We therefore call upon the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to investigate the widespread violation and disregard for international law in Canada, and further to employ all and every means available to pressure the governments of Canada and its provinces into compliance with the Covenant.

This was written in 2005.

You can read the whole complaint.

A former student SFU board member and Internal Relations Officer, when asked what came of the complaint, said the following:

I believe they said something about how they would consider it within some outrageous timeframe like the next several years. I suspect that what will happen is the next time the Committee gets around to doing a review of Canada, as they seem to do about once every 10 years or so, there will be a mention of the two complaints.

The only major difference between the resolutions is that the AMS one explicitly calls for a special rapporteur, while the SFSS calls for an investigation. The AMS one also requests an expedited process.

What does this mean? Well, the UN was already aware of the human rights violations in BC. It undercuts the claim of legal value to the report, as if the UN were to consider it and conduct an investigation, they would likely ask the AMS. That said, it probably marginally increases the chance that the UN will take the idea more seriously. The real value from it now comes the publicity generated, not much else.


8 Comments so far

  1. Anon on November 29, 2009 9:19 am

    From now on, can we please put “human rights” violations in quotes when referring to tuition as a human rights violation? Seems more appropriate.

  2. Charles Menzies on November 29, 2009 10:09 am

    Quotes or no quotes the underlying issue is that if a society claims that access to post quality secondary education is in some way an expectation of their citizens then any process, fee, admissions policy,etc that serves to limit or otherwise prevent a person from access education is a violation of something. Whether it is called a violation of human rights or “human rights” is less important than the fact that a societal expectation has been violated.

    The only people who might be embarrassed by the submission to the UN are likely those in charge of our corporate universities and who sit on their Boards or fund them.

    Yet, the drive toward so-called ‘excellence’ seeks to engage in a global competition for students while simultaneously turning the university’s back on the local student. Since the early 1980s tuition and fees and the associated costs of gaining access to post secondary education has increased at a rate significantly higher than the actual cost of the same education. There has been a cost transfer from federal and provincial governments (as both levels of government step away from their responsibility) on to students and staff.

    For students, the cost transfer has emerged in two ways -increasing fees (mostly, but not totally, tuition fees) and in changes in the delivery of their education (larger classes -think clicker as a cost saving device for the university. transfer cost to student to buy clicker, super size the class, cut labs or transform them to virtual labs etc).

    For staff (of which I include faculty) there have been attempts to increase productivity through undermining collective agreements by contracting out (think of the rationalization of food production centers on campuses, the trend to privatize food delivery, etc), redefinition of job categories and reduction of staff relative to increases in student enrollment. Hence, the expectation to “do more with less.”

    Faculty involved with teaching typically subsidize their teaching through outside research grants or personal funds (in a manner similar to teachers in the K-12 public system. This is not to say that there are not teaching resources made available, but one of the ways UBC has done it is to use a competitive market mechanism to allocate funds from tuition increases to faculty to fund ‘innovative’ teaching practices. The net effect is to replicate a system that reallocates resources to those who already have them.

    The old slogan of the late 1970s and early 1980s -Quality, Accessible, Post Secondary Education- is still an appropriate call. Sadly, education is not any more accessible (perhaps it is even less accessible today then it was 30 years ago) and those who benefit from our post secondary system tend to be from social groups with the socio-economic means to buy into the public system.

    I look forward to a time where our public education system is indeed public; a time when all members of our society, all people who live here in BC, can enter into our public education system without having to mortgage their future for it.

  3. Tanja Bergen on November 29, 2009 1:25 pm

    Due process and ideological arguments about expectations aside – did anyone every think that this could actually ever have a hope in hell of working and that it therefore justified destroying our relationship with the UBC Admin, provincial and federal governments and blowing thousands of dollars (I really hope someone did before they went whining to the folks who deal with .. you know .. systematic mass rape in the DR Congo)?!

    For those of you who seem utterly clueless about the UN (as in everyone of you who would even think about supporting this idiotic action for one moment):

    What can we feasibly expect of a special rapporteur or independent expert? As someone keenly interested in gender violence, I frequently read reports issued by some of these appointed experts around the world. Such as the ones that are issued every 6 months to address the systematic gender violence in the DR Congo. They are a depressing and recurrent read in never ending human rights abuses. For instance, compare: A/HRC/11/6 and A/HRC/7/6/Add.4.

    Though depressing (though the special rapporteur has brought this to our attention time and again, 3 girls younger than 10 years old are still being raped daily in the DRC), THESE reports have a point. By bringing these atrocities to light, institutions and organizations (such as donor countries, UN, international financial institutions, and the international criminal court) that could hold sway over the groups that can stop these atrocities (DRC government, neighboring countries governments with relationships to this government or rebel groups etc.) are given information that they can use to sanction perpetrators and those who are permissive of these crimes. So too are the advocacy groups that can in turn harass their governments that have the sway over these groups. Translation: the Enough! Project reads the report, is horrified that women live under such intense threat, make a huge stink to the American congress who pass a bill that in turn helps prevent armed groups from accruing profit from mineral resources, in turn mitigating their need to use mass rape campaigns to drive people from their mineral-rich lands (I’m not saying this system works perfectly, but I am saying that at the end of the day, this is what these reports can possibly accomplish)

    But can we expect the same in Canada? For the UN to force the federal and provincial governments to change their policies they need member countries to stand willing to do something to make Canada change its policies. Do we really expect the US, France, Britain or any member of the G77 (many of whom are struggling with primary education) to do anything about this?

    I can see it now: Uganda berates Canada over the special rapporteurs’ report on British Columbian tuition. American college students give up campaigning for a transparent mineral chain to prevent electronic companies from putting blood-minerals in your cell phones because .. OMG .. UBC students pay 1/10 of their tuition. Around the world protests break out, reminiscent of the anti- Vietnam movement break out…


    Whats more, given that our compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been in question for years, and action taken by the UN to address this, with no effect (see: http://www.straight.com/article-272054/vancouver/un-wants-action-women ), can we really expect this action to bring about change?

    The bottom line is, the ability of this action to affect the change needed to increase students access to education is dubious. Additionally, given the overwhelming variety of tools that we have to access education http://www.universitycounsel.ubc.ca/policies/policy72.pdf – calling these “gross violations of human rights” is an embarrassing sham – especially to the massive group of UBC students that pride themselves in being global citizens.

    I congratulate our exec for showing some spine last night and recognizing just HOW BAD this entire debacle was. I also hope I have shed light on why you had 178 pissed off students (representing several hundreds of others) in attendance at that meeting last night.

  4. Chanelle on November 29, 2009 3:01 pm

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for keeping us all posted – I had absolutely no idea that SFU had done the same thing 5 years ago! I wonder whether it was as much as a bombshell on their campus as it was for UBC’s.

    That having been said, I don’t think any of us (Blake and Tim included) ever expected the U.N. to actually fund an investigation into the matter. Simply being able to say, “we’ve exhausted all other avenues and options available to us within the provincial and federal realms”, regardless of the veracity of that comment, will generate enough publicity within those very same areas (exactly what they should be aiming for in their attempts to lobby for education funding).

    Nevertheless, I definitely do not condone their decision to bypass consultation of the committee. I think we’ve seen an evolution of the principal issue from the initial outrage at having contacted the U.N. to the current anger at them not having consulted the rest of the council and thereby making a mockery out of the supposed representative democracy of the AMS. In addition, other factors come into play – for instance, whether Blake and Tim’s prosecution is fueled by partisan motivation or genuine consideration for student representation.

    Anyway, I’ll save the rest of my commentary for my own post! Thanks for keeping us all updated on background info and developments =)

  5. Titus on November 29, 2009 8:46 pm

    Actually, the UN complaint at SFU happened without any controversy whatsoever, as far as I recall. The only significant difference is that I believe the SFU complaint was approved by the Simon Fraser Student Society Board of Directors, not just the executive.

  6. James Hellraiser on November 30, 2009 4:34 pm

    What people are not seeing yet is a very important pattern:

    The most recent ridiculous decision made by the AMS council (before the retraction from the UN complaint) was the DENIAL given to students with disabilities to have a NON-VOTING seat on council! This goes directly against AMS policies surrounding inclusion.

    It will not be hard to demonstrate that council has been taken over by self-selected Liberal students who are doing personal politics. The Ubyssey reported that the students with disabilities left screaming ‘shame on you’ and crying. This is the type of AMS council we have – taken over by people who elect themselves year after year and do not let anyone who is not aligned with their party politics have a say or get anything done.

    I am willing to bet my degree that, if we take the list of people who voted for Blake’s resignation and the shameful and cowardly retraction of the UN complaint, and compare it with the people who voted against having a NON-VOTING seat held by students with disabilities at the AMS, we will have an almost perfect name-by-name match. And yet, nobody has yet raised any concerns about how shameful was this decision of the Council. People who voted for that refusal are acting against AMS’ s own policies, and should be liable for it. Now, what is worse: putting students with disabilities down or calling the government responsible for their failings (no matter how pro-government you might be, Liberals, the facts are clear = they have not followed something they have signed on to do). Another pattern emerges, the cowardly double standard applied to Dvorak and Rebane, who are forgiven for signing off, and who have retracted in fear from the bold UN complaint. So, no mater what you do, as long as Naylor is in council, if you don’t conform to the Liberal party line, you will be crucified – unless, of course, something ELSE happens – can’t wait to see it.

    The final question will be – will you censor this comment because it does not please you, and because you are afraid of having a real debate?

  7. jenn on December 1, 2009 12:49 am

    I hope whoever showed up in their blue UN peacekeeping helmet feels silly for failing to acknowledge the other functions of the UN aside from peacekeeping missions! Like defending human rights, which actually don’t need to be in quotations, because education is a fundamental human right, which Canada has agreed to upholding. If you haven’t been able to appreciate how lucky your are to be able to gather the resources (financial and otherwise) to be receiving a post-secondary education now might be a great time because you’ve totally offended those who can’t! =)

  8. Joslynn on December 1, 2009 11:12 am

    So, I guess Miss Tanja Bergen would prefer potentially productive people who currently can’t access higher education continue to live in ignorance, instead of perhaps being exposed to these DRC atrocities and others in an academic environment where they may learn how to be a contributing global citizen.

    There are awful things happening to innocent people in many parts of the world. Why does it not make sense to educate as many people as we can so that we can add more contributing members to our global society. I am deeply embarrassed by those of you who are against this incredibly important social right.

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