The 2017 election for the UVSS was an eternity ago. There’s no practical reason for anyone to remember the campaign promises made so long ago. However, I do. One campaign promise in particular is so unforgettable:
“Some policies our slate would like to present would include . . . petting zoos” – Energize (published in the Martlet, April 2017).
This may seem like a lighthearted joke, but it is my duty as a journalist to inform you, dear reader, that this is nothing of the sort. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the current UVSS board has been operating several illegal and dangerous underground petting zoos in order to facilitate increases in expenditure on luxury Amazon items and/or supplementary income for UVSS board members.
Murmurs and whispers infiltrate the campus at every level. Conversations abruptly pause as strangers enter a room. There are signs everywhere that something is amiss, but to speak of it above the volume of a whisper would be to open oneself to ridicule.
Is it ridiculous that innumerable students have seen peacock feathers in Clearihue? Is it completely ludicrous that just last week an instructor walked into his office and found a goat? Not for those who want to see the UVSS adhere to ethical business practices.
I could report on gossip, or I could just use an overheard piece of conversation taken out of context for an article — like my colleagues at the Martlet often do — but I prefer a traditional approach. I set out to interview one of the UVSS representatives in their office. I did not send an email to allow them to prepare for an easy deflection of my accusations, and instead opted to drop in and catch whoever was there by surprise. Sure enough, I found someone willing to talk.
The following is a redacted transcription of an official Martlet interview conducted in the UVSS office Feb. 12.
“Hi there, I’m Marshall Scott-Bigsby. I’m with the Martlet, and I was wondering if I could have a minute to ask you a couple questions on the Student Society’s business operations in recent months?”
“Um, sure,” the man behind the desk said. “I guess I could give you some general information, but you’d have to schedule an appointment later this week or next to get specifics, is that okay?”
“That’s fine. Can I get your name?”
“Wow! That’s a really memorable name,” I said, as I took out my audio recorder and placed it on the desk as I took a seat. “Do you mind? I’m not a fast note-taker.”
“Oh, sure. So what do you have questions about?”
“There’s been a lot of talk on campus recently about campaign promises that were made by Energize during last year’s election. Specifically, the promise to establish a petting zoo on campus. What actions has the UVSS taken to see this become a reality?”
“What? Oh!” REDACTED laughed, shaking his head. “That. Jeez, I forgot about that. Well it wasn’t a campaign promise, I will correct you there. But we have been looking into options for a collaboration with the Beacon Hill petting zoo in the next few months!”
“I see. So the UVSS denies rumors of them operating secret for-profit petting zoos behind closed doors?”
The smile on REDACTED‘s face dissolved. His brow furrowed and chin tightened as his gaze turned serious. “I don’t believe I know what you’re talking about.”
“You haven’t heard the rumours? That this was Energize’s plot all along? To launder their petting zoo money through the UVSS?”
He stood up. “This interview is over.”
“What is your response to these allegations? You can’t just expect us all to buy the official narrative that these are some sort of specialty support animals leaving evidence in almost every building on campus!”
He grabbed the recorder off the desk and threw it out into the hallway. He yelled “The UVSS has no involvement in any illegal activity including but not limited to the possession of pettable animals, organization of animal petting rings, and animal petting betting!”
I stood up. “Then what’s that?” I pointed to the ducks and bales of hay in the far corner of the office.
He looked to where I was pointing and turned back to me, his face practically glowing red. “Get out!” he screamed, flipping over a tall pile of agendas that had been stacked on his desk.
I left. I wasn’t going to find answers here.
To seek answers, I moved on to a new strategy. I conducted interviews with various students around campus. I found that people waiting in line at the Bibliocafe were the most willing to participate, likely due to the Atlas Shrugged-like length of the coffee line.
“I mean, I haven’t seen anything myself, but I know that people have found some weird stuff on campus,” one student said. “Like, my buddy Zach found a bunch of wool in Clearihue. And not in the context of a sweater.”
“There was that donkey that was just wandering about in the Quad a few weeks ago. Well, until some people wearing black tackled it, put a bag on its head, and dragged it away. That struck me as a little weird.”
“If you really want to know what’s going on, stay in Cornett after closing tonight.”
“Animals? Yeah! I saw a rabbit earlier this year! Isn’t that crazy? That rabbits are coming back and —“
I ignored the absurd claims of the rabbit plague’s resurgence and focused on the more intriguing suggestion to stay in the Cornett building overnight. So I did.
After the custodian locked the last door in the building, I walked the halls for an hour. Each time that I turned a corner I felt like I had stepped into one of a hundred identical halls, built solely to confuse the ever-loving shit out of the first-years.
I read the posters on the corkboard. I looked through the windows into empty classrooms. I discovered mystical and mysterious places. (As a side note, I would like to mention that I discovered that UVic actually has a little known wing of Cornett funded with the specific intention to research and analyze Seth Rogen and his work.)
As I left the Rogen Institute, I heard muffled yells and screeches coming from somewhere else in the building. I had either found the petting zoo, or someone was playing Nickelback.
My heart raced, the blood pounding in my ears as I ran towards the source of the sound. As I turned one more corner, I saw a hallway filled with people. I stopped in my tracks and stepped back behind an open door, so as to remain out of sight. The noises were much louder than when I had been in the Rogen Institute. I could make out quacks and bleats. Thankfully, they weren’t playing Nickelback.
The haze of lies, smoke, and mirrors that our Student Society had erected to shroud the truth was beginning to clear.
I used a small hand mirror to check around the corner. The people loitering in the hallway were well-dressed and standing in line to enter one of the rooms. There were two doormen on guard, both of whom were tall and muscular. I was wearing my street clothes, and there was no way that the UVSS — assuming they were behind this — would let me in. I would need to improvise, to implement the skills and techniques that were taught to me in my journalism classes.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said, walking up to the bouncers with my arms outstretched. “I take it this is the illegal petting zoo that I’ve been hearing so much about?”
The larger of the two looked to the other. “Do you have an invitation?” he asked me.
“Do you?” I responded.
Before the confounded guards could even gawk in disbelief at my genius retort, I bounded in between the two of them — through the door and into the room.
I spoke the words as if they had formed by themselves and leaped from my tongue to escape my mouth. The dimly lit room had been cleared of desks and filled with white-linen-covered tables set with an assortment of cutlery and plates. The people seated at these tables — university Senate members, faculty, and wealthy Gustavson students — all turned in the direction of the commotion, and locked their eyes on me. If anyone had any influence on campus, they were in this room. Jamie Cassels was nowhere to be seen.
The room was packed wall-to-wall with animals. Not animals typical to North American petting zoos, however, but exotic creatures and beasts. To my immediate right were several Indian elephants. In the back, I could make out a zebra alongside a kangaroo. In the far left corner there was a flock of flamingos and a Brontosaurus. I was amazed at the variety. Archeologists can confirm that the Brontosaurus was never even a real dinosaur, and yet the UVSS had managed to acquire one. Other domestic animals such as goats, sheep, cows, ducks, and pigs filled the gaps between the rare animals.
“Marshall! You can’t be here.” REDACTED — the UVSS representative with the awesome name that I had spoken to earlier — stood up from his table of student society fatcats and fat cats and shouted at me. “You can’t just come barrelling into any dinner party that you feel like! This is a closed event! The Martlet’s lawyers will hear about this!”
“Our lawyers will be hearing about this?” I replied. “What a coincidence. The students of the University of Victoria will be hearing about this as well.” I gestured to the Brontosaurus to illustrate exactly what I was referring to.
“You can’t possibly think that running an article about this would do anything good for the University,” REDACTED replied. “The UVSS is already under constant scrutiny from the student body. Surely you understand that even though our practices may be unsavoury in your mind, the confidence of the students in our society is more important.”
“I refuse to believe that.” I turned and left, leaving REDACTED, his beastly tycoons, and his beasts alone in the classroom.
To save face, the UVSS has sent out various warnings to the Martlet in an effort to quell the publication of this piece. While it is always nice to have more angry letters from readers to frame and mount on the Martlet corkboard, they offered to tell us what they did with the money in exchange for us redacting the names of the UVSS Director(s) involved.
So we did. We hand-painted over every single mention of a UVSS Director in this piece. And I pray our discovery was worth it. The haze of lies, smoke, and mirrors that our Student Society had erected to shroud the truth was beginning to clear. Finally, we as a publication under the Student Society had come to a point where we had fought tooth and nail to unearth the reality of their dealings, and we won. We now can tell you, dear reader, with complete certainty and confirmation from the UVSS Board of Directors, that the money that was laundered and produced by this petting zoo scheme was being sent to line the pockets of another, somehow even shadier, organization: the Rogen Institute.
That investigation is yet to come.