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As reported by The Ubyssey, the Graduate Student Society’s executives have decided to close down Koerner’s Pub for the summer after losing over 200,000 dollars due to a long string of poor decisions. This marks a low point in the already questioned legitimacy of the GSS Council and its executive to make decisions on behalf of UBC students and everyone who benefited from Koerner’s activities, including its staff, which will be fired.

The GSS has continuously failed since 2008 to even bring together issues of its popular “The Graduate” magazine, and to communicate its relevance to graduate students and alumni. Basically, they provide services for renting space in the building, and entertainment to graduate students, and not much else. They also help the university to organize orientation ceremonies and their executives ‘sit-in’ during graduation ceremonies in order to ‘represent students’. However, a chronic problem of the past seems to be growing exponentially – an ever weaker communication strategy and the ultimate inability to  consult with students and produce relevant work.

The executive is relinquished to a menial administrative task that actually detracts them from their studies. In addition, because graduate students are expected to undergo a lot of stress in order to conform to their study regime and graduate, they have no time to actually concentrate on the usually ineffective activities of an executive body which basically does as the university administration tells it for personal gain – a trend that has been perpetuated and accepted without any resistance from graduate students.

The problem is that graduate students are too busy to spend their time getting involved in the game played in council. The result is that those who are more personally invested in reaching out for some sort of authoritarian privilege find the motivation necessary for campaigning and getting people to elect them. Once, as the GSS services department was trying to publish a critical handbook that included satire and information, some members of the executive, fearing a university backlash that never came acted illegally to block the delivery of the books and were defeated in council after the story hit the press. That was back in the day when some excitement was expected from the GSS. As of now, we can be inspired to write only because of a ‘depressing’ fact – the closing down of Koerner’s pub, which is a major historical destination for professors, students, visiting lecturers, open-mic musicians, and those who used to enjoy its beautiful patio and atmosphere for a beer among friends after a long day at work.

Koerner’s always suffered from having either weak or authoritarian administrators in the past, and the GSS failed to provide proper security to keep people from ‘jumping the fence’ and a system for screening minors – the result was an accident that lead to their license being revoked. There were a host of appropriate solutions suggested, but because council itself is like a theater for egocentric posturing, people would oppose a good idea simply because it did not come from their ‘friend’. Moreover, disciplinary boundaries and the need to fill up council quickly at the expense valuing the expert advice of older councilors leads to a system where someone speaks out and their friends raise their arms – it is not about strong argumentation, but rather about picking a side quickly. The result is a flawed and largely irrelevant organization that takes student money and is clueless about what to do with it except wasting it by eating and drinking it away.

One of the most active councilors of the past suggested that the GSS be abolished because the fees students are paying are not turning out in their benefit and could be used better otherwise. It has been continuously noticed that executives have abused their share of committee food ordered ‘for free’ (on the students’ expense) from Koerner’s – it happens also because most people directly lower their heads and agree with anything a president may say, regardless of their incoherence and incompetence – a systemic problem that will very unlikely be properly addressed in the future.

The best advice seems to be ‘take care of your career, study and graduate, and ignore the GSS because it can take up your time – if you have interesting and creative ideas, you will suffer in trying to get them through the executive and the council, simply because their main directive is to make sure they please the bureaucrats of the administration and receive some sort of professional recognition for their conformity services. However, when they take away the pub that seems to be their only legitimate practical reason for existing, and do so by disrespecting and affronting CUPE and taking jobs away from students, one can just hope someone will try to ‘so something about it’. However, given the record of irrelevance and lip-service to the administration, the slowness of council, lack of experience, and the demands of graduate student life, the issue is likely to be resolved in the ‘traditional’ unsatisfying manner.

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Welcome back to class, students!

Have you heard about your AMS Student Union and what they have been up to?

In late November, the AMS ‘president’ Bijan Ahmadian, insinuated that the UBC Social Justice Centre was trying to support terror by helping with a donation a Gaza-bound Canadian flotilla.

Bijan just wanted to make sure the AMS was not ‘aiding terror’ – his approach to figuring out the ‘truth’. This suspicion is oppressive and extremely unfair. PalentineSpeaks.net published an article asking students to write to Mr. Ahmadian and urge him to represent the will of the community he has deeply disappointed. They wrote:

“Despite all that [reasons why we should support alleviating suffering in Palestine], Mr. Ahmadian (exploiting his position as president of the AMS) has demonstrated worrisome disregard to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His political stance is not representative of the UBC community and is not reflective of UBC’s values and dedication to human rights. Mr. Ahmadian expressed unacceptable belligerence by freezing the transaction and disallowing the receipt of the donation by the SJC. By blocking this generous donation, Mr. Ahmadian is complicit in the efforts to deprive Palestinians from a decent living; the attainment of their rudimentary human rights and their access to basic human needs.”

It shows  how far removed are the worlds of students who exercise a critical social awareness in their lives and some self-selected AMS ‘executives’ like Ahmadian, known for being against other forms of student grass roots organization, and for enforcing decisions without consultation. There is an inherent conflictual pattern that remains constant in UBC student politics – an authoritarianism that inverts the ideal relationship between those who are supposed to make official decisions (AMS executives) and those who put them in power (voting students). Students should be making sure executives take actions they support, not the other way around (i.e., executives making sure their decisions are enforced regardless of the support for an alternative).

The AMS, by not being able to collect enough information on what students actually need, is able to get away with a poor decision making and innovative projects record, concentrating on personal agendas, grandstanding, and petty disputes over who has the last word. This is only possible because the AMS has not been able to set up a scientific way of assessing student needs, even with all their resources. They are more concentrated on running their businesses, jello wrestling, merry making and computer games during council. Voting became a computer game too, with a lot of clicking around and laughing about trivialities.

By having the final say on something, executives can pull out tricks like Bijan’s suggestion that peace activists and terrorists could somehow be associated. His suggestion has caused a furor among activists, because they have a better sense of how things actually are in the real world. How can something like this happen? People complained about the UN issue last year, but this is light years beyond.

Some would argue that lessons from the past indicate we should expect this fiasco to lead nowhere, and Ahmadian to find some way to still receive support from his tunnel-vision support base. The AMS needs to reform its current structure at the risk of collapsing or letting uninformed types take over its ranks and come up with ridiculous decisions that shatter social relations with students who are hoping to help make the world better, not worse.

Keeping away from the AMS may be a great idea for students, in a practical sense. Students should be in charge of where their own money goes. Stonewalling attempts by the Social Justice Centre is something that always happens in the AMS. Ahmadian last year made sure that students with disabilities did not acquire a council seat. Attacking the students who complained to the UN about skyrocketing tuition last year was one of Ahmadian’s pet projects. He was successful and took over the Presidency under muddy circumstances.

Yearly, the easy to hack computer voting system used by the AMS leads to suspicions of fraud with multiple and ‘ghost’ votes. Students who were caught cheating in the past were allowed to remain in their positions because they were friends with the councilors. They had been roommates, partied together, and helped each other, so it was impossible for them to live up to their own statute and allow the rightful winner to take up the position. This ended up in a vicious cycle of poor performance that drove students away from AMS politics.

The AMS has for many years served as a bullying ground for glory-seekers to oppress other students and laugh over a beer later, paid for with student money. That is, unless people with a consciousness step in and make a difference. It is interesting how the AMS Council works as a platform for students to attack each other and avoid cooperation. The whole system needs a full external appraisal by serious consultants, and executives who do not engage in backstabbing the students who give up a lot of their time helping to develop a political consciousness on campus.

However, getting too involved and invest time in the AMS is probably not recommended for most students, as you would probably be wasting a lot of time and effort, get ridiculous resistance to some of your best ideas, and people will forget about it once they move on to the real world and get jobs. Perhaps passing a referendum and giving it [the AMS] all away to the university would be a great idea to make it all work better (just like the UBC administration), since it is already the way it is, and so  students who long to become conformist bureaucrats and play computer games during council meetings can play being politicians, ignoring grave social issues.

We have noticed that fields like Commerce and many fields in the Applied Sciences lack a critical social history curriculum. Truth be said, there are plenty of engineers we know who have a deep critical sense of history, but they have acquired this knowledge in their spare time or learned from their parents. When it comes to executive performance at the AMS, this dynamic has had serious consequences, especially for students who do not share some of the privileges taken for granted by those who get to decision-making positions.

In fact, if AMS focused on issues that mattered to students, they would have implemented proper consultation strategies and reformed their feedback and budget system, as some of us suggested to no avail in the past. As UBC Alumni, we are concerned that ‘our’ Alma Mater Society is ruled by irresponsible and muddled-minded executives with zombie worldviews, and we would be very hesitant to contribute to AMS in the future. I hope students can come up with their own solutions. However, they have little time to try to fix this, and they will easily realize it is most likely a waste of their effort, unless they come up with an incredible grass roots movement.

Some people who accumulate political positions and other fake honors believe anything they decide must be right, and are deaf to alternative suggestions. They are blocked by their huge egos and fed by an academic system that is still keen on giving ‘prizes’ to the ‘most excellent’, and invariably putting down other, more original and creative efforts that ‘slip away’ with those who do not get to give a graduating speech, attend the (largely abominable) ‘student leadership conference’ or receive a medal in front of a stargazing audience. Finally, students are getting what they voted for last year when they chose Ahmadian and his dazzled, systemically misinformed sympathizers. It would be possible for students to reform the AMS, but it would take a concerted educational effort.

This movie helps contextualizing why AMS prefers conformism to authority rather than independent critical thinking:

References:
http://palestinespeaks.net/2010/11/sphr-ams-president-bijan-ahmadian-blocks-humanitarian-relief-to-gaza/

http://ubyssey.ca/news/ams-investigating-cbg-for-terror-ties/

Gateway Program covers fertile land with a freeway

This billboard, located on land leased to BC, was removed by the province earlier this month. It has been replaced by Gateway Sucks and Council of Canadians with another sign protesting the Gateway Program.

The Dominion – http://www.dominionpaper.ca

VANCOUVER—Lower mainland groups are opposing a massive expansion to local highways, which they say paves over farmland, encourages pollution and carbon emissions, and opens the gate to ramping up of resource extraction in British Columbia.

“Climate action now!” reads a new banner unveiled April 25 by Gateway Sucks and the Delta, BC, chapter of Council of Canadians. Both groups are opposed to a series of highway expansion projects from northern BC to Port Twassen proposed by the provincial government’s Gateway Program.

“The action took place at River Road and Centre Street in Delta,” Tom Jaugelis of Gateway Sucks. “[The sign] is visible from the Alex Fraser Bridge. Activists also planted trees at the site today to highlight the area’s potential as a riverfront park, not a riverfront freeway.”

This new banner comes on the heels of one removed by the province. A hand-built “Farms not Freeways” billboard stood on Loranda Farms off Highway 17 in Delta, BC. It was removed because it stood on land under lease to the province. Farm owner Michaela Robinson succumbed to financial pressures, six months ago, to lease part of the land to the Gateway Program for a year. Just behind the sign, government trucks paved over some of Canada’s most fertile soil.

“The very base of the road [construction crews are laying the foundation now] is taking just over an acre of our land. So we’re gonna have a really busy highway with tons of trucks right in our back pasture where our horses roam freely,” said Robinson.

Loranda Farms is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Richmond city councilor Harold Steves, a founder of the ALR in the 1970s, explained at the banner drop why the ALR was created.

The ALR was developed as a mechanism to stop huge companies like Western Reality and Wall & Ready Corp from developing agricultural land into more profitable housing developments, said Steves.

“[In 1972] the land was regarded as zoned land by Richmond, Delta and Surrey, but [developers] regarded it as unzoned,” he continued. Since there was no provincial legislation, developers paved over farmland. “The ALR stopped that [development], until today. It is same type of companies that want to develop this land today.”

Steves believes Delta could be transformed into Surrey-style sprawl. The best soils in BC will be covered with asphalt, just like Richmond, a suburb south of Vancouver known for having paved over top quality soil in favor of blacktopping the land for a corporate grocery store.

The prospect of losing more agricultural land has Ben West fuming. He’s a campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, which supports the direct action of Gateway Sucks and Council of Canadians. They are the educational and outreach arm of the movement to stop the Gateway Program.

“One of the most important archeological dig sites in North America, if not the world, has been paved over as a result of the Golden Ears Bridge, the Katzie First Nation site where they found evidence of pre-colonial agriculture,” said West.

The Golden Ears Bridge is part of the Gateway Program, which is about 10 per cent complete.

On the other side of the bridge another farm was lost. “The first colonial farm in British Columbia—the Hudson’s Bay Farm in Langley—it was actually a historical heritage site,” said West.

“A beautiful big blueberry farm that we tried to protect—an organic farm, family-owned—now has a road going right down the middle of it.” West also described a contemporary farm lost to the Gateway Program.

West sees Gateway as mostly causing destruction. But, the project has its supporters.

“Gateway Program is a series of transportation projects to complete the network of roads for the lower mainland that are necessary for the transport of goods and to assist with effective transit,” said Geoff Freer, Executive Director of the Gateway Program.

West disagrees.

“The Gateway that’s being referred to is actually a gateway to the Asia-Pacific corridor… So this really isn’t about moving folks from Surrey to Vancouver. It’s about moving goods in and raw materials like our forests, raw logs, coal from mines in British Columbia—about 20 million tons of it a year—and whole bunch of oil through pipelines to Asia,” he said

However, Freer thinks there are ecological benefits to the Program.

“Environmentally, one of the main objectives of the Gateway Program is to reduce congestion-related idling, which contributes to reduced regional air quality. By getting big trucks off neighborhood roads we will reduce the amount of smog and we will see a reduction in noise for these communities,” he said.

The highway will act as both a shipping corridor and a transit route. According to Freer, citizens consistently rate transportation as the number one issue in the region. “As we go forward there is going to be a million more people in the lower mainland over the next few years,” he said.

Freer sees Gateway as an opportunity to promote public transit: “Port Mann Highway is going to be tolled. That tolling is designed to discourage traffic and encourage people to go into transit. I think everybody agrees today that building more and more roads is not the answer.”

A BC Treasury Board study found that the petroleum industry produces three jobs for every $1 million spent. The automotive industry creates seven jobs while public transit creates 21 jobs for every $1 million spent.

A loss of land base to the Gateway, however, results in loss of contingent benefits such as the migratory bird flyway. One thousand hectares will be directly affected by highway pollution. “Ninety-seven hectares of our best farmland in Delta is slated to be lost… [and] the expected loss of farmland could feed 100,000 people,” according to Steves.

West agrees, saying he is more concerned with the resulting sprawl than the highway itself. He thinks government can mandate a strong line around ALR and build vertically rather than horizontally.

Freer, too, worries about sprawl, but offered no immediate solution. “The land use plan for the lower mainland that’s been in place for twenty years and that’s currently under review is trying to reduce the tendency towards urban sprawl.”

West said another problem at the root of Gateway is that the program is not a local initiative, but one put together by private interest and government. In spite of these frustrations, West feels power in mobilizing against the Gateway Program.

“It really is something that you become addicted to when you realize the power you have as a citizen, just as a regular person. If people care about something, it doesn’t matter who’s in government—they’re going to stop and listen to what the people want.”

West sees the Save the UBC Farm campaign as an effective three-way conversation. Students stopped housing development plans that would have reduced the university farm to one third its size. They did this by talking with Wilderness Committee and other news outlets. Plans for keeping the Farm as a “future housing reserve” changed. An academic plan was presented to the UBC Board of Governors in January. Academic Provost David Farrar said, “From my perspective this is a huge win. It’s huge for the university but more for the students.”

For West, a similar strategy can be used by citizens engaging with media to prevent the undesirable development of land. He sees the UBC Farm campaign as a small local victory. The Gateway Program is the large-scale national battle. Both battles are aimed at mitigating climate change by supporting local agriculture.

Micheala of Loranda Farms is still under pressure to sell her farmland. The “Farms not Freeways” billboard is gone, but as of April 25 a new banner snags the attention of drivers on the Alexander Fraser Bridge. In spite of provincial efforts to silence resistance to the Gateway Program, more direct action events are planned. Wilderness Committee will continue to push for three-way conversations between the organizations, citizens and the province.

Final funding for the Gateway Program is not secure. “It’s important to highlight that Gateway is actually a 20-step plan,” said West. “It’s not a done deal. But, it’s basically a plan to ramp up the industrialization of the BC coastline.”

Tent City at a Glance

This piece is a collection of thoughts, stories, meanings and critiques expressed by the supporters of Tent City. Keep in mind no one speaks on behalf of the entire community.

The money has been spent on the Olympics, now what?

“The government’s proven its ability to spend money and do things quickly when it feels the rush. So we’re asking why not view the issue of homelessness in the same way you view sports. They’re running a deficit but it doesn’t mean there’s no money they can find to build homes. The provincial government has $250 million set aside in a housing reserve that they’re not spending.”

– Maxim Winther of VanAct!

How does Tent City contrast the City of Vancouver?

“Here you’ve got privileged people working in the interest of oppressed peoples whereas outside of Tent City you’ve got privileged people working for themselves and ignoring the fact that oppression is happening.”

– Yifan Lee of Food not Bombs

How do processes enacted in Tent City counter the process of gentrification?

“Taking over public space that would normally be built into a condo and reclaiming that space is usually symbolic of processes that counteract the process of gentrification. We don’t often have control over what gets built. I think a lot of people don’t think about that. You do have control. This space here doesn’t have to be condos, it could be social housing. And look at how many people can live here on their own without the government saying we can be here. One of the ways this action will be effective is starting to bring in more social housing to the DTES.”

– Whitney Griswold of VanAct!

Some oppose an increase in welfare and minimum wage given the rationale that some may take advantage of government funds to fuel addictions, what is your response?

“Who says the government is not abusing the system? They give themselves a raise each year and they ain’t doing nothing new. Each year they line their own pockets. They ain’t doing nothing for this part of the city which is the poorest part of Vancouver. They’re only helping themselves, the rich community. They need to come down here and invest in us so that we can help ourselves and be a less burden on the taxpayers if we can look after ourselves and contribute to the debt that’s being brought by this 2010 Olympics because the tax payers are going to be paying through the nose for the next 20 or 30 years.

There’s a lot of people here they’re just waiting to at least have the opportunity to work. But if you don’t have no clothes, if you don’t have no toothbrush to brush your teeth, maybe your teeth are rotten, falling out how are you gonna go for an interview? Whose gonna hire you if you don’t look up to par? Nobody. So that requires more money. That requires the government getting their act together and saying yes. Those are somebody’s people, let’s take care of them.”

– Elaine Durochur of the Power to Women Group from the DTES Women’s Centre

Poverty is a relative term and homeless is major part of every urban centre, how does this one action fulfill the goal of ‘taking real action to end homelessness’?

“Ending homelessness is just as much of a process as ending gentrification, so it’s not going to happen with one action. You can’t have the defeatist perspective. You have to approach it from the perspective that you actually can. You have to realize that the people who live down here have been systematically marginalized and excluded for hundreds of years. There’s been at least a 100% increase in homelessness because of the Olympics and that’s not because people are making that choice. People have been pushed out of their homes. We can absolutely do something about that.”

– Whitney Griswold of VanAct!

What is the most interesting story to come out of Tent City?

“As a legal observer it is my position to be a legally neutral set of eyes on politically contentious situations. I volunteered my night because I am concerned that the truth is not always expressed in court when two sides of a conflict present contrasting stories. It was about 2am when I stood outside the front entrance of Tent City watching a potential assault situation unfold. The political success of Tent City was in jeopardy. A tall, built man walked up to the gate, clearly intoxicated. He quickly began to yell at the small crowd gathered outside upon being denied access to the City that is free to everyone. In this case, the City does not allow drinking or being drunk on premises. He was upset and gave the crowd a mouthful for awhile until a small woman had heard enough. “You little cocksucker, shut your fucking mouth before I kick it to the curb!” she exclaimed. A long list of profanities exploded into the street as the two jawed back and forth. Some stepped in between them. The woman decided that a boxing match was in order as she was a trained boxer. He was more than obliged as he stepped into boxing stance. At this point I stepped in and told the man that the cops would be here in minutes if he decided to strike the woman. He heard me but was clearly angry about the being called such nomenclatures by the woman. So he took of his belt and snapped it in the air. The woman did the same. Both were heated. She clearly loved every minute as far as I could tell by the smirk on her face. Just as it seemed the confrontation couldn’t continue any further without a violent situation unfolding, the words and bodies of the onlookers finally got through. The man backed down as the woman stepped off after holding her ground. A sign of relief went through the crowd. In the case, the group was not immobilized by the by-stander effect (where one person suffers a robbery while many people continue about their business). The woman who provoked the man made comments such as this is proof that women can stand up for themselves. Others thought she should have let the men dismiss him quietly with causing such a volatile situation. Either way, by the time I collected by my thoughts, I looked over to see the two supposed enemies standing next to each other joking, laughing, having a good time.”

– Ben Amundson of Legal Observers

How difficult is it to organize hundreds of autonomous individuals into uniting for one common pro-equity goal?

“Let’s do a tent city. The concept sounds great. Then you start thinking you know where are we gonna do it? How we gonna get there? Where are we gonna do it? How do the practicalities get set up? As you start working that out as a group and you have processes whereby you listen to people, their ideas, it takes a long time to filter that into some kind of coherent strategy. Not coherent in the sense that it’s restrictive but that it’s got a focus and it’s also flexible, you know you’re going to have to be dealing with factors you can’t predict. So how do you make sure you have the things in place that you can control and then set up structure loose enough to adjust to what you can’t control?

Well building towards a strategy that is flexible but open to contingency but as inclusive as possible in terms of welcoming participation in a variety of ways. “

– Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice

The protestors and creators of Tent City are not incapable of self-critique however:

How valid are the police brutality claims and supporting by-laws?

You have to have all the facts. The same people that complained about a man freezing on a street in Hastings where demanding to know why the police did not get the person in forcibly. It’s because they can’t. If you find a person on crystal meth on a frozen sidewalk and you phone the ambulance and it’s there ready to take him into the hospital and the person says no there’s nothing that can be done.

The Assistance to Shelter Act says that you can ask a person if they would like to go to a shelter. If they say yes, the police can drive them to a shelter. The people protested about that because it is impossible to know if people actually consent to that. But the alarm that I had was that a lot of us are old and senior citizens. We want to be assisted by the police. We could have a stroke and be out wandering in the middle of the street in the middle of the night wondering where we are because we’re all aging. My experience was that I had been assisted by the police to the hospital and they were quite kind to me. They did look at me like don’t go ballistic. They never mishandled me and said they would pray for me.

– Anonymous DTES apartment-renting resident

What’s the problem with relying on others to look after you?

“What were doing is taking food that would otherwise be wasted and cooking healthy hot meals for people that may not have access to a real healthy meal but the fact of the matter is there’s so much free food available on the DTES that people don’t necessarily have to provide for themselves. They can be completely dependent upon these free food handouts. I’m not so sure that’s a great thing. I think what we’re trying to do here is get homes built and end the necessity for those support structures and that dependency but at the same time by continuing this we may be perpetuating that dependency. I don’t know if that’s such a great thing.”

– Scott Gambrill of Food Not Bombs

How is this community created?

“So into the empty space we emerged and quickly set up some tents and tried to demarcate possible communal structures then came the fireplaces that offer sacred and communal gathering space around a fire so things emerged into more than 100 tents in this site and people coming and going but people gathering and food being brought in on a constant basis and taking in the contributions and what is being prepared and offering it to people in a crowd and evening times of poetry, singing and conversation and all this emerging out of individual initiates and coordinated actions, security being important to create a safe a space that is beneficial and the medics create a sense that there is multiplicity of elements at work that make it feel that you can relax…

So a guy told me his been staying in the shelters, he told me he hasn’t been sleeping that well. He comes here, he sleeps in a tent and he wakes up and it’s a beautiful morning. It recalls for him memories of his childhood that are really positive. This becomes a space where things emerge that are really beautiful.”

– Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice

What’s the point of creating Tent City?

“This direct action, it’s more than a political statement because there are people living here because they feel safe and because they like it and because it’s preferable to a shelter. We’ve created a home for people here. We’ve created a community for people that’s an example of how people can come together and work and create something beautiful.”

– Yifan Lee of Food Not Bombs

What point have we made here?

“The political aspect, in climate that is very concerned about image and making things look like everything is under control, is to have this eruption. An eruption that crosses lines of legality and illegality of who owns this space and who occupies this space, these kind of eruptions of those structures become opportunities to say something strong. The point is for this action to bright into a light in a powerful way, or in as powerful as we can together, the realities of homelessness, gentrification and criminalization of poverty…

It’s also an affirmation of a community. Not to sit around and wait for the state to give it opportunities to act or set the framework within which ways action can take place but for the community to say we can do this or to take the initiative. The development of a community both of local residents and of allies in a unified action that we can come together not just stand for a two-hour rally, or something like that, but to sustain it in way of living together, sharing a space together, I think those kinds of things deepen the possibilities of increased action…

…The question is where do we go from there, how do we take this there, that’s another challenge…”

– Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice

What’s the point?

“On one hand the Tent City is a means to an end, to demand specific things from the government and society. But it’s also it’s an end in and of itself. It’s a communal space where people share, they come together they share stories, their experiences. The rent here isn’t astronomical, there’s no one barking down your neck. There’s no police harassment here, it’s a safe spot to come together, to talk and be human and it’s got a lot of potential to grow.”

– Maxim Winther of VanAct!

Why are you here at Tent City?

“I can’t speak on behalf of everyone or for the community but only for myself now, remember. The big thing is to learn. For me a great sociology experiment, you I know just sit down right in the middle of it and just look around and do an observational study. It helps recharge me. To say, how do you treat people with respect? What are you trying to gain from this? What I’m trying to learn is how to get along. How do you bring this group of people together? What a great experiment! Social anarchy, ok? This is what Chomsky, McLuhan, UBC Prof Neil Guppy are talking about. All those people that I worked/studied under, tried to understand now I get to participate. How are we gonna get these guys to clean-up? So I said ok well what’s my part? One thing I can do is pick stuff up. I can keep the place lookin fairly clean out there so that we have a better public image. All sudden I had people sayin good job, looks nice so it felt good. It also gave me chance to be on the front line. To interact with people, so when people would come up to me and talk I would have to talk back, to respond and try to do it in way that brings ‘em in…

…Right now I feel like I’m sorta at the center of the center of the universe because I really believe all the eyes are on Vancouver right now 2010 this is a moment of history. We can make of it what we want. We get a chance to make it be something that people say o those people made a mess that’s all they did or we can say look what they did they built something beautiful. This is all possible and I see these people tryin to do something about it but coordinating all these people we got great energy but there’s also people with mental here, eh? How do we incorporate that? How do we find a room for them? Us, me with my mental illness and their mental illness and build this into a beautiful place? Social anarchy. What my part was, I saw something I could do, went and did it, so I felt good about that. So there’s a piece of the puzzle, I’m sure there’s lots more…”

– Anonymous DTES homeless resident

Rejected by border agents, Martin Macias Jr, is no longer visiting Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. Interrogated and detained by border officials, Macias lost his return ticket home when shipped via Alaskan Airlines to Seattle on Saturday, according to the Olympic Resistance Network.

According to an interview with Chris Shaw, Martin is now “planning to return to Chicago. He is a 20 year old student with limited resources so getting home will be difficult enough for him.”

According to CBC for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) wouldn’t discuss the specific case because of privacy issues, but said in an email Canada’s admissibility requirements will not change for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“He came here not to protest but to observe and report,” says Chris Shaw. His companion Bob Quellos of No Games Chicago entered the country Saturday.

In an interview with Vancouver Media Co-op Macias explained, “They looked at my notebook, they looked at my newspapers, looked in the phone books that I had in my bag, and they found a number in there which is from the conference, and it’s a support number, I guess in case you need something while you are in Vancouver, if you need food of shelter or if you have problems with the authorities, any issues with them, you can call that number. The customs agent, she saw that as a sign that I came to Vancouver with the intention of being involved in some kind of activity where I would possibly need support, in case I was arrested or in case I had issues with the authorities. And she saw that as reasonable grounds to refuse my entry.”

The ORN says this is not usual conduct for the CBSA. Heavily scrutinized by agents Amy Goodman, reporter for Democracy Now, barely made it through customs in November. Last Thursday and Friday, two Californian delegates were refused entry to attend an indigenous people’s assembly in the B.C. Interior. Spied upon by the Integrated Security Unit (Olympic policing body) UBC professor Chris Shaw is a domestic critic of the Olympics.

20-year-old Macias was prominent member of No Games Chicago. According to the Huffington Post, he visited the international Olympic headquarters in Switzerland and then Copenhagen, Denmark to deliver materials documenting the reasons why Chicago should not have been awarded the games. Chicago will not be a 2016 host city after a failed bid attempt.

He is also a youth social-justice organizer and host/producer of First Voice, a radio news station. He reported on the 2008 Democratic National Convention and Power Shift 2009. Currently, he is the chair of Peace Committee at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Poverty Kicks Off in Vancouver

Creepy the cockroach, Chewy the rat and Itchy the bedbug laid claim to the mascot hosts of the 2010 Poverty Olympics. “All those promises that they made to get the Games here they’re not here,” announced Robert Bonner Sunday February 7. VANOC, federal, provincial and city officials promised four things as part the Olympic bid.

Appointed by the provincial government, the Inner City Inclusive Housing Table (ICI) prescribed how to meet Olympic promises and consisted of business, government and community organizations. One out of five promises made concerning poverty and housing was carried fully as described by their unanimous recommendations. The Poverty Olympics, held at the Japanese Hall, aimed to showcase the fact that none of these promises stuck and the recommendations ignored.

The Olympic satire included a province-wide torch relay, capped off by the Opening Ceremonies. The poverty torch finished its walk from Golden, BC in one years time.

A participant, Clyde Wright, explained why over 20 different groups collaborated on the event by saying, “(We’re here) to let the government know that more social housing is needed, minimum wage needs to be increased, support for welfare needs to be increased.”

This fact was supported a statistic broadcast by the Citywide Housing Coalition, “A 2007 BC government study calculated $55,000 of non-housing services is spent annually on each homeless person. They also found that adequate housing with support services would cost $37,000 per person – a savings of $18,000 per person.”

Inside, the event consisted of opening and closing ceremonies plus the poverty games. The game, Housing Hurdles, was deemed a crowd favorite by loud hoots and hollers as women attempted to nail down affordable housing in Vancouver after jumping several hurdles.

Their point hit home when Bonner later announced that, “The provincial government has got a housing endowment fund of $250 million dollars that is just sitting in a bank. All their doing is just sitting on the interest from that money. They can spend 178 million on skating oval that’s already sinking but they can’t build us houses.”

The same morning Vancouver City Councilor Ellen Woodsworth began a 7 day hunger fast as part of the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay. The hunger strike will continue with a new participant each week until June 2010.

In response to poverty in BC, Premier Campbell explains to CBC that “We have invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars, which, to be candid, has nothing to do with the Olympics.”

Woodsworth gave a global perspective on the issue, “We’re the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.”

Bonner closed his speech by explaining the current context at the 2010 Poverty Olympics “What could the government do if it weren’t spending billions on the Olympics? It could virtually end poverty and homelessness. End poverty. It’s not a game.” By the end of games on Sunday, the audience had eaten Creepy the Coachroach cake.

Notes

“The call is for people to support 1% of the federal budget, $2 billion to go to this national program and $2 billion of provincial money to go this program and that if we can spend over $6 billion in the Olympics let’s spend that kinda money for the long-term sustainability for everyone.” – David Bonner

“It’s not the bonanza for everybody that people seem to think it is, it’s not you know like actually. When the dust clears, I think we’ll have a better idea of how much damage has been done.” – David Bonner

It just does not make economic social or moral sense to have people sleeping homeless so for one week I will be drawing attention to the fact that we have serious homelessness in the city after receiving a smudging and a large kitcehnspoon to symbolize her week-long hunger strike.” – Ellen Woodsworth

Four Important Housing-Related Promises Left Unkept

One: to create an affordable housing legacy. Two: to protect rental housing. Three: to make sure homelessness did not increase. Four: to make sure poor residents are not involuntarily displaced, evicted or subject to unreasonable rent hikes as a result of the Games.

Average income for poor BC parents is over $11,000 BELOW the poverty line

Source: 2008 BC Campaign 2000 Child Poverty Report Card, November 2008

“Greed is killing you, me, everybody here and we all know but nobody does anything about it. Everybody’s going broke because of greed.” – Clyde Wright

Today, a 5th year Physics Engineering student from my close circle of friends sent me a txt message. He wrote:

“Dude did u get elected? U should blog about how ubc hated trek park and they ended up making it… Also the road paver in front of the park hasnt been used for a couple of weeks and it must cost at least a thousand bucks a day to rent.”

My extended answer includes a few questions about how this may actually be handled by the current and future student government. There’s some debate about whether ‘Commerce’ has ever been considered an academic discipline. This debate usually cannot last much unless one’s understanding of history is very limited.  The short answer is obviously ‘NO’, but the more realistic one, coming from current evidence on how voting students have chosen their leaders, is that ‘as long as it is considered a science of marketing products, ‘YES’. Therefore, my prediction is that Trek Park will be co-opted by the AMS and the administration. Current leaders may take full credit for it if they wish to do so, despite their absolute non involvement.

The Ubyssey will run news articles designed to make their friends look better and to keep people with a critical opinion uninvolved. They will also make sure that the myth that student resistance is futile is perpetuated to the fullest, ensuring that apathy keeps the ‘wrong’ people (i.e., those who can actually empower students) out of the picture. This has been happening the most recently, and we are expecting the trend to continue this year (e.g., ‘Symbolic Victory” and MY CRITIQUE). There is also MORE EVIDENCE of how the Ubyssey has openly attacked students who were trying to make a difference – not a single quote of an idea proposed by a student candidate is provided, but students running for positions are put down without a second thought. In a cleverer move, after comments against the libelous article were put online, the Ubyssey chose to print the words of only one of the VP Academic candidates, in a very prominent position – in a pretentious display of self-righteousness posturing to favor surreptitiously the candidate which those who decide what goes to print support.

Back to the concerns of my engineer friend, we can make sure that there will be absolutely NO REPERCUSSION WHATSOEVER to the fact that money is being wasted on a particular development process on campus. Of course, the idea of having Trek Park right there is obviously so superior to the thought of an underground bus loop construction backyard that even if they are wasting money, they can just point out that they are creating green space and take the credit. The tactic of having expensive rental equipment laying around is obviously a commercial technique designed to give money to the developers that are friends with members of the Board of Governors. With Bijan as newly elected AMS President, the AMS will be backing up anything that the administration decides to do. His election should be a great relief to people in the administration who otherwise may have been held responsible for mismanagement of the 15 million dollars (and change) they released for the construction of the bus loop based on questionable evidence.

Anyone who has been tuned to what’s been going on recently knows that the newly elected AMS President, as a Board of Governors student rep this past year, voted IN FAVOR of the UNDERGROUND BUS LOOP, which luckily failed; and also IN FAVOR of RAISING TUITION, which, you may have noticed, CONTRADICTS the ONLY REFERENDUM QUESTION that was passed in these past elections. Also, during the BOG debates last year, Bijan told students that having a position that we need 24 hectares for the Farm was “not helpful”. So, you may be wondering, what happened to have someone like this elected? Well, the students who are voting do support raising tuition, an underground bus loop and a smaller farm, and this makes sense, because these are strictly commercial concerns and Bijan is an MBA student.

One thing we know for sure, Bijan sure is able to run a campaign against the odds and win. This is remarkable. Overwhelmingly, the student media rejected Bijan and did not write many positive things about him. They called him a dinosaur, said he had been spoiled by his close relations with UBC President Stephen Toope, and even booed him during debates. One would have thought that things were not going well for Bijan, also because Mike Duncan was supporting Natalie Swift, and she counted with the support of a professional campaign manager on her side (on volunteering duty, of course). Still, this was not enough. Was it class announcements, was it Fraternity support? For sure that counted. I believe it is possible to argue that Bijan was being as badly received by the media as I was being , but the reasons were very different. Some students with blogs that comment what their friends at the AMS and themselves are doing did not see in a good light my involvement with the creation of the Graduate Student handbook of 2008, bringing back the Grad Magazine or restructuring the GSS website.

On the other hand, Bijan just was not friends with people in the media, plain and simple, and his disagreements with Duncan, who campaigned actively for Swift, created a cleavage in the media. Bijan’s winning is a major upset for many people, especially those involved with raising awareness about the flaws of the Campus Plan. We shall now go through a golden period in which anything the university does will be praised. In my case, as soon as I realized that what I was saying during debates was not being passed on to students, I knew that campaigning when marketing matters more than ideas was not going to pay off.

The lesson for this year is that it all boils down to effective campaigning if you want to get an AMS exec job. Your background, ability, the quality of your ideas and your knowledge of the issues matter very little. One of the reasons for that is that there is not enough time for people to actually think about the ideas (two weeks). We also face the issues of extensive apathy and systemic lack of information on the activities of the student government. Most people only hear about it when someone does something outrageous. The current VP Academic took several trips around the world on our money (not so widely known as how the past one voted for himself multiple times and was still allowed to remain on the job [his friends were all in Council, of course]), and the lobby day ate up about 9k that could have funded student research; the VP Finance made unfortunate public statements comparing his peers with war criminals, and the unimpeachable President issued a complaint about raising tuition levels, not following what was perceived as due process, but conforming directly with the will of the majority of students according to the last referendum.

Unless there was fraud, the students are getting what they want for this year – people with marketing skills, campaigning abilities, and looks. It is democracy at work through our very own ‘model democracy’. I owe this insight to a good friend of mine, but the fact of the matter is simple – student execs can mess up with their duties and positions as much as they want and there will be little consequence. I was told this by a veteran during my first weeks as councilor back in the golden age (when we had Trek Park and stopped the shopping mall from coming). The point this veteran was making was that the budget, every year, will keep on replenishing itself with fees, and the execs cannot possibly really damage the society, because it is actually run by professional and usually very highly competent staff (otherwise the society would be in real trouble). The execs can get a lot of things done, however, and this time we can only hope that the things they do may not accentuate the commercialization of academic culture.

A note from the AMS Elections Administrator:

To all those concerned:

The Elections Committee would like to announce a correction regarding the AMS Elections referendum questions:

Question 2: “Do you support the removal of Blake Frederick from the office of President?” did not pass, and did not reach quorum. It received 3542 votes in favour, and 1432 votes against.

Question 8: “Should the AMS actively lobby for reduced tuition fees and increased government funding?” reached quorum and passed. It received 3844 votes in favour, and 910 votes against.

Reorganization of the output of the ballot referendum questions led to misappropriation of tabulated results. The Elections Committee regrets the error.

Thank you,

During the Fall term of 2009, the UBC Geography department offered a student-directed-seminar on “Environmental Communications: Improving our Food System by Increasing Awareness”. Ben Amundson, a Global Resource Systems (GRS) student, initiated the seminar which covered issues of local food security and community building. Even though I did not need to take any courses this Fall semester to complete my Master degree, I had told Ben, back in the Spring of 2009, that if he went ahead with the course, I would join it.

Every single student in the class is a UBC Farm supporter, and we soon realized that the recent history of the UBC Farm had to be made available for incoming and current students who are not yet aware of what is going on. This is a systemic problem we are facing. Incoming students are bombarded with propaganda and marketing about UBC’s resources that does not provide much information on what the UBC Farm is, why it is important, how it can be incorporated by students in their own research, why it is being threatened, and what we can do about it.

In addition, there has been considerable student resistance to the official consultation processes imposed by the UBC administration. In particular, vociferous opposition emerged naturally among students, faculty and staff, after Campus and Community Planning (CCP), responsible for the official consultation process, presented predetermined plans to the community that did not include an option in which the UBC Farm was left untouched in its current 24 hectare size and location.

Back in 2008, I began collecting video footage on my spare time that documented the development of the student struggle against the preset CCP plans to reduce the size of the UBC Farm, to move it away, and to build towers over the site, getting rid of the important forest buffer that surrounds it. At one point, when I was an elected student representative at the CCP steering committee, we were forced to watch a presentation by a contractor hired by the administration in which he showed a model with 16 skyscrapers littering the current UBC Farm.

Students got together, collected 15 thousand signatures in support of the UBC Farm, and approached the Metro Vancouver Council, asking for their support. They received unanimous support from the wider Vancouver community to protect the Farm, maintaining its current size and location. Students want it expanded and expanding, but the university is arguing they need to come up with an huge amount of square footage in order to support its projections for an ever increasing student population.

We decided to conceive, together as a group, a video that would bring to students the basic facts about the UBC Farm from a students’ perspective. Andrea Morgan, former president of the Friends of the Farm AMS Club, agreed to participate and share her take on the most significant events that have taken place. Morgan has been deeply involved with the Farm throughout this struggle to secure it, and was one of the key organizers of the Great Farm Trek, which brought over 2000 people to the UBC Farm on April 7th 2009.

We have made available a 3 part, 14 minute long preview version of the movie, available now at youtube. We named it “Saving the UBC Farm: 24 Hectares and More!”:

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTKRdzfe_go>

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PXVBEq1jqo>

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50tpfspymAM>

We are looking for ways to improve the video and to refine it, keeping in mind incoming students and those who are looking for an introduction on the issue. The final version will be considerably longer and more detailed.

All critical remarks are welcome. If you would like to participate in any way, send us an email <cosmoartist@gmail.com>. We are looking forward to collect more student testimonies and to incorporate student art on this project (e.g., music, pictures, drawings, etc).

How far has the influence of Canadian political parties ruptured relationships between students, and trampled over the larger interests of the UBC student community? The recent move taken by outspoken students who are members of the BC Liberals on council to impeach AMS President Blake Frederick and VP External Tim Chu might be a consequence of how indoctrinated into party politics are politically active UBC students.

As an international student, and as part of the university community since 2003, I found the intrusion of local political parties into student life disgusting. Now, the tuition skyrocket problem exploded because the Liberals are in power and are responsible for raising tuition against the agreement signed with the United Nations. Deeply indoctrinated students who faithfully serve Liberals and who have taken council over as a resume padder for their own personal political goals, are now over-reacting against Frederick, and committing the same mistake he apparently committed.

AMS Council went ahead with their personal crusade against Blake and Tim, asking them to resign, without properly consulting with bodies such as the Graduate Student Society. This will prove to be like shooting themselves on their own foot. Apart from being quite the most self-righteous and hypocritical move to have ever come out of student politics in the last 6 years I have been here. Even when the renowned and controversial Graduate Student Handbook came out, there was no attempt to impeach those responsible, even though there was a failed attempt to censure free speech. In this case, Blake did not break any policies. He simply did what he had told everyone he was going to do, which was to go to external agencies, the wider and highest possible, in order to make the issues we are facing known to the world, since the administration has been turning a deaf ear to students ever since they began doing ‘consultations’ for development.

Let us not forget that the people hired for over 1 million dollars to come with the worst consultation spree ever experienced by the UBC student body are part of the Liberal party who controls their drones on Council (e.g., Naylor). This is somehow not a significant conflict of interest, nor somehow is the fact that developers chosen to conduct some of the most heinous luxury market housing schemes ever experienced in this campus (i.e., Wesbrook place and Chancellor place) are personal friends of Premier Gordon Campbell (responsible for funding cuts, ending women’s centers, and other issues).

So how can we explain the fact that we let President Toope and Mr. Brad Bennett (does not even hold a master degree) slip away with a 400k minimum hole in the endowment, and that when a student who is doing what he said he was going to be doing finally does it, we raise arms and try to kick him out? The only problem here is that, upon a serious external review, when it is finally shown that the executive is actually hired to take action conforming to policy, and that in the past, the executive has made a lot of decisions without consulting council, and when we are able to demonstrate particular careerist councilors links to Canadian politics, we should reach the conclusion that it is the interests of politicians that are being served, and not those of students.

I find it hilarious that some student councilors always claim that they are in constant contact with ‘their constituents’ and are never asked to actually prove it. They come out announcing ‘an overwhelming amount of furious students want me to do this’, but they are never held accountable for such statements, never prove they are actually being instructed by their constituents and how. This is a double standard. Another trend is that they are ‘always right’ and performing their duties beyond anyone else’s expectations, somehow better than the people who are actually being paid to do it. Another trend is that they are always blogging out of usually a self-serving and self-centered position, posing as ‘experts’, and using each other blogs in the claim that they represent the widest possible range of opinions on campus.

It is also contradictory the fact that students are not allowed to run in slates but are allowed to join political parties. It is ludicrous, especially for international students, and it ultimately undermines and prevents their participation. I wonder what would happen if we had a policy (in AMS and the Senate) stating that direct affiliation with any political party would make you ineligible for student politics and a VP position in the administration. It would eventually clean up council and the administration from the manipulation of party politicians. I wonder how many people would pass the political party test in Council, including all of the execs. If that became a policy, my bet is that we would have to get rid of 80% or more of council.

And the decision to ‘retract’ the UN complaint – what a joke. So the UN will read the complaint, see it makes sense, then pretend to ignore it because a body of angry overreacting and mainly ‘Liberal party affiliated’ students are afraid it might actually have an impact? So the Canadian government signs something and it is not our job to hold them responsible. If we don’t, who will? I am pretty sure that the following shall happen if the Liberals in the AMS have it their way, and it will be worst for them: What will happen is that the AMS will retract the complain and the Graduate Student Society (GSS) will file the complaint on their own behalf. Then we shall see who will look ultimately ridiculous. It will be one of those proverbial ‘laughs better who laughs last’ type of deals. Let us relax and watch people make themselves more foolish with their hot heads.

This essay is an investigation into recent media regarding the underground bus loop development project failure at UBC. The AMS President Blake Frederick issued a public report to the university, saying that the university President, Dr. Toope should be held accountable for the failure of a project that had been a ‘flawed’ from the beginning.

Dr. Toope wrote a letter back to Frederick complaining about the AMS report on the bus loop. Strong language is used on both sides, and the Ubyssey has attacked Frederick viciously because of his reprimand through an editorial (i.e., Ubyssey editors 2009a).

Frederick almost got ‘censured’ by the AMS council for his press release, but won through a close margin 21/17. The Ubyssey uses the same language Frederick used to describe the administration to describe Frederick, defending the university administration stance, and mirroring their rhetoric and explanations.

This work is an attempt to analyze the language in both sides of the argument, from source documents that include official publications and letters from the AMS and the University administration, as well as student media articles (not of our authorship) related to the bus loop issue.

THE AMS PRESS RELEASE: Reactions and Background

With the AMS press release, the UBC administration felt threatened with what Prof. Stephen Toope, UBC President, argues, are ‘unfounded allegations’. We will go into considerable detail on the words associated by Toope with the present AMS administration later. We shall focus now on how Frederick put the current administration under pressure, and whether or not there were precedents for calling for their accountability.

In the AMS press release (AMS 2008), it is stated that “[t]he decision to have one central below-grade bus terminal on campus emerged from the 2003 Campus Transit Plan—prior to any public consultation”. This seems like the beginning of the “grave allegations” and the ‘odd’, ‘intemperate and ‘injurious’ tone (Toope 2009) of the AMS press release, attributed, at least in blame, to Frederick alone. However, before Toope was hired for over 500k CAD/year, the AMS issued a press release entitled “UBC Passes Development Plan Despite Student Opposition”, which stated that “despite concerns raised by all present elected members of the Board” the “UBC Board of Governors passed a motion to endorse the University Boulevard Neighbourhood Plan”. Note that the distinction between what ‘elected’ members of the Board and the ‘unelected’ think is sharp.

This ‘plan’, states the press release, “will see the bus loop moved underground, shops and services built directly outside the Student Union Building and developments of university housing to be rented at market rental rates” (AMS 2003). This press release, issued on the same day of the Board of Governor’s (BoG) decision, set a strong precedent to Frederick’s late press release that caused so much fury in the mainstream student press (see Jung 2009 and Ubyssey Editors 2009a).The consultation was already biased and problematic, and the opposition to the tunnel was never fully considered, despite the efforts of people like Dr. Darren Peets (see Peets 2008).

“[T]he University”, continued the AMS press release of 2003, “had not outlined a timeline, the stakeholders involved, the method or form of consultation or the process as to how stakeholder recommendations would be incorporated” (AMS 2003). Students were already worried, in 2003, that their ideas were not being considered before decisions were made. Eventually, through a lot of activism, students were able to stop the shopping mall project and the market housing the administration had envisioned.

“I am disappointed that the Board of Governors did not recognize the importance in supporting and allowing for the student consultation process to continue. It is imperative that student’s are actively involved in the overall process as they represent a major stake holder in the campus planning projects,” –Amina Rai, Elected Student BoG member (AMS 2003).

Now, was Frederick’s ‘tone’, notably a very subjective notion, inappropriate? We shall consider how it compares with Prof. Toope’s tone in his retaliatory letter (Toope 2009). The ‘Frederick’ press release of 2009 stated that the failure of the bus loop project “will severely damage students’ confidence in UBC’s campus planning”. He also complained that UBC was not responding to an AMS “request for information on how much money they have squandered on the underground bus loop” which “could be in the millions”, a lot of ‘money’ “UBC has wasted” (AMS 2009). The strong words here are the ‘squandering’ and ‘waste’. This received a sharp direct response by Toope (2009) and the Ubyssey editorial (2009a), each focusing on a different ‘hot’ term employed by Frederick. For instance, the Ubyssey editorial attacks Frederick for having “squandered any chance of students playing a meaningful role of making sure the Olympics doesn’t cause undue disruption to this campus in February” (Ubyssey editors 2009a); and Toope (2009) complaints about ‘unproductive’ negotiations with AMS on the SUB and Olympic projects, leading to “true mismanagement and waste”.

In addition, the AMS President argued that “UBC President Stephen Toope and the UBC Board of Governors must be held accountable for their mismanagement of UBC’s funds” (AMS 2009). I believe, as hired officials, they would be accountable for any instance of mismanagement. The important question now is – was there mismanagement of any sort in the process leading to the release of funds to the terminal and tunnel, and later with the TransLink funding cuts? According to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act of British Columbia, students can request, and the university cannot deny, the following information:

(i) a feasibility or technical study, including a cost estimate, relating to a policy or project of the public body,
(j) a report on the results of field research undertaken before a policy proposal is formulated,
(k) a report of a task force, committee, council or similar body that has been established to consider any matter and make reports or recommendations to a public body,
(m) information that the head of the public body has cited publicly as the basis for making a decision or formulating a policy, or
(n) a decision, including reasons, that is made in the exercise of a discretionary power or an adjudicative function and that affects the rights of the applicant.

If we take a look at the Board of Governor’s minutes from the May 2007 meeting, chaired by Brad Bennett, and with Prof. Toope as the recently hired University President, we will see that the reasons given by the administration for not considering the ‘petitions presented by students expressing “their concern about the underground portion of this building project” were that:

“A number of studies and reports over several decades have supported an underground tunnel and transit station as the only sustainable way of managing campus transit needs. Administration is supportive of further consultation with respect to above ground University Boulevard buildings.
“Information from Translink in regard to future services has been considered; the proposal does meet their long-term approach to transit on campus. Issues of noise and ventilation have been discussed at length and will be satisfactorily addressed.
“Translink is responsible for security and take the issue very seriously. Any delay in approval would likely result in a 12-month delay, delaying completion o f the overall project until 2010. Delay would also impact commitments and agreements with various external partners and may result in more stringent obligations being imposed on the University during the upcoming OCP review” (BoG meeting minutes, May 22, 2007).

According to these statements by the administration, there are no possible alternatives to the underground tunnel, because it is the “only sustainable way of managing campus transit needs” (BoG 2007). At this point, after defeating the motion to table the decision, they approved the release of  $15,505,000 for the “road, utilities, and tunnel”. As highlighted above, students have the right to demand to examine the “number of studies and reports over several decades” that have led them to conclude, without consulting students and ignoring their petitions, that the tunnel was the “only sustainable way” to deal with transit issues at UBC. The key question in this case is the definition of ‘sustainability’. How could what Dr. Darren Peets described as a “diesel-soot-blackened tunnel, followed by a well-lit and possibly well-finished crowded concrete basement” with a surface taken over by “shopping, parking and a plaza” (Peets 2008) fulfill the university’s sustainability needs?

Toope (2009) explained in his letter of retribution to Frederick that “[t]he fact that this plan cannot go forward is due entirely to the budget problems of our partner in the project, Translink”. He also assures, with ‘absolute clarity’ that “no construction has been carried out on the tunnel” and that an “inclusive process to explore viable transportation options will now be undertaken”. Toope still holds on to the position that students were wrong in all their concerns about the bus loop, since “the Administration and Board remain of the view that the below-grade station was the strongly preferred approach for maximizing user access and safety in a lively, student-oriented square, including substantial traffic for the new SUB and its programs and services” (Toope 2009). What should be investigated is the administration’s extreme confidence that the tunnel was the best way to proceed. After all, the AMS even has an official policy against the tunnel. The official AMS position, passed in council on May 2nd 2007, is to “support and endorse the petition against the current University Boulevard development plan” and to “oppose the current University Boulevard Neighbourhood plan and design”.

The AMS argued that the consultations with students were “vastly inadequate” and that “the more than $30 million funding for the underground bus loop […] would be more appropriately spent on more cost-effective transit models and on improving greatly needed services such as daycare, for which there is currently a waiting list of 1300”. The Board of Governors subsequently ignored this policy and determined that the underground bus loop was the only sustainable way to go, even if it was against the will of the AMS and those 2600 students who signed their names into a petition circulated during finals. The AMS also noted that ”the unexpandable underground bus loop would not physically be able to accommodate future increases to transit service to campus, and would not serve the needs of students or University Town residents”, and that the students were “dismayed by the proposed elimination of the grassy knoll, the lack of green space in the project, and project’s plan to allow car traffic along University Boulevard from Wesbrook Mall to East Mall, which will disrupt the atmosphere and decrease the safety of the area” (AMS policy, May 2nd 2007).

Given all this information, it seems that Frederick’s (i.e., the AMS’s) claim that the $400,000 spent on the design of a facility that will not be built were ‘wasted’ may be not only true, but also due to mismanagement. After all, the students even made an official policy stating their opposition to this part of the project and the university administration would not budge no matter what. The administration keeps talking about sustainability and meaningful consultations, taking into account people’s opinions. If you look at the minutes for their consultation sessions, you will find that there are usually not even 100 people in a predetermined consultation session. Meanwhile, 2600 students signed the AMS petition and their voices were ignored, even if they were going to be apparently the final ‘beneficiaries’ of this project.

As Dr. Darren Peets has noted (2008), the “decision to build entirely below grade and the plans for the development atop it were made prior to consultation, and the public consultation followed UBC’s then-standard model of design-display-defend”. This characterization of the UBC consultation process as based on a  “standard model of design-display-defend” seems quite accurate, especially given the whole process that led students to organize for the Great Farm Trek of April 7th 2009 to defend the Farm from the administration’s plan to turn it into housing, again, despite the usual “consistent, vociferous criticism” (Peets 2008) the consultation process draws from students. For Peets (2008) as for many students, the underground bus loop would have cost $31 million to UBC that

“would otherwise either be in the endowment, building childcare, beautifying campus, or creating social space. A bus terminal may be nice to have, but $31M nice? Is a student more likely to drop out of school from lack of childcare, or from an extra block’s walk in the rain?” Peets (2008).

There seems to be a degree of systemic confusion regarding the problems with the underground bus loop, consultations, and mixing all that with the arrests of April 4th 2008. Costeloe (2009), for example, complaining that Frederick was not censured, argues that the AMS takes a soft line when it comes to punishing executives who “are out of line”. Costeloe also mixes a bunch of other issues into his opinion piece, including divisions in the student body regarding the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ impacts of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Green College has been hosting a critical series on the Olympics that has been quite informative and that was set up in response to many students’ uneasiness with the uncritical pro-Olympics stance of the administration. It seems like, under no possible circumstance Costeloe would assume that the position of the administration regarding the underground portion of the new bus loop was problematic. He mentions as an example Stef Ratjen, former AMS VP External, who, he claims,‘incited a riot’, disobeyed “lawful orders, blocking firemen, and finally being dragged off into a cop car”.

As an eye-witness to the ‘events’ that Costeloe, the Vice-Chair of the UBC Vancouver Senate, is apparently referring to here, I can attest that Ratjen did not incite a riot, nor got “dragged off into a car”. She was indeed sprayed in the face with a hose and thrown into the ground with the face in the foam for five minutes, and got handcuffed, because she had approached the firemen to ask them to allow students to take out their musical equipment, still plugged into the university grid. Ratjen had not been around for much of the music festival and petition drive that was happening before, and showed up after the fire was lit. In any case, she had nothing to do with the fire, which was the product of a couple of individuals’ actions without any previous consent of the crowd. When I saw the fire, I realized that there would be problems, but there was nothing that I could do, except to take pictures. The fire itself went on for over an hour before the ‘authorities’ noticed and began setting up their troops to ‘crack down’ on the ‘unlawful-festival-organizing-dancing-around-the-bonfire students’. Later, while she was being kept face down into the foam by the ‘lawful’ firemen and handcuffed, students, in solidarity, jumped into the foam and locked arms with Ratjen until the cops released her from the cuffs and took her documents.

The rest is history – students believed that her release set a precedent for the release of a person that had been wrongfully arrested and brutally manhandled in front of me and other eye-witnesses, and moved to surround the police car in which he was being held. Upon the arrival of more police troops, some students remained sitting around the police car, and ‘obstructing justice’, and they were subsequently dragged, threatened with tazers, and taken into jail for one night. Ratjen was hit by the misfortune of being subjected to the attacks of people who could only pass judgment from the distance the media on the issue provided. Yes, some people did get too excited and out of line, and that was problematic, but this was not the spirit of the manifestation, but a misfortune that stigmatized it in the eyes of the cold and judgmental outside onlookers. Still, although this group of people was opposed to the underground bus loop, the extent of that opposition transcended the social realm of the so-called ‘hippie’ left (e.g., AMS 2003, AMS 2007, Peets 2008).

Costeloe has also expressed concerns about a ‘sickness’ that is afflicting the AMS by influence of its executive, and seems to be still unconvinced about the extent of the student opposition to the underground bus-loop (see Jung 2009). Michael Duncan, past AMS President and current Board of Governors elected student representative thought that the move to censure Blake Frederick, apparently brought forward by Bijan Ahmadian, who works personally for Prof. Toope, was an over-reaction.

Duncan argued, after the motion to censure Frederick failed that “people blow these kind of things out of proportion and that the university deals with these kind of things all the time” (Jung 2009). In addition, Duncan stated, “[a] lot of students oppose this bus loop and [Blake] is trying to represent the interest of the society and of students” (Jung 2009). At least in Duncan’s position, Blake Frederick is doing the right thing to inform student about the failure of the tunnel and to demand accountability for those responsible.

If the university has nothing to fear, they would have not taken Frederick so seriously, because they would have nothing to lose. The problem, I would guess, is that if people really investigate critically how decisions were made regarding the tunnel, it would be proven that students’ input was not seriously considered or even properly surveyed. The least we should know in detail is who were the contractor beneficiaries of the money that was spent, and the substance and credibility of the studies conducted to make the administration conclude that the ‘underground bus loop was the only sustainable way to go’ (BoG 2007). Toope’s letter, however, was a very strong response. I will now take a detailed look at the language Prof. Toope employs in his letter and whether it is appropriate and professional. If Toope’s letter is an over-reaction, we should be wondering why. If it is granted on our principles of engagement, we should try to figure out how.

TOOPE’s RESPONSE LETTER:

Let us concentrate on the facts first – how exactly does UBC President, Dr. Stephen Toope, characterize the current AMS administration, and Blake Frederick’s actions? The Ubyssey (2009a) editorial refers to Blake’s letter as a ‘poke in the eye’ of the university, like ‘kicking a dead dog’. But Toope’s retaliatory letter, that essentially condemns Frederick to oblivion and social alienation, with possible grave repercussions to a student’s future and career, was more like a nuclear explosion than a ‘poke in the eye’.

In Toope’s letter (Toope 2009), the AMS and Frederick are associated with an ‘unproductive strain’, “true mismanagement and waste”, the ‘firm declination’ of offers to present to students the views of the administration (i.e., intransigence), an ‘aggravated climate’ that could have a “corrosive impact” on the “reputation” of the university – something “destructive” that led to the ‘erosion of goodwill’ through ‘grave, unfounded, intemperate, and injurious allegations’. Those are the ideas put forward in Toope’s letter about the AMS. Toope also does a lot of work defending his own position and listing ‘positive’ things that he has been trying to get done but that have been supposedly hindered by Frederick, the scapegoat, and his executive. For instance, Toope and the administration will undertake “an inclusive process to explore viable transportation options”. He also claims to be “absolutely clear” that “no construction has been carried out on the tunnel”, that the “new Place and Promise Strategic Plan focusing on student learning, sustainability and other commitments is emerging” and that “confidence is growing in the donor community” , that “we are finally making some headway on negotiations for the new SUB”, and that “the Vancouver Campus Master Plan is coming to fruition”, all of which have been now compromised.

For many observers, this seems like an emotional over-reaction possibly related to fear, or having something to hide from the public. What it certainly does is to divert the focus from the actual problem (i.e., the $400,000 minimum already spent on the bus loop), and into Frederick and his ‘tone’. Toope’s letter triggered automatic emotional reactions by the student media, which seems irresponsible. I believe that if the administration is absolutely correct about their claims and had nothing to fear about the underground bus loop and the expenses that went into its design instead of going into more important areas (e.g., funding and childcare), they would have dismissed Frederick’s press release with softer words and simply correct his ‘misinformation’ by proving that students favour the bus-loop. The problem is that such a thing is impossible, given the 2500 signatures and the official AMS (2007) policy, in addition to all the evidence of student disappointment with the consultation process.

If this issue is seriously investigated by an unbiased external agency, I believe that it will be proven that, at the very least, consultations were inadequate, and the studies cited by the administration in the Board of Governor’s meeting minutes of May 22nd 2007 were outdated and did not take student input into considerations (for more on the technical problems with the bus loop see Peets 2008). I believe the readers should be able to figure out on their own whether the response to the AMS press release by Prof. Toope was appropriate and professional (i.e., not hypocritical).

WHAT NOW? RECENT DEVELOPMENTS:

The repercussions of the failure of the underground bus-loop project and the altercation between Frederick and an aggravated and defensive Toope are still coming out in the mainstream student media. The Ubyssey recently published another editorial piece (2009b) informing students that “AMS President Blake Frederick and UBC President Stephen Toope met on Friday and made steps toward reconciling their issues regarding the underground bus loop project”. It would be reasonable to hypothesize that Toope realized, after the fact, that his letter was disproportionally strong, condemnatory, not diplomatic, and careless, which is what some people were ready to accuse Frederick of on account of ‘his’ press release. The Ubyssey characterized Toope’s response as “unusually strong and condemning” (Ubyssey editors 2009b). According to the article, Frederick and Toope got together to make a commitment to “move past the issue of the underground bus loop”, because the project “will be cancelled” and the AMS and the administration “need to work together” (Ubyssey editors 2009b). Now Frederick and Toope shall be forgiven and come out with a beautiful, inclusive plan, and forget about past offenses. Again, the university should avoid any more investigations into the underground bus-loop decision-making process.

What could be suggested as a good solution that would allow the current administration to escape from scrutiny would be the serious implementation of a program to assess student opinions in development issues that allowed for constant and transparent live feedback that is translated into actual projects. The administration will have to prove that the UBC Farm is a priority that should be expanded and fully funded (it could have used a lot of that underground bus-loop money, for instance).

We can imagine countless better applications for the money that is luckily not going to be spent with the underground bus loop project. The university should team up with the AMS to envision proper feedback collection strategies that can identify how students would like to see funding allocated. One line of reasoning that could be implemented is that being stakeholders because of their tuition funding, students should be in charge (or have more power over) how that money gets allocated. Even if they are not the final decision makers, the university should at least find out what their opinion is regarding an ideal funding allocation strategy in order to be better informed.

It is hard to predict what will come out of this, but I wish that it, somehow, shall bring students together rather than break them apart. It is clear that there are issues with consultations, and the student union should take responsibility for making steps to fix that. There’s an urgent need for the creation of a proper feedback system that is able to reflect what the opinion of students actually is regarding  specific development projects, and countless other issues that could be better translated into the technocratic and bureaucratic languages and processes that are privileged by the administration.

REFERENCES:
Alma Mater Society
2003    Press Release: UBC Passes Development Plan Despite Student Opposition.
2007    Policy on the “University Boulevard Plan”.
2009    Press Release: UBC Plans to Cancel Underground Bus Loop, Students Demand Accountability. Oct., 7th 2009. http://www2.ams.ubc.ca/index.php/ams/news/ubc_plans_to_cancel_underground_bus_loop_students_demand_accountability/
Costeloe, Geoff
2009    AMS: Spare the rod and spoil the child. In The Ubyssey, online, Nov., 9th 2009. http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10909
Jung, Samantha
2009    Frederick survives censure attempt. In The Ubyssey, online. Nov., 5th 2009. http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10827
Peets, Darren
2008a UBC Bus Terminal: Unresolved Problems. Aug. 1st 2008,  Facebook note. http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=21270402898
Toope, Stephen
2009 UNTITLED: Letter [PAGE 1] and [PAGE 2] to AMS Council About Underground Bus Loop Failure. Oct., 28th 2009.
UBC, Board Of Governors
2007    Meeting Minutes, May 22nd 2007.
Ubyssey Editors,
2009a Editorial: Does Frederick deserve the benefit of the doubt? In The Ubyssey, online. Nov., 5th 2009. http://ubyssey.ca/ideas/?p=9043
2009b Editorial: President vs president. In The Ubyssey, online, Nov., 9th 2009. http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10896
*Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes is a UBC alumnus (B.A., 2006)  and Anthropology Master student.

Our recent article highlighting our concerns regarding the “Wesbrook Place Self-Guided Walking Tour” brochure published recently by the Campus and Community Planning department, pointed out that, in the first version of the document, the UBC Farm was not labeled properly on the accompanying map.

Campus and Community Planning (CCP) answered quickly through Tracy Bains, who created the map and the tour. She posted a comment on our news article committing to change the map to reflect our concerns about the UBC Farm. I suggested that CCP should alter the map to properly label the 24 hectare UBC Farm, to include the Farm on the tour, and to add the Farm web address for reference.

Wesbrook Walking Tour-03NEW MAP

Today, Tracy Bains posted another comment to a link to the newly updated version of the ‘walking-tour’ which now includes an explanation about the current situation of the UBC Farm, and a link to their web address <http://www.planning.ubc.ca/news_events/whats_new/articles234.php&gt;.

We were very happy to see that CCP quickly recognize this issue as something important and made the proper changes. We applaud their efforts, and thank Tracy for keeping an eye out for student concerns.

The new map labels the UBC Farm site as “a 24 ha area”, and explains that this area:

“includes the UBC Farm and is subject to approval of academic plan (underway through a separate process). No market housing to be pursued as long as the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals can be met through transferring density to other parts of campus. Current land uses remain until academic plan is complete and a decision has been reached on density transfer” (update on the Wesbrook Place Self-Guided Walking Tour map).

MAP changes - Close UP

I believe that students who benefit from the relationships and studies they have been fostering at the UBC Farm would really like to see the UBC Farm become as conspicuously labeled as the Wesbrook Village is, and also more accessible. Right now, access to the Farm is hindered by a curb that has been built in front of the road that leads to the Farm.

CCP should think of ways to update the signage leading to the UBC Farm, especially at the mouth of the Wesbrook development, by the high-rises. In addition, there should be signs indicating how to get to the UBC Farm at least as far as University boulevard and Wesbrook, and throughout Marine Drive, and also for people who are coming from the Dunbar area. Improving the signage is a first step that would make a lot of difference to people who use the Farm, with the (very strong) potential of eventually reestablishing their faith on CCP processes.

In this article, I examine the failure of the underground bus-loop development project at UBC. This project was going to cost UBC around 40 million CAD, at a time that the university is being deeply affected by funding cuts to Arts students, the lack of childcare, and impending threats to the spatial integrity of the UBC Farm. According to the TREK 2010 principles, UBC should be striving to preserve green spaces, build childcare facilities and affordable housing. The current UBC administration, however, has been set on building high rise luxury market housing condos (see Frankish 2009), housing that caters strictly and exclusively for Master of Business Administration students in Sauder, parking lots, and hoping to get going with the underground bus-loop project, considered ‘wasteful and unnecessary’ by students, including the AMS council.

Resistance

TransLink, which was UBC’s partner on the underground bus loop project, has recently announced that they cannot help UBC fund it. Jung (2009b), writing for the Ubyssey, quotes a TransLink media-relations representative, Ken Hardie, who stated that TransLink “will not be in a position to fund a share of that project”. The university blames TransLink and the Mayors council for this failure, not the mistake of carrying forward a project that was rejected by students as a terrible waste of money.

WasteThere is a wide range of opinions expressed on whether the student resistance has had any effect in the failure of the underground bus loop project. This article examines two opposite opinions expressed in this public debate – 1. ‘The student resistance has nothing to do with the failure of the underground bus loop’ (e.g., McElroy 2009, and Knight 2009); and 2. ‘If it were not for the student resistance, the underground bus loop would be under construction” (e.g., Morgan and Frederick). I present you an analysis of both sides in order to generate more discussion on this issue.

Anyone who researched the published opinions regarding the underground bus loop project would realize that it has been marked by sustained student resistance from its inception. In my experience, for instance, students were already resisting the underground bus loop project during the Spring of 2007, when I became involved in student politics as an Anthropology rep at the Graduate Student Society (GSS) council, as GSS rep at AMS Council, and later as a member of the Vancouver Campus Plan Steering Committee (chaired by Nancy Knight). At that time, students were circulating a petition that eventually brought to an end the shopping mall project that the Board of Governors and CCP had ‘envisioned’ for the University boulevard.

According to the Alma Mater Society president, Blake Frederick, UBC has “turned down [his] request for information so far” regarding the actual detailed expenses the project entailed (Jung 2008b). The lack of transparency and accountability, especially in the context of ‘shady’ consultation and development projects (e.g., the underground bus-loop and the Wesbrook place), is a trademark of the current UBC administration. Blake Frederick’s position is that “a single dollar spent on the proposed underground bus loop was too much” because the whole thing had been “flawed from the beginning” (Jung 2008b). Nancy Knight, Campus and Community Planning (CCP) Vice-President, claims that UBC spent ‘only’ 400,000 CAD with this project. I wonder how many students per year we can fund with this kind of money.

Justin McElroy, writing for the Ubyssey (Oct., 29 2009), argues that student resistance to meaningless development has nothing to do with the extinction of the project, even though he is glad that it is not happening. For him, students are powerless, their resistance is futile, and the victory over the bus loop is simply ‘symbolic’. McElroy (2009) argued, for instance, that

“before we pat ourselves too much on the back for [the failure of the bus loop project], let’s keep in mind that the project has been scrapped because TransLink doesn’t have the $10 million needed after a recession, and that changed governance and funding structures have made life difficult for them—not because anyone really cared what students thought” (McElroy 2009).

This opinion basically mirrors and legitimizes the administration’s position (i.e., Knight 2009), and is aimed at making sure students ‘realize’ they are powerless. Nancy Knight traces the cause for the failure of the bus loop project strictly to a decision made by the city Mayors Council “not to provide funding for capital projects”, and to their inability to “meet their side of the partnership” (Jung 2009b). This argument assumes that there is nothing particularly wrong with the underground bus loop. The bus loop, according to this view, just got sucked into the constrictions of a funding cut. Now, Nancy Knight explained “[w]e’ll have to go back and take a look at our options for completely [surface level] facilities” (Jung 2008b). In Knight’s view, there seems to be no reason to believe anything students ever said made a difference, which is the same as McElroy (2009) argued.

Others, like Andrea Morgan, Friends of the UBC Farm President, argue that if it were not for students, the project would still be moving along. For her, students were able to delay the project just enough to contribute for its failure (personal interview, Nov., 4 2009).

One factor that has been overlooked by those who believe that the student resistance made no difference is UBC’s reputation at the Metro Vancouver Council – a “developer” that causes “consternation” – to quote the words used by the councilor Cadman in 2008 (personal video). He referred to UBC as a ‘developer’ when supporters of the UBC Farm approached the Metro Vancouver Council to ask for a letter of support to preserve the UBC Farm in its “current size and location”. The Friends of the UBC Farm delegation received the city’s unanimous support. CCP director Joe Stott, present in the occasion, was invited to address the Metro Vancouver Council, and chose to remain silent.

Picture 6

It would be also reasonable to suggest that the failure of the underground bus loop is also connected to the consciousness raising effect of the Great Farm Trek (April 7th 2009), and to the amount of media coverage of the struggle to save the UBC Farm from a developer-dominated administration. It would have been indeed surprising if the Metro Vancouver city council, pressured by food security and climate change concerns, would fund a construction intensive project that sought to bring carbon-emitting diesel buses into an underground facility at the heart of campus. UBC’s sustainability strategy commits to reducing carbon emissions, not concentrating them.

President Toope, on a Board of Governors meeting I attended in the Spring of 2007, in order to justify his support for the underground bus loop project, referred to students as a “transient non-expert population”, and told the Board and those present that we should be relying in ‘experts’ instead, referring to the consultants favoring the project. Toope made this comment after the Board had been faced with the detailed objections brought to their attention by student representative Darren Peets (PhD). Peets has been one of the most prolific writers on issues like the underground bus loop development and the consultation process for the campus plan (e.g., Peets 2008a, Peets 2008b, Peets 2009). One factor was overlooked by the UBC president – still then telling the same story of how he got lost when he first arrived in his car and could not find the entrance of campus – it was simply that students are experts in being students! There were people on campus who had been around for much longer than Toope (e.g., Darren Peets, Frankish), and who perceived the contradictions between the Trek 2010 doctrine and UBC’s development practices through their first-hand experience, critical participation in public debate, and knowledge of community and development needs, campus life, being on campus, being a commuter, and on how the Trek 2010 ideology translates or not into practice. In addition, students would have been the main users of a facility they disapproved of and did not want to see. It is time to give students more credit for their ideas, so they can become catalysts for positive change, with more decision-making power on development issues.

Our Streets, Our Choice

REFERENCES

Frankish, Jim
2009    UBC Plans for the Affluent? In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 15 2009.
http://ubyssey.ca/ideas/?p=8874
Jung, Samantha
2009 No underground bus loop? Flailing TransLink can’t meet financial                 requirements of partnership with UBC. In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 29 2009             http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10705
Knight, Nancy
2009    Open Letter to the UBC Vancouver Community, Oct. 27.
McElroy, Justin
2009 Bus loop: a symbolic victory for students. In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 29             2009. http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10710
Peets, Darren
2009    Planning the Unplannable. Alex Lougheed, ed.  In UBC Insiders, online,            Oct. 14, 2009. http://blogs.ubc.ca/ubcinsiders/2009/10/14/planning-the-unplannable/
2008a UBC Bus Terminal: Unresolved Problems. Aug. 1st 2008. Facebook note.
http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=21270402898
2008b Vancouver Campus Plan. October 17th 2008. Facebook note.
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/note.php?note_id=31157542898

The UBC Alumni Media Network

After their 2010 UBC convocation, a number of critical alumni came together and decided to found the UBC Alumni Media Network as a critical resource for scholars worldwide. They contacted us with the following short disclaimer:

“We are committed to providing you with a critical perspective on issues that affect UBC students and the world.

Most importantly, we hope to contribute with ideas that will help to improve your university experience before, during, and after your degree.”

AMS ELECTION FRAUD 2010

Were you wondering how so many people were said to have voted in the AMS elections, but it did not fit your experiences with apathy on campus? What could explain the bizarre difference in votes between some candidates? I wrote an article about the AMS elections after the results were announced, commenting on how the results seemed anomalous. There were at least two conclusions we could draw without research: some people had incredible campaigns and spent an incredible amount of time, helped by their many volunteers harvesting votes through very convincing class announcements, or fraud. Fraud ended up being confirmed, but a very scant in detail report by the Elections Administrator declared that the elections for executives were “not affected” by the fraud.
However, even if the results did not change, they were affected, since the vote differences between candidates, after the fraud was discovered, diminished. This is a clear indication that the people behind the fraud were voting more for certain candidates than others, and this indicates, no matter what the final results were, that the people behind the fraud were supporting particular candidates. Also, many student numbers were stolen, and if those students tried to vote, they would not have been allowed.
A rumor has been going around, from a supposed eyewitness report from a yet-unidentified person who was working at the Student Union Building at the time that the candidate for AMS President, Mr. Bijan Ahmadian, was aware that his opponent Natalie Swift, was ahead in the elections up until the last day, when he apparently took action. However, the scantness of the data presented by Elections Administrator so-called ‘forensic’ report, claimed that there was no foul play, even if the difference in votes between the two presidential candidates, diminished considerably after the fraud was (partially) uncovered.

The message now seems to be clear for students – try to stay clear from AMS politics – you may not want to be associated with its current actions and ideologies. For instance, one of the first things that the new executive did was to ELIMINATE the NON-VOTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENT SEAT, and this happened after they cut off students with disabilities from a chance to speak on Council. They also made sure students who thought the price of tuition was a barrier to their education were prevented from speaking their minds when the issue was being discussed.

This silencing was spearheaded by the longstanding sciences councilor Tahara Bhate, who cut off a student who had to drop off from school because of the price of tuition. This student ended up speaking anyway, indignant with the utter lack of ability of councillors to listen to anybody but themselves. This is clearly beyond pathetic for an organization whose officials come out to claim they are open to listening to a variety of opinions. The contradictions are compounding, not receding, and it is fun to watch, although sad to realize it is a reality.

It has been announced by the Elections Administrator that someone used a single computer with a single IP to cast almost 800 votes. An investigation was or is being conducted, but fraud is crystal clear, since all the votes were cast from the same computer within 3.5 hours. It is still undetermined who these votes were cast for. In addition, this opens up the door for the possibilities of more frauds happening, and definitely it should indicate a conspiracy and a clear slate. The people who should be fearing the most are those who were elected with anomalous margins of difference from other candidates.
In 2009 a campaign violation and possible fraud was flagged, but the eyewitness was somehow discredited and the issue was forgotten. I noticed that the reports from the EA regarding the frequency of votes seemed anomalous, and people celebrated it as a newly revived student culture, but, at the end, it all turned out to be a fraud, orchestrated in behalf of people who are now most likely in office and making decisions on behalf of the student body.
This news is by far much worse than the UN complain, because, this time, we have a clear crime: student numbers were stolen or collected illegally and someone broke into the system and performed the fraud. The implications of such an act to the reliability of the current system are catastrophic. The electoral code is very clear also that any fraudulent or irregular occurrence performed by someone who is an associate of a candidate is considered the responsibility of the candidate. By the end of this ongoing investigation we should be able to know at least whose student numbers were stolen and where they came from.
To steal almost 800 names and to manually enter them on a single computer within 3.5 hours does not sound like an easy task. What worries me more in the possibility of having other smaller frauds occurring concurrently through similar methods shared by the conspirators of the illegally benefited slate. If from one computer they could vote almost 800 times, imagine what they could do from a bunch of different computers, in smaller doses. What we know for a fact at this point is that fraud should explain the anomalous number of votes cast for particular candidates who swooped certain races with unseen differences.

RECENT FRAUD HISTORY:

Fraud in the AMS elections may have a longer history than we now suspect. Council sent the wrong message to the student body when they allowed a VP Academic candidate who got caught voting for himself multiple times (Alex Lougheed) to still hold the seat, even after being caught defrauding the system and with a student court case hanging over his head, brought out by Nathan Crompton, who was the main victim of Lougheed’s fraud. The Student Court decided to get rid of the defrauder, but the AMS Council overruled the Student Court’s decision to protect their long time friend Alex, who had been a very active Sciences councillor. This was, most likely, a very bad historical move. In the eyes of any serious distanced observer, it could be seen as a conspiracy to support someone for emotional reasons rather than to make the right thing. In the best possible light, this was a move to protect a friend from public humiliation who made a terrible mistake. On the other hand, it was a disservice to the students who had voted and those candidates who followed the rules.


In addition, there could be other people voting multiple times for Lougheed, and this was never investigated nor established. In any case, the message that fraud is acceptable, at least subliminally, was passed along. This message also eroded the trust anyone could ever have with their ‘elected’ council members. There were rumors that seemed like truth to people who told me about fraud in elections previous to Lougheed, in particular in a Board of Governors race. At this point we could even imagine that Lougheed learned from and was inspired by this previous fraud before conducting his own violations, but got away with it, which is incredible, despite the Student Court’s decision to strip him from the position. I remember that when Matt Filipiak, the GSS President in 2007, brought me out to watch an AMS Council session, Alex was the one council who came up with the most critical comments regarding anything that came onto the table. From my personal perspective and what I witnessed, my impression was that most of the ‘discussion’ (i.e., grandstanding) that went on and one seemingly forever could have been avoided with better communication. I began participating and observing what was going on and came up with lists of problems. When I joined one committee and went to a meeting, I realized that it would be very hard to break through the hard shell that had solidified between people who saw themselves in privileged positions and were not open to anyone else’s ideas.
What concerned me at that time of the first VP Academic fraud detected (2008) was the possibility of other people having voted multiple times for a particular candidate at any given time. A candidate does not usually work alone, and should be expected to represent the interests of his or her friends in office – after all, their friends are their social realm, not the student body. Nobody really knows the entire ‘student body’ – it is an abstraction, a myth, and, sometimes, statistics.And students, apathetic in general, or suppressed, did nothing, had no time, or lost faith in the system.


There are a lot of possibilities we can predict can come out of a full investigation of this fraud, but I would like to explore some of them. The fraud seems to explain the anomalous difference between candidates within the same race, for one thing. It also explains the apparent growth of political engagement and interest on campus. The crucial data, however, should come from the details of whose student numbers were stolen (from which lists, classes, faculties, etc), whose computer it is, where was this computer located at the time of the fraud. Also, who were the beneficiaries of the fraudulent votes?
I would expect that the defrauders would at least be smart enough to cast some votes in the ‘wrong’ direction as a decoy. If an election is expected to be close, defrauders could expect that 300 fraudulent votes would make a difference, so they don’t cast all the votes for the same candidates. The reason for this is simple. In the case that the fraud is flagged, all that the candidates who benefited from the fraud have to do is dissociate them somehow from the defrauders by pointing out that defrauders cast a number of votes for their opponents who lost.
This is maybe the best they would be able to come up with if the differences between votes cast in one direction through fraud is not very significant. Another smarter possibility even comes to mind. A main decoy fraud is orchestrated to hide smaller frauds from view. For instance, a big fraud is set up where there are not a lot of differences between votes cast in either way, in order to denounce the online voting system, whereas, in fact, the real fraud happened through paper ballots. We know that the communication between ballots is so poor that it would not be inconceivable for someone to have a bunch of their friends vote multiple times in different stations.
In the case that the defrauders never expected to get caught and did not have any preventive plans, we shall see votes cast in a single direction, benefiting particular individuals quite clearly. Students should be very worried in any case, for they are clearly the victims in this case, and may not even be told about it. Another very interesting data we can expect from this fraud is to which VFMs most votes were cast by fraud. I wonder what sort of correlations we may be able to see between candidates and VFMs benefited through fraudulent votes. Another possibility we have to consider is that fraudulent votes were cast only for the benefit of particular VFMs and not for candidates because of the money involved. I was ready to forget the AMS even existed, but the news of the fraud is something that should open students’ eyes and perhaps awaken them into political participation. After all, people may be using their AMS fee money without their consent, and having had, at least for about over 700 people at this time, their student numbers stolen and votes cast in their names.

CONCLUSION:

As we all know, probably nothing will happen to the culprits, and their possible association with members of the current executive who clearly benefitted from the fraud (i.e., vote count differences diminished), will never be substantiated or investigated, even though the electoral code is quite clear that anyone doing anything illegal on behalf of candidates is the candidates’ own responsibility. Rumors will remain so, and students somehow were tricked far enough to elect someone for president who has a well established track record of voting AGAINST students – in favor of the failed underground bus loop, for raising tuition, for cutting off the students with disabilities seat, and for eliminating the International Student seat on council, and also for supporting the notion that protecting places like the farm from commercial development means an attack on academic freedom – he was also never for a “24-hectare” UBC Farm, and argued against it when he ran for the Board of Governors and won last year.  How is it possible? Your answer is as good as anyone else’s! Perhaps UBC is “ultra-conservative” as many say, but perhaps it is just “uninformed” and “too busy to care” – the latter is probably the best attitude you can hold since the system seems damaged beyond repair at this point. What we know for sure is that you can always find entertainment with things associated with the AMS, if you are looking for confusion, contradiction, grandstanding, fraudulent issues, and absolutely biased media covered (done by buddies for buddies’ sake). There are better forms of entertainment, however, that will beat an AMS Council meeting anytime – pretty much anything you can think of, including blowing air through a straw into a water cup – but we suggest arts and crafts, and some time on the beach, perhaps naked, perhaps clothed, but in conjunction with some skim board and kite surfing.