The SJC Legal Opinion, Coles Notes Version

The AMS’s latest kerfuffle, an ongoing saga surrounding a $700 donation meant to go towards a Canadian Boat to Gaza is something we’ve not bothered to cover, as there is already an extreme surplus of articles, letters and opinions being published about it, amongst other reasons.

In preparation for this Wednesday’s council meeting where the matter will be discussed, the AMS requested a legal opinion on the matter. Earlier this evening, the legal opinion regarding the situation was leaked by a brand new blog, UBC Black Box, even before it was sent out to council.

Unfortunately, they didn’t actually say anything about its contents. Keeping in mind that I AM NOT A LAWYER, here is the short version of what the legal opinion says (everything is paraphrased):

1. What authority does the VP Finance have to authorize a transfer of funds from the SJC to the Club?

Nothing in code or bylaws specifically gives the VPF the authority nor the responsibility for approving expenditures by a Resource Group. Nothing in code contemplates the situation wherein the AMS’s signing authorities approve each individual expense made by a Resource Group.

However, the bylaws make it the VPF’s duty to oversee all financial transactions of the AMS. Since both the SJC and the SPHR are sub-groups of the AMS, the VPF oversees their transactions too. Reviewing and signing off on all transactions to ensure their legitimacy is a reasonable part of these duties. This transaction was not routine due to the uncertainty surrounding the SJC’s legitimacy, and the potentially controversial nature of the donation. Because it was not routine, it’s reasonable that the transfer was not approved by the VPF, pending further review by council.

2. Can Council interfere with a decision by a Resource Group to disburse funds and what is the significance of the fact that the funds at issue are ultimately being donated by a Society Club?

Resource Groups are given a broad mandate to be involved in social issues in society at large. Code is explicit in that the views of the Resource Groups do not necessarily reflect the views of the AMS.

The Resource Groups’ activities should not go against the AMS Constitution, Bylaws, or Code. This transfer does not appear to be inconsistent with any of those documents, though an argument could be made that it goes against one of the society’s objectives in the Constitution: to promote unity and goodwill amongst members.

SAC, FinCom, and the Executives cannot interfere with the Resource Group Allocation Committee, but this does not apply to individual Resource Groups. While Code intends to give Resource Groups a certain degree of autonomy, Council still holds ultimate authority over the financial matters of the AMS, and is within its right to review this transaction.

3. Assuming that the VP Finance/Council has the authority to make a decision relating to approving or not approving the transfer of funds, what factors govern such decision making?

  • Is it within the SJC’s budget?
  • Is it in the Society’s best interests?
  • Is it consistent with the SJC’s mandate?
  • Is the SJC being granted the necessary autonomy prescribed in Code?
  • Is the Canadian Boat to Gaza legal?
  • Is this too political or controversial, bearing in mind the Resource Groups’ mandate to engage in social issues in society at large?

As well, issues relating to the validity of the SJC’s AGM must be considered.

4. What is the significance of the fact that there are concerns that the Boat to Gaza Initiative may be linked to terrorism and is there a way of determining if in fact it is?

An organization that funds another organization linked to terrorism can be held criminally or civilly liable for acts of terrorism. Although the SPHR is not currently on Canada’s list of entities linked to terrorism, it could be in the future. However, SPHR has support from across Canada, has not been discouraged by the Government of Canada, and has never been linked to the support of terrorist activities.

5. Assuming that the Council has the authority to make a decision relating to approving or not approving the transfer of funds, what procedures should be followed in making this decision?

Here is what we think your motion should say:

BIRT the recommendation of the VP Finance in relation to the request by the Social Justice Centre resource group for approval to transfer $700 tothe Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights be accepted, namely, that the decision to approve the transfer be deferred pending receipt by the VP Finance of confirmation that:

(i) the request to transfer funds to the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Club was duly authorized by the Social Justice Centre at a duly constituted general meeting;
(ii) the Social Justic Centre and/or the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Club has determined, following prudent due diligence, that the transfer of funds will not constitute funding an organization linked to terrorism.

The document ends with 12 pages about how terrorist groups are defined in Canada. In short, the government simply decides to add an organization to their list of terrorist groups.


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  1. This was definitely not Davis’s best work.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | November 30, 2010, 10:47 am
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