Posted by: bnorouzi | January 28, 2009

WTF is SLFS – One of the most important elections you’ve never even heard about!

With a mandate 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,” you’d think that the Student Legal Fund Society would be a hub of activity. After all, with costs of education continuously increasing, the BC government profiting off of student loan interest rates, and UBC international students paying the highest tuition fees in Canada, there’s no shortage of ‘access’ issues to be dealt with.

Historically speaking, the fund has successfully worked to challenge legislation that discriminates against students. Momentum for this kind of student-oriented initiative stemmed from a 1996 proposal to the Board of Governors calling for full cost recovery tuition fees for international students, as well as mandatory fee increases for Athletics Fees, Computer Fees, and Student Aid. Noting that the tuition increases were illegal due to a violation of a Board of Governors policy entitled “Consultation with Students” and the BC Rate Freeze Act, UBC student-led litigation resulted in a Supreme Court Case where the University was forced to refund approximately $1 million in illegally collected fees.

In 1997, the APEC summit was held at UBC. Many students were arrested, pepper sprayed, and had protest signs confiscated by police. In the wake of this there were many calls for a public inquiry, and the Public Complaints Commission of the RCMP called a series of hearings. Many questioned the fact that the RCMP and government had all their legal fees paid for by public funds, while the protestors were on their own. A fundraising effort was set up but was only able to raise approximately $15,000.

Based on this history, the founders of the Society saw the need for a student run society to work for student interests in a legal arena. It was seen that the major obstacle in the fights listed above was the need to raise money on an individual basis.

Since the founding of the society in 1998, the Fund has worked on cases like challenging the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, ensuring that student loans can be discharged through bankruptcy for at least ten years after the completion of studies. Before the case was brought forward in 2002, student loan debts were in a category with other court-ordered debts, such as alimony payments or debts arising from fraud or embezzlement. The SLFS case argued that such a categorization effectively denied individuals with student loans the rights of other Canadian citizens. They argued that discrimination against students is analogous to discrimination on the basis of age which is against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The SLFS has also worked to make UBC consistently comply with the Residential Tenancy Act when dealing with student tenants in University housing. One case was successful at the Supreme Court level.

So what the fuck has the SLFS been doing in the last few years? It collects almost $45 000 annually to address issues that affect accessing education. As per its website (last updated in 2007), the last ‘important’ case that was brought forward was back in 2002. Furthermore, while SLFS directors are annually elected by the general student body (similar to the AMS executive, with elections happening right now), no one seems to know what the SLFS does, or who is running it.

The SLFS is currently an appalling waste of student fees. While tuition continues to increase, student debt sky rockets, and international students continue to be treated as cash cows within our university, little to no action has come out of the SLFS over the last 7 years. This is only compounded by a general lack of knowledge that the Fund exists. Currently, the SLFS is working, against its own mandate, to perpetuate status quo systems of inaccessible education and ‘other such matters of law.’

On the grounds of allowing the SLFS to operate like this, the Knoll Elections issue officially dis-endorses any previous directors that are seeking re-election. In specific, we disendorse Aaron Sihota for two reasons: one- because we have not been able to find a complete list of other candidates running (yet another silent election), and two- under his “leadership” as President, the SLFS has become a stagnant and disfunctional “resource” for students.

We do offer some hope- we have been able to find out that there are other students running for positions on the SLFS Board. There are six places up for election, and we like the sounds of:

Graeme Fisher- 2nd Year Art History, Social Justice Centre Executive:

The current needs of the students necessitate a revitalization of the SLFS. I will increase awareness so that these resources are again available to students so that we can effectively find ways to sue the government for better access to education.

Emily Griffiths- 2nd Year Theatre Student, Director of the Vagina Monologues:

Students should not be forced to sit back and watch helplessly as this country, this province, and even our own university continuously ignore our needs, especially when a large pool of money like the SLFS sits dormant for years. Its time to tap into this resource and start fighting for the positive change we want to see. Its time to start fucking with the status quo. I promise to do just that.

Emma Ellison- 4th Year Geography and Gender Studies Student, AMS Connect Coordinator

With so many issues of discrimination within our educational system, I want to ensure that the SLFS is used to fund legal cases that work to challenge systemic barriers to accessing education.

Wlad Woyno- 2nd Year Theatre Student:

I’m running for the SLFS to represent international students on the board, and to look into using the resources to help lower tuition costs and make the SLFS funds available to students.

Unavailable for comment:

Elliot Billingsley- 4th Year English Student

Gord McCullough- 4th Year Political Science and Economics Student

Ed Durgan- PhD Student


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