The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) is one of some 15 student unions or associations for whom petitions have been initiated to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
The petition went into circulation Tuesday at the Harvest Noon Café Co-op, which is located in the same building as the GSU. The GSU petition is being spearheaded by Ashleigh Ingle, who served as civics and environment commissioner of the union for 2012–2013.
The CFS is a federation of over 80 student unions across Canada. The GSU was a founding member of the CFS in 1981, with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) joining in 2002.
A press release sent to The Varsity late on Tuesday night stated that “over 15 student associations are currently taking part” in decertification petitions, and named York, Ryerson, and U of T as large schools with CFS-certified unions that would see such efforts. It remains unclear whether petitions are being circulated to decertify the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), the two other major cross-U of T student unions, from the CFS. Under the CFS’ national bylaws, a petition to decertify a member union from the Federation requires the signatures of 20 per cent of that union’s membership.
“CFS petitions have to be run by what they refer to as ‘individual members,” Ingle said in an interview with The Varsity. The GSU has played no part in the petition process to this point, and are scheduled to make a statement on decertification on Thursday. Ingle confirmed that the GSU was not notified in advance of petition campaigning beginning.
Alastair Woods, chairperson for the CFS-Ontario (CFS-O), said he was not aware of the decertification movement until the press release this morning, and described his reaction as “surprised and bewildered.”
Ingle says the GSU petition resulted in part from the defeat of several GSU-sponsored motions at last November’s CFS general meeting, where she also unsuccessfully contested the election for CFS national chair. The reforms were “things that we thought were pretty simple and straightforward,” she says, “like putting minutes online, recording how student unions voted, [and] getting more clear budgets so that we could actually see what our money was being spent on, getting salary breakdowns for different staff in different parts of the CFS.”
Ingle also cited the federation’s “top-down structure,” with some of the reforms being intended to “find ways that, for instance, instead of just having a standard day of action every year, the students could get involved on campus in making decisions about how they wanted to mobilize that year.”
Woods emphasized that the CFS and CFS-O are democratic institutions, and that those who were dissatisfied with the federation’s policies had opportunities to air their grievances.
Ingle admitted that the decision to coordinate the organization of the petitions such that most were being run around the same time was partly out of the fear that the CFS would be able to successfully defeat any one attempt. “Generally the tactic is to send CFS staffers from across the country to your local, bombard people with their presence and shut down your campaign that way,” she claimed. “So certainly part of the reason is strategic.”
Woods, who was reached at Nipissing University, emphasized that he intended to continue informing students of the strength of the student movement and the benefits of strength in numbers. He declined to address whether the CFS would campaign during the petition period.
CFS general meetings may have contributed to the coordination of the petition efforts in other ways too. “One of the reasons we’re doing it together is that when student unions are together in these CFS spaces and when they’re all seeing the same deficiencies and facing the same treatment, it’s a natural thing that we start talking to each other about what a more productive way forward is.”
The coordination could, however, end up harming some efforts to decertify. The CFS’s national bylaws governing decertification allow for no more than two decertification votes in any three month period, meaning that if multiple petitions were to be successful, the resultant votes could be delayed for some time. Ingle hopes to have reached the 20 per cent threshold by September 13, to allow any resulting vote to be initiated this academic year.
“All that we can do right now is follow the CFS bylaws as strictly as possible, submit our petitions, and then we’ll do whatever we have to do to get a referendum vote, legitimately and legally after that point,” Ingle says.