Students have the final say on seven specific issues on campus this year. The AMS has put five questions forward — from controversial bylaw changes to incidental fee decreases — and two have been put forward by students themselves.
Historically, referenda often fail to be binding because they do not reach quorum. Whether these questions pass, fail, or simply fail to get enough votes is up to students — and here's why you should care:
Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) funding increase
“Do you support an increase in your AMS fees by $5.67, to increase the fee for the Sexual Assault Support Services Fund from $3.63 to $9.30 a year, as of September 2019?
Note 1: All money raised through this fee will be deposited in the Sexual Assault Support Services Fund and may be used only for sexual assault support services and initiatives. Any money raised through this fee but not used in a given year shall remain in the fund for use in a subsequent year for sexual assault support services.
Note 2: The $9.30 fee will be indexed to inflation, increasing each year in accordance with any increase in BC CPI, beginning in September 2020.”
Out of all the referendums, the tripling of Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) funding might be the one the AMS is pushing the hardest. If it passes, it would mean a huge victory for the AMS and the SASC after a tumultuous year.
“We want there to be enough comfort for all community members, especially our survivors, in knowing that SASC will be funded and it will not only be funded it will have room to grow as well,” said AMS President Marium Hamid.
She described the process of this referendum as a “very collaborative” project.
Last March, the AMS put forward a similar referendum, asking that students approve a fee increase from $3.63 to $7. That referendum received significant backlash because it was an omnibus question packed with changes to several groups’ fee structures — groups that said they weren’t adequately consulted and that the referendum would put their funding in peril.
That referendum failed even though a majority of students voted yes, only because the question didn’t meet quorum.
After the SASC’s support services were almost cut by the AMS last summer — to great outcry from the UBC community — executives pared down the financials of their own offices to supplement the overburdened SASC budget.
New funding through the referenda would support the SASC as a whole, but in particular the continuation of support services as well as expanded hours and peer-run programs like Healthier Masculinities. It would also allow the SASC to look towards projects they previously might only have dreamed of doing, explained Hamid, like hosting an Indigenous elder.
“Ensuring the financial stability of the SASC is also vital for ensuring that survivors have choices about the supports that they are able to access,” wrote the SASC collective in a recent letter to The Ubyssey.
“Consent is ultimately all about choice. Having safe and accessible options is necessary to restore the autonomy of survivors.”
All the money raised through this fee will be put in the Sexual Assault Support Services Fund (SASF) and may be used only for “sexual assault support services and initiatives.” At minimum, two-thirds of that fund would be taken out annually to use in the SASC’s operating budget, with another third at maximum available for the AMS to allocate towards special projects that aim to address sexual violence. Any student can apply for SASF funding grants.
Hamid strongly urges students to vote “yes” even if they themselves do not feel affected by sexual violence on campus.
“If there has been a time where the AMS has needed [student] support to make something happen, this is it now. And it’s not an issue that everybody is often able to understand, or relate to, but it’s one that’s affecting more people than we can imagine,” said Hamid.
“... Do it for those who are not able to often say that, ‘I will be needing this.’ Do it for all of them.”
AMS Bylaw changes
“Do you support and approve amending the AMS Bylaws in accordance with the changes presented in the document entitled "Proposed Changes to AMS Bylaws”?”
AMS Bylaws are dry — so dry, in fact, the AMS just found out it had been breaking them by accident since 2014. But the changes proposed to them could have huge impacts on accountability and transparency within the society.
Most proposed changes are housekeeping tasks, like making any AMS councillor eligible to fill an executive vacancy and fixing typos. One change clarifies that the AMS Ombudsperson will no longer work on grievances with the university, but this does not mean the position will be abolished as some critics have suggested. Instead, the AMS Ombudsperson will now deal with grievances with the society, and leave advocacy to the university to the UBC Ombuds Office, which it says is better-suited to the role.
There are three major changes that deserve your full attention:
Abolishing Student Court
The proposed referendum wants to abolish Student Court, the AMS’s defunct appeals body. This isn’t the first time the AMS has attempted to do so.
The Court hasn’t been filled permanently since 2010, and it technically only needs to be filled when an issue brought up by a member. But Dylan Braam, chair of the AMS governance committee which proposed the changes, says filling the Court only when an issue arises is a sure way for the Court’s decisions to be biased.
“It is a horrible, a very, very bad practice to be picking people ... with knowledge as a Council of both the question that's going to be brought, and how the AMS would like that question ruled on,” said Braam. “That's just silly.”
Currently, any decision rendered by Student Court is not binding on the AMS. It is instead presented to Council to be either accepted or rejected by a simple majority vote — a power Council has historically used to reject reports it does not agree with.
“It wastes people’s time to tell them that there's a remedy available that quite frankly, could in actual practice not exist,” said Braam.
When asked why Student Court couldn’t make its decisions binding to Council, Braam pointed out that Council has a fiduciary duty to pursue the best interests of the AMS and its members, which could be contravened if a Student Court decision compelled a certain course of action against these interests.
Braam recognized that pursuing complaints in the regular legal system can be difficult and expensive. He said the new BC Civil Resolution Tribunal is a more low-cost and accessible solution that he hopes students would take advantage of to challenge Council decisions they feel violate its bylaws.
“There will still be a remedy for Council ... and it will actually be an enforceable remedy because it'll be a tribunal order,” he said.
Limiting the availability of AMS documents
The second controversial proposal seeks to grant Council the ability to draft a policy that would limit the availability of AMS documents that would be “harmful to the financial or economic interests” of the Society. This would also cover documents that include third-parties, solicitor-client privilege, in-camera discussions or ongoing investigations involving the AMS.
Braam said current bylaws could compel the AMS to release documents that contravene solicitor-client privilege related to the society’s legal proceedings, such as union negotiations or responses to human rights complaints. But due to the vague definition of “harmful,” this move would severely limit the information available to members and journalists.
Student collective Forward UBC, who declined to allow a representative to go on the record, called the phrasing “an incredibly broad exemption that would allow the AMS to keep secret anything it feels like” in its online platform against the bylaw changes.
“I will be perfectly honest, this does decrease transparency,” said Braam.
“But there is, of course, a balance between transparency and properly running a society in the best interest of students.”
However, he noted that the change would only give Council the ability to draft a policy rather than to immediately limit these documents. As a result, Braam is confident that Council will be incentivized by student concern and media coverage to draft a policy that balances the two.
Arts Councillor Andy Wu is concerned that a policy does not have the “institutional rigidity” of a bylaw. He voted against the bylaw changes in Council due to the vague language used, but agrees with them in spirit.
“I was concerned about the possibility of future Councils and Executives taking an expansive approach to define “financial or economic interests of the Society,” and blocking documents that may be matters of public interest without proper checks and balances,” said Wu in a statement to The Ubyssey.
As to why students should share Braam’s trust — especially since the decision to cut the Sexual Assault Support Centre’s support services was made and reversed unilaterally by the executives — Braam only offered his personal perception that this year’s executive has been thoughtful in decisions like these.
He also firmly placed the onus of keeping the society transparent on students should the changes go through.
“I don't necessarily think it's right to say, ‘Trust AMS Council to value transparency,’ it's more that they as members should demand that Council be transparent,” he said.
Changing the criteria for referenda questions
The third substantial proposed change sets out four new criteria for referenda questions, in addition to the pre-existing requirement that they be answerable by a “yes” or “no.”
These include not being “materially untrue,” not calling for illegal actions, being clear and unambiguous, and stating if the question would lead to the violation of a contract and the penalty if so.
These guidelines are meant to act as further reference for how questions can be approved if Student Court, which used to rule on referenda questions, is abolished. They also mandate the AMS to give a reason if it rejects a question, which it has the power to do.
While Braam said this change was not proposed with any particular referenda question in mind, referenda approvals have been contentious in the past. In 2017, the AMS Ombudsperson referred the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) referendum question to Student Court, which was not filled at the time, and opposition to the question’s ability to be answered by “yes” or “no” was litigated through the court system instead.
Forward UBC criticized the changes in its online platform, calling the new requirements “onerous” and “vague.”
“This defeats the point of the referendum process, which is meant to change things that the AMS Council refuses to change on its own,” reads the platform.
The phrasing of “materially untrue” is not defined, but Braam said it’s meant to refer to the spirit of the question.
“It's a caution against putting in ... things that are just recklessly false to mislead students,” said Braam, adding that this will help ensure controversial topics like BDS are represented as objectively as possible on the ballot.
“We’re not giving [Council] full rein to deny questions. We are guiding questions for [these] five reasons only.”
Indigenous Student Fund fee approval
“Do you support the AMS establishing a fee of $0.95 a year to contribute to an Indigenous Student Fund, as of September 2019?
Note 1: All money raised through this fee will be deposited in the Indigenous Student Fund and may be used only for Indigenous student support and initiatives.
Any money raised through this fee but not used in a given year shall remain in the fund for use in a subsequent year for Indigenous student support and initiatives.
Note 2: The $0.95 fee will be indexed to inflation, increasing each year in accordance with any increase in BC CPI, beginning in September 2020.”
The AMS is proposing an annual fee of $0.95 per student (tied to inflation) to create an Indigenous Student Fund, which would support the activities of the newly created Indigenous committee.
According to committee member Laura Beaudry, a Cree and Métis student in her fourth-year studying anthropology, the committee plans to use the money to support Indigenous student clubs and initiatives, as well as scholarships and bursaries for Indigenous students. It also wants to host some larger cultural events throughout the year, such as pow wows.
Verukah Poirier-Jewell, a third-year First Nations and Indigenous studies student who is of Maskwacis Cree and Métis descent, also hopes to use the funding to build spaces where Indigenous students can connect with one another.
“I found that campus is a very white space,” said Poirier-Jewell, noting the Indigenous committee was given back a room in the Nest by the current AMS executive for its own use.
“[Our room] gives us a place to congregate and come together and be able to have our own cultural events.”
While there have been concerns expressed online about the vagueness of the fund allocation, Beaudry and Poirier-Jewell hope that the process for clubs and individuals to receive funding would be holistic and “fit [with] Indigenous ways of being and Indigenous ways of knowing.”
Beaudry also hopes that, with the funding, the Indigenous committee can be a model for student unions and universities across Canada to create “a sense of security and belonging” for Indigenous students.
“Creating this committee is a solid foundation for hopefully the rest of time [so] that Indigenous students can feel like involved in AMS politics and UBC politics … because we're always talked about but we're never included,” said Beaudry.
“I think it's such a great legacy that our community can leave for other Indigenous students across Canada.”
“Do you approve of the continuation of the U-Pass BC program with an increase to the U-Pass Fee from $41.00 per month to $42.50 per month commencing May 1, 2020, and, furthermore, approve annual increases to the U-Pass Fee of up to 2% (rounded up to the nearest nickel)?
Note 1: A long-term renewal has been secured for the U-Pass BC program until April 30, 2025."
Note 2: If this referendum is not approved, UBC students will no longer be eligible for the U‐Pass BC program.”
The U-Pass is once again up for approval this year. But instead of the typical three-year contracts, the AMS has secured a five-year contract with TransLink.
If this referenda does not pass or reach quorum — eight per cent of all students voting — students will have to pay full adult prices for transit. Outside of the U-Pass program, an equivalent all-zone monthly pass would cost $174.
According to AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi, this year’s U-Pass agreement is “a step towards ... long term affordability for students.”
The proposed price of $42.50 per month — a $1.50 increase from the current price — would remain constant through 2025.
“It is really important that students — even if they themselves don't think that they use their U-Pass often — that they still vote in favour because the majority of students rely on this as an affordability mechanism in their life,” Ilnitchi said.
Graduating Class fee decrease
“Do you support a decrease in the Graduating Class fee from the current $7.00 to $3.00 upon graduation, to begin in September 2019?
Note 1: All money raised through the Grad Class Fee will be deposited in the Grad Class Fund and may be used only for the purpose of supporting Grad Class as defined in the AMS Code of Procedure. Any money raised through this fee but not used in a given year shall remain in the fund for use in a subsequent year for Grad Class.”
The AMS wants to decrease the Graduating Class fee from $7 to $3, which is collected from students in their final year.
The fee is currently collected in a fund for the Grad Council, which is separate from the AMS and composed of constituency society members, to install a gift or piece of art on campus on behalf of that year’s graduating class.
In 2016, the AMS collected $51,373 for the Council, followed by $52,572 in 2017. As of this year, over $160,000 remains unused in the fund, according to AMS VP Finance Kuol Akuechbeny.
The initiative has also faced controversy recently.
The 2017 Grad Council gift of a Thunderbird sculpture to be installed in the Nest has been stalled due to concerns from the Musqueam Indian Band, on whose ancestral, traditional and unceded territory UBC Vancouver is located. The Musqueam Band is concerned about the representation of the Thunderbird because the artist commissioned to create the sculpture, Connie Watts, is of Nuu-chah-nulth, Gitxsan and Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry.
But past gifts — such as trees planted on campus — remain heartfelt reminders of past graduating classes.
“We think even with the $3, we still have ample opportunity to give a gift that's impactful, meaningful and symbolic of the spirit of the graduating class,” said Akuechbeny.
Asking for less money might make this a first for the AMS — but given that recent gifts have been stalled and the fund under-utilized, it is a relatively transparent request.
Campus Culture and Performance fee changes
“Do you support changing the terms of reference for the Campus Culture and Performance Fee to allow additional clubs to receive funding from the fee according to the following formula:
a) The clubs already receiving the funding from the fee shall establish criteria according to which additional clubs can receive funding.
b) The AMS Finance Committee shall screen applicants and refer any club it thinks meets the criteria to the clubs already receiving funding.
c) The clubs already receiving funding shall collectively decide if the referred club should receive funding.
d) No more than one additional club shall be approved to receive funding in any one year.
e) Once approved, a club shall be permanently added to the number of clubs receiving funding and shall get an equal share of the funding.
f) Any club can voluntarily give up its right to receive funding from the fee.
Note: This change will not affect the amount of money you pay in AMS fees.”
The seven Campus Culture and Performance (CCP) clubs who make up the CCP Committee are proposing a change to the fee that would come at no cost to students.
Instead, the change would restructure how the funds could be distributed to other campus groups.
The CCP fee was implemented in 2016 after a student-led referendum. Currently set at $2.00, the fund is allotted to seven cultural and performance groups at UBC: Blank Vinyl Project, UBC Slam, UBC Debate Society, UBC Film Society, UBC Players Club, Musical Theater Troupe and UBC Jazz Café.
After realizing that the terms of the fee prevented other related clubs from accessing the fund, the University Music Initiative (UMI), UBC Photographic Society and CCP Committee proposed the fee restructuring.
The fee is already set to raise annually by $0.25 and will do until 2026, after which it will begin to grow in accordance with inflation.
“Each student pays 25 cents more each year for this fund,” said UMI VP External John Yan. “... So we thought, why not include more clubs as a part of it?”
The restructuring would also ensure that no more than one additional club would be able to join the CCP Committee per year. Club applications will be evaluated by financial need and whether or not “concrete structures [are] in place to make use of the money.”
The clubs already receiving funding from the fee would establish criteria and work with the AMS Finance Committee to screen applicants. Once approved, the new CCP club would be permanently added to the collective and get an equal share of the funding.
“If clubs know that there’s an opportunity to be a part of this, [they will] put on more inclusive events,” Yan said. “We want these clubs to be leaders in campus performance and arts.”
Establishing a thrift shop fee
“Do you support the AMS establishing a refundable fee of $0.95 to contribute to the establishment of a permanent thrift store location on campus?
Note 1: The fee would be fully refundable upon request.
Note 2: The fee would be levied annually on all active AMS members beginning in September 2019 until the thrift store is self-sustaining as determined by Project Imagine executives in consultation with the AMS.
Note 3: The fee would be used for operational purposes.
Note 4: The fee is indexed annually to the BC Consumer Price Index.”
Project Imagine, a student-run collective that manages a variety of sustainability-based projects, is asking students to create an annual $0.95 fee to establish a permanent thrift shop on campus.
According to Rain Chen — the collective founder — establishing a thrift shop in the Nest has been in the works since 2017, when Project Imagine first went to the AMS with the proposal.
Despite a lack of response from the AMS, Chen refused to give up. Last summer, Project Imagine began piloting pop-up thrift shop events in the Life Building, which have consistently seen profits of $500-900 over the course of each two-day event.
“There's a very real need for [a thrift shop] that you can see online. There's UBC Buy and Sell, you see second hand textbooks... Why isn't there a physical place for this to take place?” said Chen.
“All you need is a system to be able to take these items and redistribute them to students who need them.”
She added that profits would be re-invested into the shop itself and other sustainability initiatives on campus. She also expects that the fee would only be needed until the shop is self-sustaining within two to five years from its creation.
“Over the course of five years, you're relinquishing one cup of coffee to help start a thrift shop on campus,” Chen said.