November 30, 2009
well, saturday has come and gone, and nobody can deny that it’s been a busy weekend. I won’t bother with reiterating details that many other media sources on this issue have already done a wonderful job of covering – in short, the AMS council voted unanimously to retract the complaint sent to the U.N., unanimously again on the two motions to request the resignations of AMS president Blake Frederick and VP External Tim Chu. the votes for the 3 first motions all included proxies, minus absences or abstentions. Blake and Tim are scheduled to speak out this wednesday and defend their position against the council.
instead, let’s take a look at some of the underlying currents of politics at play during the meeting. brought up over and over again was the fact that Blake and Tim (Team BLAIM, from now on, as they have been lambasted for their recent actions) elected to skip this crucial meeting for “prior engagements” (aka. an NDP convention), despite having demonstrated willingness and even anticipation towards attending saturday’s “civil discussion”. if their intentions were to stall the process, it was partially successful; many students felt uncomfortable with the fact that the council was essentially sentencing an absent defendant. however, due to the overwhelming opinion that Team BLAIM had chosen not to attend and could have well defended themselves at this event had they made the decision to be present, the motions were passed unanimously. nevertheless, BLAIM were successful in injecting doubt into the situation, effectively diminishing the legitimacy of the council meeting.
several students-at-large argued at the meeting that what BLAIM had done was to only stand up for students’ concerns and issues, and that the action was neither humiliating nor uncalled for – most memorably, the international students representative emphasized that she was in solidarity with the president, even if the council was not consulted. the call for resignation, to BLAIM supporters, revolved not around the issue of their undemocratic actions but around correct procedural processes, something that should be of lower priority than student representation.
in response to BLAIM supporters, most of the representatives from various campus-based organizations argued that it was an issue of democratic policy, that by bypassing the council Blake had robbed the student body of representation. statements were made that Blake had overstepped his mandate and obligations to the student body as a representative and elected employee. the most troubling issue seemed to not be the fact that BLAIM had decided to engage the U.N. in the matter of rising tuition costs, but the fact that it was not the two executives’ prerogative to do so through the AMS channel without consulting the other executives on its council. by this virtue, claims were that because the two rogue executives had not gone through the proper channels, they had no true respect for student representation.
BLAIM could also have easily sent the letter as independent individuals, but not only did they misuse the weight of their executive positions and by that virtue associate the AMS name to this effort, they also used the funds of the organization for this purpose. it seems rational to expect that if an individual is to use the legitimacy and the financial capability of an institution, they should consult with the institution first and at the very least obtain permission to do so. instead, Tim admitted that they had bypassed the council and violated procedural norms for very undemocratic reasons: because ‘there are certain people at AMS Council‘ who would not give their approval to the filing of the U.N. complaint.
given this great emphasis on procedural correctness as a vital component to student representation, I expected the discussion that followed the three motions [on whether Tom Dvorak and Johannes Rebane (the two other executives responsible for signing off the $3,000 check for Pivot’s legal fees) should be asked to resign as well] to also be characterized by talk about their duties and responsibilities as elected representatives. however, after Tom and Johannes’ profuse apologies for carelessness in skimming the document, assurances that their signatures were not endorsements of the action but simply a display of implicit trust in their president, and promises that it “wouldn’t happen again”, most of those who elected to speak at the meeting were forgiving of them, referencing the fact that there was a world of difference between malicious intent and incompetent negligence. Tom and Johannes seemed to be seen by the majority of attendees as guiltless, given the fact that they had made their mistakes due to ignorance instead of having acted with full knowledge and purpose.
in addition, VP Administration Crystal Hon acutely stressed the fact that it would be absolutely devastating to the AMS if it was made to suffer the loss of four executives all at once. everybody, if you have the orange AMS Insider 09/10 agenda, turn to page 7 now and look at the photo of the execs. Remember, Pavani Gunadasa (second from right) is the Executive Coordinator, NOT an elected student.
as a result, the motion to consider the request of their resignations was tabled for discussion in January. the atmosphere within the meeting seemed, however, to be one of forgiveness and leniency in regards to these two executives. I may be proven wrong yet, but I doubt that come January, Tom and Johannes will even undergo sanction for their actions, much less a notice to resign.
I’d like to take a moment here to consider intention and procedure. why is it that BLAIM have been persecuted for not following correct procedure in consulting the AMS council, but generally Tom and Johannes are felt to be innocents? they also violated procedure by not carefully reading documents before signing (especially Tom, in fulfilling his duties as VP Finance). it is indeed true that we are all guilty of making mistakes, but the same argument that was used earlier to persecute Blake’s failure to fulfill his obligations as a representative and an employee can be applied here as well. given that Tom and Johannes were elected to do a job, they similarly let down their constituents and supporters by failing to follow procedure.
Perhaps I can better illustrate my point by a reference to how the judicial branch decides whether someone is guilty of a crime. there are two components to successfully charging someone of guilt – “actus reas” and “mens rea”. actus reas is the actual committing of the crime, while mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind” – basically having the willful intent to do so. although it is true that those who have the actus reas component but lack the mens rea component (in other words, did the crime but had no malicious intent) receive more lenient sentences, they are still punished (to a lesser degree) for their transgressions and mistakes nonetheless.
let’s bring it back to the situation at hand – although by no means are Tom and Johannes guilty of “mens rea” in their violation of the procedural process, it is undeniable that they’ve made mistakes (and kudos to them for being so honest and forthcoming about it during the committee meeting). intention and negligence issues aside, something wrong was done. I’d like to point out, however, that forced resignation may be too severe of a punishment. nevertheless, as elected representatives who are just as accountable to the student body as BLAIM were, Tom and Johannes should fully accept sanctions. as a result, the decision to essentially let them off the hook by pushing the issue back to January, while simultaneously remaining intent on pursuing the immediate resignation of BLAIM, greatly diminishes the validity of the “student representation in procedural correctness” argument in this situation.
I’ve received several emails regarding where I stand on this entire matter. some have accused me of being supportive of BLAIM, and others have portrayed me as being too judgmental of the two executives in question. I’d like to say that I am in no way attempting to launch attacks at their personal characters and beliefs – far from it, in fact, since I am a great supporter of lower tuition fees (who isn’t, really?). however, I acknowledge the authority of representative democracy and procedural correctness which, in this case, has been undeniably violated by BLAIM. the ends are worthwhile in this situation, but they definitely do not justify the over-the-top means that BLAIM has utilized in an attempt to reach the honourable objective of promoting education funding.
as for what is happening now, a notice of resignation is to be served to both Blake and Tim. they will have seven days to respond; by december 7th we should know if BLAIM has chosen to step down. if they refuse to resign, a call for impeachment may be considered. until then, we wait.
a quick update: BLAIM have decided to not resign. in two days, they will address the student body at large. remember to attend if you are interested and on campus: it will be held Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. in SUB room 206.
November 27, 2009
run, blake; there are bloodthirsty people calling for your head.
okay, maybe they’re just requesting that you and your VP external be ‘recalled’ (which is pretty much the nicer way to say ‘impeachment’).
the initial response to yesterday’s events was incendiary and has only grown since; already the student president of the largest faculty on UBC campus – Arts, coming in at over 11,000 students – has issued a notice to Arts students via Arts UBC on Facebook to fill out a feedback form regarding the AMS complaint to the U.N. (as an interesting side note Guillaume Houle, the aforementioned Arts president, succinctly summarized the general feeling among UBC students when he offered [and later retracted, due to his official position I take it] a telling description of the offending behaviour as “unacceptable”. by the way, am I the only one getting deja-vu here?).
as the response grows, so has the investigation into the matter. after recovering from the initial shock of the entire matter, sources such as UBC Insiders have looked further into how exactly the rest of the AMS council could have, as they claimed, been unaware of this issue. it has been uncovered that there were indeed vague mentions of a “U.N. complaint with Pivot” in the executive minutes up until the council meeting in April 16, 2009.
next, and absolutely central to this inquisition, is the $3,000 cheque sent to Pivot Legal LLP as remuneration for representation, out of the $25,000 alloted to the AMS for legal fees – expenditures require at least two signatories from the executive council for authorization. currently there is no official word from the AMS executives as to who actually signed off on the cheque, with the exception of VP Finance Tom Dvorak’s brave and admirable concession that his signature was one of the three on the fiscal document in question.
regardless of both any potential inadvertant ratification on behalf of the council and whatever misguided intentions the president may have had (as I discussed in my previous post on the matter), at the end of the day it cannot be denied that Mr. Frederick and Mr. Chu still acted independently of the AMS council, failing to consult them on the matter before initiating the complaint. this lack of consultation has been attributed to their seeing it as within their mandate to push the issue forward independently.
a little history for readers: this won’t be the first time Mr. Frederick has demonstrated this particular penchant for going rogue. earlier this month, he issued a public document on the AMS website before the UBC administration had released an official press release on the matter, demanding accountability from UBC on the failed Translink project.
a conclusion will most likely be reached by the AMS council come this saturday – a emergency council meeting will convene at 5 pm tomorrow. the Ubyssey will be liveblogging from the meeting – sign up for notification/to participate here.
with bated breath,
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.
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.