The Canadian Federation of Students logo. Via the CFS-FCEE website.

A recent letter acquired by The Varsity from Sara Bigler, chairperson of the Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College (SUVCC), to Bilan Arte, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), reveals that the SUVCC is not participating in the activities of the CFS, on the grounds that the CFS’ national executive is working in contempt of its membership. 

A number of CFS member locals in BC share the SUVCC’s concerns regarding the CFS. 

SUVCC and the CFS

Correspondence between the SUVCC and the CFS national executives dates back to May 2015, when the SUVCC’s executive director Samantha Walsh wrote to CFS executives — including Arte, national treasurer Anna Dubinski, and former national chairperson Jessica McCorrmick.

Walsh wrote that SUVCC believed the executives undermined the credibility and validity of the federation due to union busting and side-deals to which some CFS employees had allegedly been subjected.

“From what I understand, the employees of the Federation raised these concerns because their work was being contracted to outside companies, that the management officials were making deals with some employees that circumvented the union (side-deals), and that there was a threat to the integrity of union representation itself,” said Bigler. 

According to Bigler, the CFS’ national executive has not responded to questions about the federation’s labour relations.

“In the last month, employees of the Canadian Federation of Students who spoke out against this mistreatment have been terminated,” Bigler said.

In June 2015, Samantha Walsh wrote to the CFS national executive after the proxy vote at the National Aboriginal Caucus meeting was not recognized. Even though the proxy was accepted at the beginning of the meeting, it was denied on the last day of the meeting — a move that Bigler suggests was an effort to prevent the re-election of Simka Marshall as the national executive representative.

“As the debate about proxy voting progressed, chief electoral officer Bourque said that some students’ unions had been told that they could not send proxies. Despite requests for proof of this, none was provided,”  Bigler said. “Christine Bourque is a staff person of CFS-Ontario, and there should be no reason she would have communicated with students’ unions outside of Ontario about the National Aboriginal Caucus meeting beforehand to discuss voting.”

The SUVCC have tried contacting the CFS national executive in pursuit of answers to their numerous concerns but have yet to receive a direct response. They, along with other member unions, are currently assessing their CFS membership status.

“We are committed to working with other students on fighting for lower tuition fees, against rising student debt, and in solidarity for social justice. It is our judgement that the Canadian Federation of Students is leaving this fight, not the other way around,” said Bigler.

CFS-BC and CFS

At the Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) of the CFS’ British Columbia branch (CFS-BC), now named the British Columbia Federation of Students’ (BCFS) in August 2015, member locals voted to censure the national executive — specifically Arte and Dubinski.

Based on Arte’s alleged union busting and engagement in election fraud at the June National Aboriginal Caucus meeting, CFS-BC found she “ has consistently failed to uphold the values of the Canadian Federation of Students.”

Dubinski was censured on the claims that she allegedly  secured nation-wide International Student Identity Card (ISIC) discounts, fired employees of the federation without the authority to do so, failed to maintain up-to-date financial records, and refused to provide financial information to BC Representative Jenelle Davies she required to fulfill her duties.

Davies, who was attempting to determine debts owing to the CFS and CFS-Services by CFS-Ontario, has been refused a breakdown of debts. However, under the provisions of the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, it is unlawful to withhold this information from a director.

“At the 67th Semi-annual National General Meeting, the budget committee was shown draft financial statements for 2014 that showed over $600,000 in receivables being written off as bad debts. BC delegates in the committee asked for a list of the debts but the Treasurer, Anna Dubinski, claimed not to know which debts made up the amount. I have been asking for that breakdown for the ten months since, but Dubinski has refused to provide me with the information,” said Davies.

“Instead of answering my questions, providing me and my member locals with the information we had requested, and allowing me access to the financial records, they chose to bypass me and communicate directly with my constituents, portraying my concerns as groundless,” she added.

At the meeting, CFS-BC also demanded the resignation of Arte and Dubinski; recognition of the election of Aboriginal Students’ Representative Tl’ehskwiisimka Marshall and Women’s Representative Shayli Robinson; public acknowledgement that the directors of the CFS were aware of the use of funds not represented in the annual audited financial statements; and removal of Jessica McCormick and Toby Whitfield from the payroll of the CFS.

“Although, officially, Whitfield remains on staff with CFS-Ontario in Toronto, he has actually lived and worked in Ottawa full-time since January 2015 and even has his own office in the CFS National Office. Among other things, he manages the other employees and the finances of both CFS and its sister organization, CFS-Services but officially has no status within either organization,” Davies said.

The Report of the Executive Committee from the same SAGM details CFS-BC’s frustration with leadership within the CFS, citing an instance where BC representatives were excluded from a national executive meeting in 2014 and their concerns about the settlement equated to Concordia University were not taken into consideration. 

The report states that, during the previous SAGM in June 2015, BC’s delegates from each member union walked out of the general meeting after experiencing bullying and unwarranted attacks. 

“The walkout followed a specific incident in the closing plenary in which a BC delegate was asking a legitimate question of the National Chairperson, during the scheduled question period of the National Executive. Before she could even finish her question, a large portion of Ontario delegates shouted her down,” Davies said.

A letter from October 2015 from the CFS-BC to the national executive expresses the BC member local unions’ concern about the “lack of leadership and lack of accountability among the at-large members of the National Executive, and the inability or unwillingness of the National Executive to uphold its responsibilities and execute its authority.”

The letter goes on to cite the failures of the national executive regarding membership organizing financial management, internal communication, legal affairs, and democratic decision making. 

Bilan Arte and Anna Dubinski declined to respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Correction (April 5, 2016, 3:39 pm): an earlier version of this article stated that the SUVCC does not recognize its membership with the CFS. This is incorrect; the SUVCC is refusing to participate in the activities of the federation and not rejecting its membership status. 

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