The following is a coedited post with files from both Neal Yonson and Alex Lougheed.
This issue was first brought up by Blake and Tim. The first mention of this appears shortly after they took office in the March 13, 2009 Executive Committee minutes, in which there is a one sentence mention:
13. UN international covenant
The AMS will pursue a legal battle with the Province on the basis that the recent Education funding cuts are against the UN charter.
Notice that what is mentioned is not a complaint to the UN. They are contemplating a lawsuit against the province. In an interview yesterday, Blake said this must have been a typo.
The second mention is in the April 16, 2009 Executive Committee minutes, in which it also warrants only one line:
UN complaint with Pivot; may wait till Adrienne gets back.
This issue then appears to go underground/dormant until it came time to make the big announcement. Blake acknowledges it was not discussed at any other committees. The External Policy Committee did not see any part of it, reportedly because Blake and Tim felt it was within their mandates to push it forward. The Communications Planning Group was described as a relatively inactive group which is why it was not brought to them, despite the fact that Blake as chair is responsible for that inactivity. Council did not receive any notice because it was felt the minutes, all two sentences of them, were enough. As far as Blake is concerned, it had been passed in executive committee (though other executives state there was never a resolution) and that was enough to pursue it. It’s certainly worth noting that the complaint was signed by Blake on November 18; a council meeting took place that evening where Blake was given the floor to give an executive report. UBC Insiders was in the room that evening, and the topic of a human rights complaint to the UN was not addressed. We shouldn’t have to point it out, but we will to be safe: this is a gross manipulation of the system.
In an interview yesterday, Blake was asked why he pursued this. His response touched mostly on the fact that the AMS had a desperate need to advocate on behalf of students in any possible way to address the costs of post-secondary education which were “escalating out of control.” On most questions, he deferred to the meeting on Saturday, saying he was looking forward to the opportunity to address councillors, respond to their concerns, and explain more about the complaint itself.
Blake said he looked forward to the chance to have a civil discussion about councillors’ concerns. Justin McElroy of the Ubyssey pressed him on why not have a civil discussion about the councillors’ concerns before holding a press conference? It was an executive decision to push ahead with this because of its importance to students. He mentions this despite the fact that this has been on his table for 7 months—before the BC General Election, and before to any cuts by the current Minister of Advanced Education—certainly enough time to run the idea by AMS council. When asked if he feared he’d lose his job, he deferred to the fact that he was wearing his “AMS president” hat and shouldn’t comment on his personal feelings
As for the money, $3,000 was paid to Pivot Legal Society as a retainer. Nobody has been able to say how much money it will ultimately cost the AMS once the actual hours that were spent working on the complaint are added up. This year’s AMS budget had a line item for $25,000 for legal fees. It is not inconceivable that the cost could be higher than that. The AMS does not know how much it will cost, nor do they even know when Pivot will tell them how much they owe.
Because the budget was approved, it is true that Council or the Executive Committee can spend this money but would have needed to have as a bare minimum an actual resolution associated with it. In the two mentions of this that were found in Executive Committee minutes, neither has a resolution associated with it. It is unclear, then, which two of Crystal, Tom and Johannes signed off on the cheque as the sole signatories of this nature for the AMS.
Once Pivot was on board, it seems they took over the project. Although the AMS held the press conference this morning, the Ubyssey was not invited. When the Ubyssey asked why, the original response from Tim Chu was that the Ubyssey “didn’t do press releases,” followed by the real reason, that Pivot was completely in charge of communications and the Ubyssey is not one of the media sources they notify. For something which should have a massively important communications strategy for the AMS, Pivot had total control over how it was framed (with them in the centre of the frame).
The AMS already has their own legal counsel they attend to for legal affairs. Reportedly Pivot is involved in lieu of the in house counsel because they had a more positive viewpoint of this complaint than the AMS’s counsel. And they were cheaper. Although Blake claims the idea came from him and Tim, the possibility that Pivot approached the AMS is plausible.
Yesterday and Tomorrow
All in all, yesterday was a busy day for a lot of people. Upon hearing the news, Matthew Naylor circulated a petition to councillors in order to call a special council meeting. This required 10 signatures; 13 were obtained. A council meeting has been called for Saturday at 5pm in Council Chambers (SUB 206). The Agenda is here.
At the same time, he called a meeting for interested persons to discuss what was happening. Most senior members of AMS Council attended this meeting to share knowledge and talk about what to do next.
While some people present reportedly expressed concerns about having an “offline” meeting of council, there was wide support for holding an official meeting. It was widely agreed that Blake fucked up big time, and this wasn’t simply an isolated incident, but a culmination of Blake behaving badly.
The path forward at this point is somewhat clear. These are the motions coming forward at Saturday’s meeting:
“BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council retract the complaint to the UN against the BC and Canadian governments, and direct the AMS Communications Department to issue a press release stating that this was not the will of the Society, and that, as the President overstepped his bounds in taking this action, this should not be construed as an action of the Society.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Council prohibit the expenditure of any further AMS resources of any nature on this action.”
“BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request that President Blake Frederick resign from Council.”
“BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council request that Vice President External Affairs Tim Chu resign from Council.”
It seems very likely at this point that all of these will pass. It also seems Blake has zero intention of resigning. In that case, council would be seeking impeachment (referred to as “Recall” in the bylaws). As per bylaws council would provide at least 7 days notice that such a motion was coming. After 7 days, another special meeting of council could be convened, with motions to impeach Blake and Tim. The vote for impeachment specifies that the motion must be “passed by a Two-thirds (2/3) majority of the votes cast, including abstentions and blanks,” in essence meaning there is no such thing as an abstention. Abstention = NO. This is unusual in that normal council votes do not count abstentions.
There’s also a possibility of conflict with the Society Act, wherein impeachment might have to be done at a general meeting instead of a council meeting. This would make impeachment almost completely infeasible legally, but politically still very possible (by, for instance, removing all powers of the President to those of any other councillor, and telling him to leave).
In the event that Blake and/or Tim are impeached, it would be up to council to appoint interim executives from itself to fill those positions, and then hold by-elections for someone to hold office for a very short period, then hold regular elections again.
In the event that there isn’t an impeachment (ordinarily I would expect a large number of abstentions in a vote like this, which are now NO votes), what happens next? Does Council suspend all parts of code and policy giving him authority to act or sign things? Put in place a policy that any further action taken by the President involving legal, external, or PR functions, without the explicit prior approval of Council or an appropriate committee, constitutes a letter of resignation?
Terry, with a skit that can hopefully be performed as a prelude to Saturday night’s meeting.
The UBC Spectator, with another short summary.
Social Capital, with a good primer shedding light on some of the background.
Foxtrot UBC, having a tea party.
Jesse Ferreras, an alumni news writer for the Ubyssey, after thinking he was cured, once again contracting a case of AMS-itis.
Trisha Taneja, a fourth year political science and microbiology major and writer for the ethics of international engagement and serivce-learning project on the practical effects of such a move.
Facebook presence: Former Devil’s Advocate crew is mobilizing the 1st UBC Expeditionary Force, the 50+ comment-long status update that you can read only if you befriend Alex on facebook.
And of course, someone has submitted it to Fail Blog.