Stirring the pot at the SLFS

As some or all of you know, the Student Legal Fund Society passed a motion to approve a grant application by the BC Civil Liberties Association. The vote was 5-2, with mine being one of the votes in favour. There is currently some controversy over whether this was or was not within the mandate of the SLFS.

First off, let’s get one thing clear, as I think that there is some confusion as to how “precedent” is being tossed around. If “precedent” refers to the actions of the board, I stand by my (in my opinion, fairly well grounded) belief that deliberative bodies cannot set precedent. No decision of any board, from Parliament down to the SLFS, is able to set precedent. These are political bodies, and their actions are based on politics. It would be courts that are guided by such decisions. The changing face of a board is going to make the behavior of a board look inconsistent, but the organization is entitled to change its mind.

My personal feeling is that the vote was a bit of a foregone conclusion, based on the composition of the board. While I have always been a defender of what would generally be characterized as a narrow interpretation of societal mandates, I do not think that that could be said of many others on the board. Spending $10000 on cameras would have been ridiculous, but I would guess that such a proposal would have passed the board as well, were it to have come to a vote. I am happy that such a total was reduced, and given the climate, it seemed prudent to support it.

The referral to litigation committee is something that presents with broader problems with the policies of the society. I feel that there is a distinction between applications for grant funding, and applications for case funding, but there are differences of opinion here that are significant and problematic, as there are merits on both sides of the argument. The projects to which the society disburses money, and the processes that such disbursements are authorized, need to be categorized and clarified. I hope to, by the end of the year, overhaul the policies of the SLFS to define how certain applications would be processed. As Prof. Ramsay said, there is an inconsistent application of such policies, and, since boards are not bound by precedent, but can be bound by internal governance documents, such regulations need to codified to ensure consistent application of rules.

Litigation committee, by name, would review litigation that the society might consider undertaking. There is not, in my mind, a way to characterize the grant application as a case that would go before the courts. Under the murky situation that existed, I feel that the board was within its rights to authorize the grant application.

The mandate of the society is to “provide advisory, legal, and financial assistance to fund, initiate and continue advocacy, lobbying and litigation to improve education and access to education at UBC and such other matters of law which set broad precedent and concern UBC Students”. This defines how the SLFS would execute its mandate (provide advisory, legal, and financial assistance to fund, initiate and continue advocacy, lobbying and litigation), and what ends those means should seek to accomplish (to improve education and access to education at UBC and such other matters of law which set broad precedent and concern UBC Students).

Going through this point by point, I read this as saying that an advisory role, which is what the KYR workshops are, and the financial assistance role, as presented in the grant of funding to the BCCLA, are both ways by which the society can fulfill its mandate. In determining whether or not this would meet the purpose of the society, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. Would this improve education?
  2. Would this improve access to education?
  3. Does this pertain to other such matters of law which set broad precedent?
  4. Does this concern UBC students?

The answer to the first two questions is an obvious “no”, and the fourth is a clear “yes”. The third is more tricky, but I believe that the current climate on campus, particularly as it pertains to the Olympics, makes a situation in which the free speech, freedom of association, right to due process, and right to be free from unwarranted search and seizure are precedent setting. The legal rights of our students are important, and clearly are “matters of law”. It is this part of the mandate from which I draw the impetus to vote in favour of such a proposal.

The actions of the police and campus security on campus are guided by trial and error. In the event that a police officer gets away with violating the legal rights of one of our students, this will establish a de facto precedent for the future actions of law enforcement and security professionals. This has been something that has been of long standing concern to many involved in the War on Fun. It is with this in mind that I approached the vote. The Olympic legacy on campus could be far more than a new arena – I am concerned that it could represent the opening of the floodgates in terms of the abuse of civil liberties on campus.

Clearly, the SLFS has a lot of work to do in terms of clarifying its procedures for funding applications, along with a whole host of other problems with its internal operations. However, without clear direction from governance documents, power would default to the board. In this case, I feel that the board acted within its mandate.


4 Responses to “Stirring the pot at the SLFS”

  1. 1 Laura
    November 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    a big congrats to Stef Ratjen for being hired by you all for this-we win!

  2. November 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Through the Olympic Preparedness Partnership, the UBC Student Legal Fund Society and the BC Civil Liberties Association are offering the following workshops:

    Know Your Rights Workshop
    Have you ever wondered what you should do when stopped by a security official on the street? In your car? At your house? When and what are the police allowed to search? What are you legally allowed to do, or not do? This workshop will give participants a better understanding of their constitutional rights. We will be discussing searches and seizures, civil disobedience, and how your constitutional rights transfer to the UBC campus, including during the Olympic Games period.

    Know Your Rights Workshops:
    THIS THURSDAY, November 19, 2009 at 12:30 pm, SUB 42T
    Thursday Nov 26: 2:00pm, SUB 42T
    Wednesday Dec 2: 5:30pm, SUB 212
    Thursday, Dec 10: 2:30pm, SUB 212

    Legal Observer Workshop & Program
    At UBC, Legal Observer teams will observe situations where access to the campus and its resources for the UBC community are at risk. Legal Observer teams will also be observing major protests and other potential conflict hot spots like Olympic venues and the Downtown Eastside during the Olympic Period. They’ll report observations back to the BCCLA’s team of volunteer lawyers who are prepared to go to court to protect people’s rights where complaints can’t be resolved informally. Focusing on accountable conduct in interactions between civilians and police, military and private security, the Observers’ first-hand evidence will form a solid foundation for those legal actions.

    Legal Observer Workshops:
    Thursday, Nov 26: 12:30pm, SUB 42T
    Thursday, December 10: 12:00pm, SUB 212

    Space is limited, email stefanie@bccla.org to register.

    The Olympic Preparedness Program is a partnership between the BCCLA and the SLFS to ensure that students are fully prepared for the arrival of the 2010 Games on campus. The program includes 11 workshops in the months leading up to February 2010, a hotline for students with Olympic related legal issues, a reporting mechanism for issues that students identify on campus, and trained student legal observers on campus ensuring appropriate interactions between security forces and students.


  3. 3 Brendan
    January 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Stef Ratjen-are you doing the workshops for free or are you geting paid. if so I want to know how much?

  4. January 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Extraordinary information and facts that is related to this subject.

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

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