If you fight for it. Go vote for it.

The polls are open for the 2023 AMS Elections.

It’s your chance to pick next year’s student leaders who will stand up for the issues you care about. Affordability, student debt, climate action, support for clubs – there are candidates focused on these issues and more. Find out where they stand and make your picks.

You’re also voting on four important referendum questions. Vote YES to:

Maintain Your Health & Dental Coverage

With increased usage for mental health ($1,250 for psychology coverage), dental, drugs, and vision, your AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan is currently operating under a deficit of $52.50 per student. To maintain the coverage we currently offer, we need your support to approve a $52.50 increase to the health and dental plan. If this fee increase doesn’t pass, there will be significant cuts in coverage for mental health, drugs, and dental care.

Lifesaving access to gender-affirming healthcare

Help bring equitable healthcare to campus. By supporting an $8 fee, the Studentcare Plan will make urgently needed gender-affirming care accessible for UBC students. This coverage will profoundly uplift students’ lives and their wellbeing, relieving barriers, promoting health, and providing safety.

Affordable, sustainable and inclusive transportation

A healthy, happier and safer UBC community starts with you. Your support of a $3 The Bike Kitchen fee will allow it to continue providing students with affordable bike and wheelchair repair services, and create new programs for BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. Not to mention the reduced bus, traffic and parking congestion to/from UBC.

Improve AMS Council and create an Indigenous student Constituency

Support the formation of an Indigenous Constituency to provide a self-governing system of organization for Indigenous students on campus and an opportunity to pursue active reconciliation. We’re also asking you to support

  • Shrinking the size of AMS Council to reduce bureaucracy.
  • Better mechanisms for Executive accountability.
  • Ensuring stronger relationships between the AMS and Clubs and Constituencies.

Polls close Friday March 10 at 5PM. Get your vote in and take a role in shaping UBC into the university you want.

AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre: 20 Years Later

By: Sheliza Mitha

The idea behind what’s now known as the SASC – UBC’s AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre – started with a little more than a few whispered conversations.

It was the early 2000s, about a half-decade before Tarana Burke founded the MeToo Movement. Resources for sexual assault survivors were scarce, despite the numbers. For example, in her 2019 UBC Master’s thesis on the MeToo movement, Erin Eileen Davidson reported that some 460,000 sexual assaults are reported each year in Canada.

Enter Lisa Lafreniere, a UBC student who (at the time) coordinated SpeakEasy – a peer counselling service of the AMS – while also working at Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW). Through her work at SpeakEasy, word (and whispers) spread that Lisa had specific knowledge and training with sexual assault issues. Students sought her out to talk about their experiences, and get support for resources that were not otherwise readily available.

With a clear need for sexual assault support services, an environmental assessment was conducted examining campus support services. The result was two-fold: 1. A support service of this kind would be valuable for the campus. 2. It would be more effective to work with an established anti-violence organization versus developing something new.

What followed was a one-year pilot project in August 2002, whereby WAVAW created an on-campus satellite office – the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) – staffed roughly 10 hours a week through donations and grants (including the AMS). While the AMS also provided space, WAVAW covered much of the renovations.

Some six months later – confirming demand for its services – the SASC attempted to make a home on campus through a referendum that would determine its future.

In February 2003, UBC students took to the polls to decide on whether to pay an additional $1 each per year in AMS fees to support the centre. Why $1? The figure was decided on by the AMS and WAVAW to help SASC in increasing its hours, and its support services.

Lafreniere noted at the time that if the referendum failed, the future of the SASC would be unclear. “The SASC provides support for survivors of sexual assault, but as well to provide awareness and education about sexual assault before it happens.”

The referendum passed, and this fund for the SASC is administered by the AMS to this day. In a second 2003 referendum, the amount was raised to $3 per student per year. In 2008, Student Council raised the percentage received by SASC to 95 percent for its core operating revenue (up from 80 percent). All of which allowed for growth and greater services.

In 2018, new federal legislation dictated that educational institutions must provide sexual support services. As a result of the university’s obligation to offer services, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) was created – which led to the immediate closure of the SASC office.

“SASC staff were fired overnight because this university service was created,” explained Aashna Josh, current SASC Manager. “But, because of the student outcry, SASC reopened after just a few months – which speaks to the impact. Our impact is there, even though it’s not always seen.”

Today, the SASC operates with a staff of 11 and about 25 to 30 volunteers during the school year.

“We sit with people when needed, keep them alive and engaged to make sure they feel seen and supported. Our campaigns are visible – but our support services are confidential, and serve anyone who needs them,” Josh said. “We aim to offer services from a place of humility. We’re an anti-violence organization doing this work on occupied Musqueam lands and acknowledge the benefit we derive from working and living on this land.”

Over the past four years, the SASC has supported a growing number of sexual assault survivors: 726 in 2018; 1,145 in 2019; 1,145 in 2020; and 2,028 in 2021.

In a 2017 interview with The Ubyssey, former SASC manager Ashley Bentley emphasized the need for these services is constant. “When I say that sexual assault is an epidemic, I don’t say that lightly. We’re seeing an increase in the number of people accessing services.”

Although the primary mandate is to assist survivors of sexual assault, the SASC also works to educate students and promote prevention with services including emotional support groups, educational and outreach programs, and legal and medical advocacy. The centre also provides free contraceptives and pregnancy tests, and considers itself an all-gender service that aims to provide queer-friendly and gender-affirming services for everyone.

And all of this has been possible through the power of students: creating the SASC, funding it and fighting for it again in 2018. When the SASC went to referendum this year (2022), it was passed again – a testament to the number of services being accessed over the past several years.

The SASC’s survival directly connects to – and impacts – the survival and well-being of thousands more. This much is clear – especially to the UBC students who funded and fought for this important, empowering, and much-needed service for sexual assault survivors.

Hold UBC Accountable to Students

Nominations are now open for the 2023 AMS Elections. Run for a student leadership position and get paid, while keeping UBC accountable to students. AMS Executive, Senate (Faculty and At-Large), Board of Governors, Student Legal Fund Society, and Ubyssey Board of Directors are up for grabs. Nominations close in a few weeks so get your name in soon.

Deadlines and nomination forms are available on the AMS Elections Page.

UBC Students Organize for Abortion Rights

Caravan across Canada for Abortion Rights

By: Jason Tockman

In late spring 1970, UBC student Ellen Woodsworth was one of several leaders of a caravan of cars and vans that traversed the nation to demand free access to safe abortions for all Canadians.

The procession began with just seventeen women departing in three vehicles from Vancouver in late April, amassing greater numbers as it travelled across the country before arriving in Ottawa eleven days later.

On May 9, those who had made the journey rallied in front of Parliament, brandishing signs and banners that read “Abortion Is Our Right” and “Free Abortion on Demand Now!” When virtually all Members of Parliament declined to meet with them, a contingent of several dozen took their struggle into the Parliament building, chained themselves to gallery chairs during an active session of the House of Commons, and and disruptively stated their case until Parliament was recessed for the day.

“In those days, we didn’t even have access to birth control, which shows how little power women had at that time,” Woodsworth recounts. “We felt that abortion should be a right, and it should be available within the Canadian health care system.”

Their message: “Women have the right to control their own bodies – and birth control and abortion have to be part of that. It should be part of our rights as a human being,” Woodsworth adds.

At the time, Woodsworth was head of the students’ Speakers Bureau at UBC, responsible for bringing speakers to campus – a position she secured in the AMS’s annual election. Through this role, Woodsworth built connections with others concerned about women’s rights across the city and became involved with the Vancouver Women’s Caucus (VWC) – the association that organized what later became known as the Abortion Caravan.

Woodsworth describes the VWC as a group of female workers, students and housewives connected with Simon Fraser University and UBC. Their focus on access to birth control and abortion followed Canada’s 1969 revisions to the Criminal Code, which legalized abortion but only in very narrow circumstances and after being approved by a panel of three physicians – almost always male doctors. The VWC and the Abortion Caravan demanded that abortion services be fully removed from the Criminal Code, and be made available “on demand” by anyone who wanted to terminate a pregnancy.

On the road, the women of the Abortion Caravan organized events in cities across the country, stopping and staying in United Church halls and school basements, giving speeches, doing street theatre, and holding interviews. Karin Wells, CBC radio documentarian and author of The Abortion Caravan, says that with every stop, the number of people in attendance multiplied – growing to 300 in Toronto. As they passed through cities, Woodsworth recalls, “Some were hostile, and some were friendly, and a lot had no idea what we were saying.”

For Woodsworth, the most memorable aspects of this journey across Canada were the women’s stories. Hearing various narratives of the many lives lost from illegal abortions, she came to several realizations: that thousands of women had died from unsafe procedures, and that Indigenous women were being sterilized against their will and, in some cases, without their knowledge. It was through those stories, Woodsworth reflects, that they gained the strength and determination to storm the House of Commons and chain themselves to the gallery seats.

“It really wasn’t just an intellectual understanding anymore,” she asserts, “it was a deep, emotional understanding that we had to get the ear of the electeds and get it changed.”

When the Caravan arrived in Ottawa, it was overwhelmingly greeted by people on the streets waving, cheering and raising fists in support. However, federal ministers refused to meet with the women, and Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was out of town. The women organized an open meeting in Parliament’s Railway Room, which was attended by a few Members of Parliament (MPs). As Gwen Hauser reported in the Pedestal, [Ed: a feminist periodical published by the VWC from1969-1976] one of the Caravan presenters, Doris Powers, spoke powerfully about how she had sought an abortion but, as a low-income woman, was “granted a sterilization” instead. Hauser emphasized that the MPs present, mostly with the New Democratic Party, did not offer quick action.

The women of the Caravan and their supporters took to Ottawa’s streets, donning white aprons tied around their waists that read, “This uterus is not government property.” They also visited the Prime Minister’s residence, setting a coffin on the veranda that they had transported all the way from Vancouver (and which had stashed their sleeping bags between cities).

By the following day, the women managed to secure forged passes into Parliament. They dressed in “middle-class clothes” so as not to draw attention, Wells explains, keeping their chains well hidden in their purses. One-by-one or in groups of two, around three dozen women entered the building and made their way up to the Gallery.

As soon as Question Period started, one woman jumped up and began speaking.

“We took turns – one at a time – standing up and demanding, ‘Abortion is a right – women are dying,’” Woodsworth explains, while others chanted, “Free abortion on demand!” Shocked Members of Parliament yelled up to the Gallery as guards scrambled to silence and remove the women.

“They just were so furious,” Woodsworth says with a laugh. “It was all men at that time, and they hadn’t a clue what we were talking about. They were just angry that a group of women were disrupting their normal discussion – the group of men running the country.”

It took some time for the guards to find clippers to cut through the chains. Eventually, all the women were cleared from the chamber, escorted outside and released – without arrest. By then the Speaker had adjourned the meeting of the House.

What was the legacy of the Abortion Caravan? As Wells tells it, the Caravan “put abortion on the table. It was the first time anybody had spoken about abortion in a public meeting… Nobody talked about it, and until you talk about stuff nothing changes.” But more broadly than just the issue of abortion, she views the event as “the first grassroots national women’s movement where anything public and big had ever happened” in Canada.

Woodsworth similarly characterizes the Abortion Caravan as a “breakthrough moment – a seminal moment” in Canada’s history where a group of citizens showed that “government could be held accountable.” It was bigger than the issue of abortion, she asserts – or even women’s rights; it influenced and gave strength to broader social movements for justice and equity.

While the Caravan made abortion a national conversation and created political space to talk about it more openly, it would not be until 1988 that the Supreme Court of Canada would fully legalize abortion. Woodsworth celebrates that decision, but laments that abortion remains unavailable in much of the North, in New Brunswick and other Eastern provinces, as well as hospitals run by the Catholic Church. She points out that there is still important work to be done to ensure that everyone in Canada who seeks an abortion can access the service.