Members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) have been campaigning to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) since early September 2013, when a petition was circulated calling for a referendum on the matter, set to run March 24–28. The auditing firm verifying the petition, Deloitte, issued a report on March 11, which found that the GSU’s September petition did not meet the number of signatures required, effectively cancelling the referendum.
On Monday, March 17, the GSU issued a response to the Deloitte report in the form of an open letter to its membership, stating that “there remain several questions raised by the Deloitte report which require investigation, including how particular aspects of the verification were determined based upon the Federation(s) respective bylaws.”
The open letter, which was signed by Brad Evoy, external commissioner of the GSU, also stipulated that the GSU would investigate the report internally, contending that the petition had met all necessary measures.
CFS bylaws stipulate that a petition calling for a vote on decertification must be signed by not less than 20 per cent of the individual members. Additionally, in order to be valid, a name on a petition must be reasonably legible, include the proper full name, and be accompanied by a valid and corresponding student identification number and a unique signature.
The bylaws further stipulate: “The Executive Committee will have sole authority to determine whether the petition…is in order. The Deloitte Report found that the petition submitted by the GSU did not meet the 20 per cent threshold as set out in the bylaws. The report found that, based on the bylaws, only 2,625–2,735 out of 3,165 signatures were valid petitioners.
Speaking to The Varsity, Evoy explained, “The GSU believes it is necessary to investigate and confirm the validity of the Deloitte Reports out of a sense of responsibility to our members.” Evoy also has concerns about the development of the report, and stated that: “[We] have found possible errors in their results, and have a number of outstanding questions about Deloitte’s mandate and methodology, which lead us to believe that further investigation is needed.”
Evoy also alleged that the CFS and the CFS-O have been stalling the process that began in September 2013, claiming that the GSU received copies of the Deloitte Report less than two weeks before the referendum was scheduled to begin on March 24. Evoy did not provide the time frame for when the investigation will be completed, only saying: “Investigation has begun, and will continue until the GSU has exhausted all of its remaining avenues of investigation.”
In response to the GSU’s calls for an internal investigation, Alastair Woods, chairperson of the CFS-O, said that while “the Federation(s) do not govern how individual members choose to invest their time and resources, any investigation done by the GSU has no standing or bearing on the bylaws of the federation.”
Ashleigh Ingle, one of the leaders of the defederation effort, who submitted the petition, said that while she has not been in direct contact with Deloitte, she saw the summary report that was circulated by the GSU. She believes that “none of this was unexpected” and went on to say that “the CFS, through some mechanism or another, frequently asserts that either petitions or successful referenda were out of order or breached bylaws.”
Ingle further criticized the Federation(s) for the “lack of respect for the democratic will of students,” saying, “If the CFS actually wants to prove that they are a democratic organization that respects the will of their members, they will allow our members to decide whether or not we actually want to be part of their organization.”
When asked if he was in contact with the GSU about the situation, Woods simply responded “yes,” and would not provide comment on other student unions wishing to leave the union. He did, however, say that the Laurentian Students’ Union in Barrie and Collège Boréal in Sudbury had recently joined the CFS.
Correction Thursday March 27: A previous version of this article stated that the GSU had been trying to defederate from the CFS. While members have been trying to leave, the union has not taken a formal stance.