I’ve been on campus for five years now. I probably know more about how the University and Student Society interact more than anyone else on campus. I also have my ear low to the ground, and can hear rumblings before they become issues. This is why I was dumbfounded when I learned that we would have a question on the referendum ballot to immediately transfer money to the “Access UBC Association of Disabled Students”, an organization I have never heard of.

I’m a big fan of students mobilizing to change the rules of the game. This is why I helped lower the quorum for AMS general meetings. That said, when there are questions that are ill-researched, not reviewed by anyone with their head in the game, and when they come from an organization who failed to explain who they are despite having 14 days, I have to encourage everyone to vehemently vote no.

Alex gets ranty, blames council of campus lethargy, and breaks the UBC Insiders editorial policy on endorsements prior to the weekend on the other side of the jump.

Who Are They

This proposal seems to be coming from the Access Association of Disabled Students, a society based out of the University of Victoria. According to the Elections Committee, Kyla Berry, the President of the U-Vic organization, personally delivered the petition. The chair of the Yes committee, Erica Weiss, appears to have recently moved to Vancouver from Victoria, where she finished up her education pre-reqs, and is now studying for an education degree.

The only information available on the internet about Access UBC is this press release by the U-Vic organization.

And that’s it. Nothing else. No campaign website. No campaign blurb. No people to contact. There is nothing out there what-so-ever about this allegedly recently registered society. They do havehad a facebook group, created by an Access U-Vic staff member, but it only hashad one other member (me). This is after the AMS funded $500 for their campaign.

Attempts to Contact

I contacted Erica the moment I discovered the petition and got the names of the Yes committee from the Elections Committee. She responded, stating that their website would be up shortly. It’s been fourteen days, and I still have no website. I repeatedly asked her for copies of the organization’s bylaws and directors’ list, which the public is entitled to. Promises to give me these have turned up empty, and I still know nothing.

Lack of Understanding of UBC

This group has made no attempts to contact obvious people in UBC or the AMS prior to going ahead with their referendum question. When I asked the University director responsible for Access and Diversity on campus about whether or not she had ever heard of this organization, her response was “I don’t actually know anything about [this] organization”. She was approached by some students however, and agreed to forward on an information message.

The petition circulated stated that only undergraduate members of the AMS should sign. That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how UBC students organize, as graduate students are members of the AMS as well.

Independence v. Accountability

Their website states they seek political and financial autonomy to avoid “patronising attitudes [and] opposition to the goals and aspirations of disabled people themselves”. Fair enough. Autonomy is essential for advocacy organizations, but if you ever want true autonomy, then don’t ask for dedicated, non-opt-outable funding. Instead, the “Access UBC” question is posed in a way that tries to skirt all forms of accountability by its funders.

There is a fundamental contrast between this group and other similar bodies on campus. For instance, the Student Legal Fund Society has an annually elected Board of Directors who are all AMS members. There is an AMS committee which annually decides where funds for sexual assault support goes and the code states a certain % is automatically transferred to the Sexual Assault Support Centre. The Ubyssey Board of Directors has a majority elected by and from its membership (which is an automatic membership if you’re an AMS member), and its staff writers are all students. The WUSC Student Refugee Program fee is deposited into an AMS fund, and is thereafter transferred based on agreements with the AMS.

The common link in those organizations is a tie back to the students who fund them. This referendum states the fee would be collected by the AMS, then automatically transferred to Access. The only restriction they would have is that the money would have to be used “for the purpose of increasing accessibility, participation and inclusion for all people with disabilities on campus and in society.”

Campus Awareness

There’s nine referendum questions on the ballot this year. There’s only one Yes committee actively promoting the questions. Council only just finalized the wording and intention of them, and none of the VFM or the Ubyssey are really covering them. This has resulted in a culture of complacency. The wording sounds good, it looks professional, and hey, the “Access UBC Association of Disabled Students” surely sounds sexy.

As a result, our council poll actually had this question passing by nine votes with only one abstention in the 28 ballots. It’s a sad state of affairs when the council blindly throws their trust into an organization they have never heard of, and clearly haven’t researched.


No mention of who is on their Board. No mention of how they’re governed. No website. No transparency. No mention of anything, aside from the lofty statement that the money would be used in accordance with a mandate anything could be read into.

I would advise Access to cut their losses, pull out of the referendum (or ask to not collect the fee), talk to the community they want to enter in to, and then think about how they can best fulfill their mandate. Their current track is not good for their image, and sets them up for an outcome they might have intended.

The University Act states that student society fees are remitted to student societies. A referendum that ignores that aspect of accountability is not only irresponsible, but may also be illegal. Hopefully we will never have to find out whether or not that is the case though. Hopefully this question will not pass.

If you support our brand of independent journalism, please take some time to vote for us in the Continuous Voter-Funded Media contest.


22 Comments so far

  1. Alex Lougheed on January 21, 2010 8:11 pm

    To her credit, Erica did say she was on practicum the past two weeks. That, however, is an excuse, and not good enough if you want to take about $80,000 from students annually.

  2. Rory on January 21, 2010 10:47 pm

    I was surprised to learn about this referendum question also, especially because I helped the initiative to create the non-voting seat for students with disabilities. Alex, I hope you’ll keep us all updated as you learn more.
    Also, has anyone asked the UBC DRC or the AMS Equity office how they feel about this?

    Also, when submitting this comment, I failed the “are you a robot?” test 3 times.

  3. Geoff Costeloe on January 22, 2010 12:32 am

    Given the topic of this article there was huge potential for a burn given your robot failures. I will refrain and use my better judgment this time.

  4. Alex Lougheed on January 22, 2010 2:05 am

    I spoke with the director in charge of the DRC. She’s the one cited above. She had never heard of the organization.

  5. Peter on January 22, 2010 6:31 am

    Wow, this sounds like a complete scam. Is there some way to remove that question from the referendum ballot? If not, can I insert something on there with a nice sounding name and a unilateral transfer of funds to my bank account?

    Also, Alex, are you sure its just $80,000? It’s at least $4 per student per year (as the referendum question puts it at $2 per semester) and possibly more as people who take classes in the summer might have to pay an additional $1 or $2 (right?). That’s steep.

    Good catch!

  6. TLG on January 22, 2010 7:36 am

    Good research, guys. One possible ground for challenging the referendum question: does the “group” (such as it exists) have the right to use the word “UBC” in its name? I’m not entirely sure how UBC’s laws/policies work, but I’m relatively confident that UBC is a trademark that needs to be used appropriately and, if this group isn’t affiliated with UBC in any way it could be an issue, as the name (and therefore the question) could be misleading.

  7. Erica on January 22, 2010 7:44 am

    I’ve followed every AMS rule, and complied with every procedure to have a referendum question. My petition was accepted by the AMS, our question is on the ballot and I am seeking guidance at every step from the elections administrator. I think I’m doing everything required and doing everything right. The only thing I haven’t done is get back to Alex as fast he’d like with all the information he thinks is relevant.

  8. Neal Yonson on January 22, 2010 9:20 am


    “…information he thinks is relevant”?

    Don’t you think it’s relevant to give even basic information to voters about your organization, beyond simply a name?

  9. Rory on January 22, 2010 10:25 am

    I am really surprised that Janet Mee wasn’t contacted. Also, is there any sort of budget for how this money will be spent?

  10. Shell on January 22, 2010 12:20 pm

    As serious as the issue of accessibility is, and as important it is to ensure that all students with disabilities feel a part of the university, Access is a shell group for the CFS, and would not be a good addition to the UBC resource groups.

    If we give them massive amounts of money, with no AMS Council oversight, we would be opening ourselves up to far more CFS influence than UBC needs (which is none).

    I commend Insiders for bringing this to light, referenda out of left field are a common tactic for CFS across the country. We cannot let them get away with this.

    I am all for disability access, and wholeheartedly believe there should be a well funded resource group to address issues and conduct consultation on behalf of the AMS, but it should be the same as our other resource groups – under the supervision of the ECSS and at the financial approval of Council.

  11. Tammy Bolt on January 22, 2010 5:24 pm

    This is ridiculous. Im not going to vote for this-who came up with this?

    I heard though that UBC shafts students with legitimate disabilitites from grad and professional schools which is sad.

  12. TLG on January 22, 2010 7:52 pm

    Allow me the indulgence of adding my voice to the chorus..

    Erica: what do you want to do with the money? That’s part of “doing everything right.”

  13. Alex Lougheed on January 22, 2010 8:39 pm

    Furthermore, the question states this fee would be levied each “semester”. “Semester”s don’t exist at UBC.

    Is a year a semester? Is a term a semester? Is a session a semester? Careful deliberation was not followed in drafting this question.

  14. Aaron Palm on January 23, 2010 1:23 pm

    Access is an incorporated non-profit and the resolution says the money goes to “participation and inclusion for all people with disabilities on campus and [b]in society[/b]?”

    The money is going straight into the pockets of a corporation with no guarantee that the money would even be spent at UBC. Disgusting.

  15. Maayan on January 24, 2010 7:14 am

    This is fairly dastardly.

    Good piece Alex!!

  16. eternalcanadian on January 26, 2010 4:06 am

    Yegads, Alex Lougheed is a pillox if I’ve ever read one. The reason there is no Access UBC is because it has yet to be set up and needs the support & funding. If Alex doesn’t have a disbaility he most certainly is no expert and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Pffft.

  17. Hillson on January 26, 2010 4:34 pm

    Usually, there is a plan before you ask someone to fork over $150,000. Just saying.

  18. Commodore Cuddles on January 27, 2010 3:26 pm

    Please tell me your real plan is to embezzle the $150,000 and buy coke & hookers. I would actually respect that.

    For all I know Access UBC is a front for al Qaeda. Don’t support terrorism. Vote no!

  19. Asian Sensation on January 27, 2010 6:30 pm

    …”eternalcanadian” is being sarcastic, right? Right? I am a robot cannot compute emotions over the internet.
    P.S. Alex is a sneaky sneakster.

  20. Mike Silley on January 28, 2010 1:54 am

    Great Piece, Alex! Keep ’em coming!

  21. Ashley on February 3, 2011 10:27 pm

    Access UVic has been turfed out in financial disgrace by the UVic Student Society. Read all about it here:


  22. Alex Lougheed on March 31, 2011 2:08 pm

    Thanks for the throwback Ashley. I hope the students at your school organize a more legitimate advocacy group on behalf of folk with disabilities.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet