Five highlights and five lowlights from the SFSS’s history

“From athletics stadium issues to Deepak Sharma’s short-lived presidency, the SFSS’s history is layered with startling events, garnering student concern and intrigue.”

The 2020 SFSS Election debate was held on Wednesday March 20

By: Jonathan Pabico, Peak Associate 

You’ll hear about it throughout your SFU experience, but what exactly is the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS)? Here’s the scoop: according to their website, the SFSS comprises of a group of students who not only represent and advocate on behalf of SFU’s undergraduate student body, but also provide services to that student body to enrich our university experiences. Studying the history of the SFSS revealed that the SFSS’s successes were interwoven with controversial surprises. From athletics stadium issues to Deepak Sharma’s short-lived presidency, the SFSS’s history is layered with startling events, garnering student concern and intrigue. With the SFSS election fast approaching, let’s take a look at five highlights and five lowlights from the SFSS’s extensive history to remind ourselves of why this election matters.


Five highlights

2017: Changes to elections policies

The SFSS implemented new changes to their election policies last year to better address past issues concerning debates, disciplinary policies, and behavioural standards of SFSS candidates, and other aspects of their political affairs. The newly updated elections policies also armed party candidates with better guidelines by imposing a template for their campaigns. These changes even included holding election debates at only one campus instead of multiple campuses to gain better student turnout and better manage the society’s resources. Although the SFSS reformed their election policies, these changes will be monitored this year to determine their effectiveness.

Editor’s note: Despite the change in policy, the SFSS will be hosting debates on both the Burnaby and the Surrey campuses during the 2018 elections.


Turnout for Fall Kickoff concerts

The 2014 Fall Kickoff concert had an enormous turnout of nearly 1,800 people attending and enjoying its festivities. During this event, numerous bands performed, such as Paris & Simo, Luvlyf, BESTiE, and the Faceplants. After the concert ended, multiple DJs kept the event’s energy and night life alive during an after party at the Highland Pub. This turnout is especially impressive since Fall Kickoff 2013 was the first time the event was hosted. Fall Kickoff 2017 broke attendance records with about 2,600 individuals attending.


2014: Returning commemorative plaque to Freedom Square

Back in October 2014, the SFSS returned a plaque that had been missing for years to Freedom Square. The plaque was placed at Freedom Square to honour a 1967 peaceful protest that reinstated TAs that had been fired unfairly. The plaque was stolen a year after this protest by UBC engineering students and was used by a UBC alumnus as a TV stand. Although the plaque was eventually returned to SFU by the same UBC alumnus who previously used it as a TV stand, it spent the better part of 10 years in storage at Convocation Mall after its return and was only re-rediscovered and rededicated in 2000.


2014: The Emergency Food Bank Program’s expansion to all campuses

2014 also saw the SFSS expanding its food bank program to the Vancouver campus. Students from multiple campuses were able to obtain vouchers that they could redeem at local grocery stores, namely Nesters Market and Safeway. The SFSS intended to bring their food bank program to SFU Surrey as well in order to conveniently provide full access to students, regardless of which campus they frequented. In 2017, the SFSS also collaborated with the university to obtain additional funding for its Emergency Food Bank Program.


1974: Creation of the Women’s Centre

The SFSS manages the Women’s Centre. It was created way back in 1974, originally starting out as a Women’s Caucus (run by female students). While the Women’s Centre was created to offer childcare, access to birth control, sexual assault support, and other services to women, it is an open place for anyone who seeks a safe social space on campus. Among the objectives of the Women’s Centre, this group promotes respect for women’s rights and provides resources such as a 24/7 lounge area and education about sexual health. The SFSS also offers services through another Rotunda group, Out on Campus, a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks and allies.


Five lowlights

2017–present: Space issues concerning the SUB

The SFSS surprised Embark, CJSF, and SFPIRG last year by denying them space in the upcoming Student Union Building (SUB). Although these student societies were apparently involved in discussions about reserving space in the SUB, the SFSS prioritized the majority of SUB space to student clubs and unions, catching the societies off guard. With no SUB space and their leases nearly expired, Embark, SFPIRG, and CJSF worry about where they could operate in the future.  


2017: Food and Beverage Services ended, Highland Pub closed

The SFSS continued its surprise streak in 2017 when they closed down the Food and Beverage Services and the Highland Pub, surprising students and employees alike. The SFSS strongly empathized with students’ social concerns, but the pub’s financial losses cost the SFSS an annual half-a-million-dollars deficit. Although the pub was economically infeasible, students were still disappointed in its closure and felt concerned about the SFSS’s apparent lack of transparency during the decision-making process. With the pub gone, students felt deprived, having now lost a place that represented a rich social space to connect with others on campus. (Note: SFU took over the SFSS’s Food and Beverage Services, and the Highland Pub is available for booking and events.)


2007–11: Legal disputes with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)

In spring 2007, the SFSS organized a referendum for SFU’s student body, aiming for enough votes to officially leave the CFS, the largest national student association in Canada. Then-president Derrick Harder stipulated that the SFSS wanted to leave due to a staggering $400,000 in annual membership costs and low paybacks. However, the CFS found the SFSS’s referendum was noncompliant with their policies, given that the SFSS facilitated this referendum as opposed to the CFS itself. The SFSS was subsequently held culpable for this noncompliance. The SFSS finally separated from the CFS after spending over $450,000 on a legal dispute that spanned three years from 2008 to 2012.


2011: The temporary lockout of Out on Campus and the Women’s Centre

In 2011, the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus were locked out. Jeff McCann, the SFSS president at the time, revealed that the lockout was due to budget cuts to address the SFSS’s financial constraints. Volunteers and staff working at Out on Campus and the Women’s Centre expressed concerns for the lockout and the negative consequences that would follow, especially for marginalized students who may no longer have access to the safe and social spaces where they normally seeked support. This lockout sparked a labour dispute between the SFSS and its unionized employees, eventually inciting SFU students to protest at the SFSS’s boardroom.


2006: Impeachment of board members

The SFSS experienced a series of impeachments for various members of the Board of Directors who had violated policies and bylaws (including abuses of power) among other actions. In fall 2006, seven board members were impeached including a treasurer, an external relations officer, and even a past SFSS president. Over 1,000 students attended a general meeting that discussed the various unethical acts committed by this group. After they were impeached, the seven board members were replaced by newly elected board members.