Botched coup at UBC

AMS exec powers neutered over unauthorized UN tuition complaint
Mathew Hawland, center, of Ottawa University joins hundreds of other students protesting high tuition fees on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007. Students in about 30 cities across Canada staged rallies Wednesday to pressure governments for more help with tuition fees and to call for a return to affordable post-secondary education. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)

After 12 days of campus controversy and student politics machinations, the UBC Alma Mater Society President (AMS) executives who issued an unauthorized human rights complaint to the United Nations will keep their jobs. A recall motion, to have President Blake Frederick and Vice President Eexternal Tim Chu impeached, was pulled back only after it was discovered at the 11th hour that doing so through a vote of student council would have been illegal.

The complaint to the UN alleged the B.C. and federal governments were responsible for “gross human rights violations” due to the cost of tuition.

Following a unanimous motion by student council a week ago to ask Frederick and Chu to resign following the complaint they filed on behalf of the AMS—without approval or knowledge from AMS Council—the stage was set for a special meeting to recall the two. However, following veiled threats by Frederick and Chu that they would be considering legal action if they were removed by council, a legal opinion was sought on how the two of them could be removed as Directors of the AMS.

Most councilors were fairly certain the legal opinion would allow them to proceed. The meeting was set for 4pm on Monday. At 3:30, the opinion came in—and it clearly stated that to recall/impeach the two of them would be a contravention of BC’s Society Act, which the AMS is legally bound by. The Act requires a petition signed by at least two per cent of UBC students and a meeting with the same number of students, with 75 per cent voting for recall.


So, though the complaint to the UN had been retracted and Frederick had apologized for his actions, council decided to gut, strip, and neuter Frederick and Chu of their powers, with a variety of measures designed to completely paralyze the largest student union in Canada for the next two months. These include:

a) No press releases can be sent without the permission of student council.

b) Frederick and Chu cannot have meetings or communications that could adversely affect the reputation of the AMS with important stakeholders (UBC Administration, provincial/federal government) without approval of student council.

c) An official censure of Frederick of Chu.

d) Frederick, Chu, and the rest of the AMS executive (whom, hilariously, all signed off on cheques that allowed the AMS to go forward with the legal complaint without knowing what they were signing) are forced to write weekly reports detailing their hour-by-hour activities.

e) Frederick will no longer chair the Executive Committee.

f) Next year’s executive will take power on February 12th, two weeks earlier than usual, in order to prevent Frederick and Chu from saying, doing, or thinking anything that might cause controversy during the Winter Olympics (this wasn’t stated in the actual motion, but it’s widely acknowledged as the subtext for the decision).

Despite the fact that, by his own admittance/Facebook status, Frederick will “probably be unable to perform his duties as President,” he has decided to stay on, pledging to respect the wishes of council from here on out . . . except for their unanimous wish to have him resign. This will come as a great disappointment to the over 1,600 people in the “Impeach the AMS President and VP External” group on Facebook, but has caused joy to the 600+ members of the anti-impeachment group.

On the plus side, this probably saves UBC students thousands more dollars in legal fees (even though approximately $12,000 has been spent already on the legal complaint to the UN and the last-minute legal opinion requested by council). Moreover . . . well, that’s pretty much the only non-partisan “good” news here.

Frederick and Chu are still in power, but after issuing the complaint, skipping an emergency council meeting to discuss the issue so they could “socialize” at an NDP convention, refusing to initially apologize for their actions, and sending mass emails that willfully misinformed students about the issue, you can count on one hand the number of student politicians who trust the two of them. Though on Monday Frederick admitted that the UN complaint was only intended to “be a media stunt . . . and it failed miserably.” The other three elected executives (VP Finance Tom Dvorak, VP Academic Johannes Rebane, and VP Administration Crystal Hon) were all revealed to be one way or another complicit in the stunt—however, they apologized immediately, and thus were saved the wrath of council.

And as for Student Council itself? Well, if you want to orchestrate a coup, you should at least dot your I’s and cross your T’s, and this group didn’t. Within six hours of the UN complaint, a large group of them quickly moved to do everything in their power to recall Frederick and Chu from power, without figuring out whether it was legal, and without collecting signatures from two per cent of students to force a special resolution as a backup plan.

What was this all about originally about again? Tuition fees? Right. That issue has been pushed far to the backburner during this mess. There’s talk of petitions being started to try and have Frederick and Chu (legally) recalled from office early, but realistically, with holidays followed by new elections next month, chances of that happening are dim. The crisis has been wrapped up in a tidy 12 days, and now all that’s left are hard feelings, a damaged student union, and the United Nations being a punchline on campus for months to come.

I resisted positing much on this, if only because this whole incident quickly devolved from a tuition/silly student government issue into an internal cluster#@%$. However, given that it’s one of the more noteworthy/ridiculous student government scandals to happen in Canada in recent years, I figured explaining it in full would be of benefit, if only to serve as a cautionary tale of a) How not to fight for lower tuition, or b) How not to impeach your president, depending on your point of view. What I’ve written here is a Coles Notes version of what took place, so if there’s anyone out there with additional questions about this fun little incident, let me know in the comments.