Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a controversial topic on university campuses across North America. It flares up sensitivities and is often a deeply polarizing issue.

The conversation around BDS has been happening on campuses around Canada and only recently came close to Western when the King’s University College Students’ Council (KUCSC) passed a motion to put a question on BDS before its students in a referendum.

This editorial does not debate the merits of BDS. It does discuss how a conversation being facilitated by students’ elected representatives was shut down by five people on the Affiliate Appeals Board.

The Affiliate Appeals Board has value. It can act as an objective arbitrator and safeguard when an unjust decision is passed by student representatives on any of the three affiliate councils.

But in the case of the BDS referendum at King’s, the board went beyond its role and became a political instrument in itself.

 Related: Affiliate appeals board forces down changes to King's BDS referendum 

The original BDS motion was passed by the KUCSC in March 2016. Now with close to a week to go before the yes and no referendum campaigns were to kick off, the board not only decided to hear an appeal on the validity of the referendum but also fundamentally changed the nature of the referendum.

With only a week to go, the board placed onerous conditions one side of the campaign. It effectively changed the question which was unanimously passed by King’s council. The conversation on BDS was supported not only by King’s council but also its executives including president Nate Little.

The original question stated: “As a King’s student, should the KUCSC endorse the BDS movement by lobbying the King’s administration to boycott products and divest from companies in violation of international law?”

The appeals board chose to disallow any references to “BDS” in the referendum despite the fact that students voting either for or against BDS was the heart of the referendum. The board took it on itself to make a paternalistic decision for students. It wasn’t the job of the board to decide if students should discuss and vote on BDS.

 Related: King's students to vote on BDS in referendum set for 2017

If King’s students were against BDS, they would’ve shown their opposition with their votes in the referendum. The two-week campaign period before the referendum would have given the yes and no campaigns sufficient time to make their cases and King’s students an adequate opportunity to decide for themselves.

If that wasn’t problematic enough, the board also asked for specific companies that KUCSC would recommend divesting from if the yes side won the referendum — again, a week before the campaign was to kick off. The timeline makes this extraneous demand seem like a deliberate attempt to derail the referendum.

If challenges to the referendum were serious enough to bring about critical changes to it, the issue and any proposed amendments should have been raised on the King’s council floor, by elected representatives of King’s students. The proposed referendum was overseen by two consecutive King’s councils and the referendum question was approved unanimously.  

The King’s BDS referendum campaign was effectively killed a week before it took off by a board which only had one-third King’s representation. In making its decision, the appeals board let itself become part of a campaign to kill the referendum and subverted the democratic process at King’s which its students were entitled to at their institution.

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