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Queen’s Law Community, Part I – Club Events

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The best thing about Queen’s Law is the community. That is the selling point we have received – and perhaps repeated to others – at some point in our law school careers.

At the forefront of our community are our clubs and their executives. These are law students who take the time out of their busy schedules to organize events, reach out to people, and keep our community intact. They contribute to a constant stream of activities – fun and educational events alike – that distinguishes Queen’s Law from other Canadian law schools.

As busy as the social calendar has been, it cannot be denied that the types of events being held have been changing at Queen’s Law. Gone from the calendar are such long-standing traditions as Law Games and bake sales. Some of our most notable events, such as the smokers, have had to adapt to new safety requirements. New classes of incoming students, larger and more aware of the acute pressures they face to be competitive, may be less inclined towards the rowdy antics of past years.

Is this shift in the cultural fabric of Queen’s Law the product of broader, systemic changes implemented at the university level, or is it more of a product of the changing demands and expectations of the student body? After speaking with both club executives and members of the LSS Core, it is clear that the major changes in sanctioning that were implemented this year are here to stay; it will be up to the students to adapt to this new system. The challenge now is to maintain the vibrant social life that Queen’s is known for, or embrace the new winds of change.

Origins of Event Sanctioning

The new event sanctioning process was initiated in the summer of 2016, although it stems from concerns stretching back several years at Queen’s University. A number of undergraduate student deaths and injuries in recent years — including that of a student during Frosh Week 2015 —generated concerns about the University’s liability. This prompted Queen’s to revisit its relationship with its insurer, leading Principal Daniel Woolf and the University Office of Risk Management to implement new school-wide requirements for the sanctioning of school events.

Anticipating the new requirements, the Principal and the Office of Risk Management implemented the events sanctioning process in the summer of 2016. Under current guidelines, a ratified club must have its events sanctioned. If it is not, then the club cannot use the student listserv to advertise to the entire student body. They will also not be reimbursed for any expenses. They may not even use their club name – since any and all association with the university or the LSS will be prohibited.

Technically, to be reimbursed for holding events, a club must be ratified by the LSS. This involves filling out a multi-page form that must be submitted to the LSS’s Vice-President Finance. The VP Finance then presents the form to the Clubs Governance Committee (CGC), which then confirms ratification.

Once a club passes the hurdle of ratification, they may seek sanctioning for any planned events. Doing so requires yet another form which is not publicly available, but has to be requested from the LSS VP Activities.

If the event is to be held off-campus, then the club must acquire the venue’s insurance certificate. If the club is holding an event on-campus but providing food, they require the insurance certificate of the food vendor.

All this information must be then collected and submitted to the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), the larger governing body to which LSS belongs, for review and approval. Initially, sanctioning requests had to be made four weeks in advance — however, the SGPS was able to reduce this period to two weeks.

For an event to be sanctioned (particularly one involving alcohol), there are additional logistical and financial considerations now in place. The SGPS has now required sober contacts – usually 2 – for events such as smokers. Depending on the scale of the event, there are also now requirements to hire private security or the student constables.

Indeed, the LSS executive has said that much of the difficulties and confusion surrounding the ratification process this year has stemmed from translating the rules into practice, and streamlining the process to make it easier for LSS clubs to run events.

LSS Core President Nima Hojjati was initially strongly opposed to the process, and spoke with the QL faculty, SGPS, and Office of Risk Management about his concerns throughout the summer and during SGPS council meetings. Hojjati emphasizes that the LSS was the only body within the SGPS that openly challenged the procedural fairness of the process.

One of Hojjati’s concerns was that the result of the process is a two-tiered system. “I told them (the SGPS) from the start that this was going to create two layers – it was going to create the legitimate events and the illegitimate events, and it’s going to have a chilling effect because a lot of times…some of the other events might seem like it’s only for your friends if you made some sort of private event that was posted.” This was particularly the concern with the Queen’s Law Students Facebook group, where event notices for sanctioned and unsanctioned clubs could be posted due to its status as a private group.

However, Hojjati has since changed his opinion on the process, and alongside other members of the LSS Core, particularly VP Activities Jaimie Singleton, he has sought to work alongside the SGPS and the Office of Risk Management to mitigate the issues generated by the process. As he explained, “We’ve fought as much as possible to make this as easy as possible.”

He points to the events forms as one example. “It’s very straightforward, and Andria Burke [the executive director of the SGPS] is almost readily available if there is any sort of issue and she gets in touch with people and asks for more information – it’s very well done.” Concerns about the SGPS not providing reasons for rejecting an application have been resolved – “At the beginning of the year, we had issues with arbitrariness and I thought that it was unfair, because my worry was how do we know when something’s not sanctioned, but that has been resolved, at least in practice.”

LSS VP Academic Cindy Zhang also pointed to other issues that the LSS had to overcome, such as the confusing requirements for sanctioning on the SGPS website – “When I looked earlier, the website contained multiple hyperlinks leading to a variety of places…other departments from which to obtain permission, depending on the various aspects an event consisted. Seemingly innocuous student activities, like paint, posed complications. After Jaimie and Nima’s efforts, they streamlined everything.” Consequently, the process has been improved over the course of the year to make it easier for law students to organize events.

Some Problems, Some Solutions

There certainly have been teething issues with regards to events sanctioning during the 2016-2017 school year. Although not necessarily tied to the sanctioning process itself, this year’s club ratification process was delayed; the CGC did not meet until September 29th in order to finalize a list of clubs to be ratified, and the ratification occurred at the LSS council meeting on October 4th.

This meant that no sanctioned events were actually held until October — which included such events as the welcome receptions for incoming students in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal —and that no clubs on LSS Clubs’ Day, which was held on September 27th, had been ratified yet. While clubs that were mainstays at Queen’s Law were informed that their ratification was more or less a formality, there was an initial issue of ambiguity that took most of the fall semester to resolve.

Confusion over rule requirements also led to a situation involving liability waivers, demonstrated during an event at Barcadia (a Kingston arcade that sells alcohol) hosted by a QL club. The SGPS required all attendees to sign a liability waiver as they were entering the venue. But the organizers of this event overlooked two attendees, who did not sign the waiver. As a result, they were formally reprimanded for the oversight and their sanctioning was retroactively cancelled. When asked about the matter, LSS President Hojjati denied ever hearing about the matter, and emphasized it was up to the clubs to bring forth these issues if there were concerns.

Issues over sanctioning also led to the demise of Law Games as a sanctioned event. According to VP Academic Zhang, trying to get Law Games sanctioned required consistent attention “from summer to Christmas”, and required the involvement of Dean Bill Flanagan, Associate Dean Cherie Metcalf, and Kim Murphy, the Director of Risk Management at the Office of Risk Management. The Law Games Committee was unable secure insurance from Queen’s and UBC’s refusal to cover Queen’s students under its insurance policies due to the potential liability from both the long-distance travel and the event itself; this ultimately forced the event to be run as an unofficial venture.

Still, efforts on the part of the LSS Core were able to preserve some unique aspects of Queen’s Law without significant change. Most notably, VP Activities Singleton was able to successfully obtain sanctioning for Smokers, with the caveats of the LSS not purchasing any alcohol for the events and having sober volunteers present.

Outgoing LSS President Hojjati believes that school spirit is strong. “Semi-Formal, for example, sold out instantly. Lawlapalooza sold huge amounts, Cabaret, huge amounts. These are the main LSS events in the year, and none of them have suffered.”

“We have so [many] events, more events like Smokers compared to most other law schools. And everyone always says ‘Oh, we have no school spirit’, but that’s just not true. Everyone could do more – the 1Ls seem to be more interested in school because of the articling crisis, so that’s a huge factor, and people study more, but the LSS has had very very successful events, and it continues to have them.”

Hojjati points to the success of such clubs as the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program, the Queen’s Law Cancer Society and OutLaw as examples of this changing culture. “Look at the people who are doing things now…we are all very social justice-y, and we all do things that are active, and these are all things that matter.”

As such, while it is not expected that the events sanctioning regime will undergo any major changes in the future, it can be expected that the process will be smoother in 2017-2018. With two members of the existing LSS Core – Jaimie Singleton and Emily Metcalfe – returning as part of the new Core, the retained knowledge and experience will help navigate the changing social environment of Queen’s Law. Recent amendments to the constitution and club guidelines, passed during the Bi-Annual General Meeting on March 29th, 2017, will help clubs get ratified sooner.

The presence of Queen’s Law students on the SGPS executive, including the presidency, may also herald more collaboration between the LSS and SGPS next year. There will be issues ahead; the two-tiered system that Hojjati foresees is likely to continue, as unsanctioned events run by unofficial clubs such as In Vino Veritas will still be around, but it will be up to the student community to be involved and to keep our distinctive vibrancy going.

Is this the new face of Queen’s Law? Or is this the face that it has had to put on with changing administrative and regulatory requirements? That remains unclear.

Jason Liang (3L) is Managing Editor of Juris Diction. Adnan Subzwari (3L) is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Juris Diction.

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