sense in the context of that clause and the spirit of that entire convention.

    That still leaves the “equally accessibile” part, although if the concept of “capacity” included “money” then our system is just fine. :V

    (Matt is not an international lawyer. This post is for entertainment purposes only. Which is not a guarantee or representation that you would be entertained. Keep out of children.)

  5. Dan Says:

    Thank you, this was a truly insightful article expressing a more moderate view than a lot I have been reading about at so-called Debacle.

    That being said, I do feel it is important to note that while, yes, Blake is no fool, he is also proving to be extremely, well, pig-headed. I mean, the problem isn’t so much that he acted against the larger AMS representation in a grandiose stunt to bring attention to bring attention to serious issue in UBC and Canada at large, but this is the second time in as many months that he has done this. Good God! The Translink Public Statement uproar still feels like yesterday!

    And you must admit that there is a huge difference these two incidents. Not only was he addressing completely different bodies, but he was addressing largely different issues. But one thing holds true: (a) He was spitting in the face of UBC administration and the government in almost equal measure. (b) He was acting without the knowledge (before) and against the will (after) of Council. In doing so, he is sending a variety of messages unrelated to his main one. He is saying that he believes that he is above the authority of Council, that he may act against their knowledge or consent, that he feels it is okay to not act transparently and manipulate the Council (and by extension the student body) to promote an unpopular agenda, that high-profile messages to high-profile organizations on (moderately) high-profile issues in the name of high-profile institutions can be issued at the drop of a hat WITHOUT thorough consultation with the members of said institutions.

    Blake has made a habit of thumbing his nose at Council when they do fall in line with him. Yes, he was elected for a reason. So were the rest of the members of Council. He knows politics. So do they. And they were elected specifically to keep the executive body–that is to say, Blake and Tim–transparent, in check, and accountable. Blake’s actions and his unrepentant attitude have proven he is not afraid to impede them from doing all three. Hence, he must be removed or his power completely removed as anything short would compromise the democracy of the system and would leave the doors wide open for him to continue to act in a rogue, possibly totalitarian fashion. The George W. Bush comparison is right because he has acted in a comparable fashion. And look where that got us.

  6. If only I had a nickel for each time I came to Great post.

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