Former National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Bilan Arte and the CFS itself are facing allegations of interference in student union elections, contradicting previous claims made by Arte that the CFS is uninvolved in student union elections.
A 26-page motion motion brought forward by Selkirk College Students’ Union (CFS Local 04) that was supposed to be presented at the CFS National General Meeting (NGM) in Ottawa on June 4-7 presents allegations that Arte and the CFS colluded with pro-CFS slates in student union elections through the allocation of resources and campaign materials.
The motion calls for Arte’s removal, who at the time of the NGM was still National Chairperson.
The motion reveals a series of leaked email correspondences between student politicians and email accounts under the names “Wilbur Flat” and “Har Gobind Singh,” which Local 04 alleges are online aliases used by the CFS Communications Department and a CFS elected official.
Kavy Kaur, Local 04 Chairperson, told The Varsity that “most of the information included in the motion is well known to those who were part of the coalition that led the CFS up until 2014. The specific resources were supplied by brave whistleblowers.” Local 04 could not provide The Varsity with any other information to support their claim other than the information provided in their motion.
The motion also alleges that Arte received assistance from the CFS Communications Department for the creation of campaign materials during her unsuccessful re-election campaign for President of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) in 2013.
Leaked emails from February 2013 show Arte’s alleged communication with the CFS through correspondence with “Wilbur Flat” and “Har Gobind Singh.”
The leaked emails appear to show Arte in correspondence with “Wilbur Flat” regarding group photos to use for campaign posters and proofs of other campaign materials. They also show “Har Gobind Singh” and “Wilbur Flat” producing campaign materials for a slate at Brandon University that same year.
The motion’s claim suggests that Arte was aware that it was the CFS providing this assistance. In an email dated February 17, 2013, included in the motion, Arte appears to remark at the quality of the campaign poster designs and writes “thank you thank you thank you! you’ve no idea how appreciated you and all the others at CFS are :).” While this email is sent by Arte, the recipient’s email address is redacted from the motion.
In March 2015, a slate that ran unsuccessfully in the UTSU elections, Change UofT, was given the same type of assistance that Arte’s slate received in 2013, according to the motion.
“As far as we are concerned, the organization has been hijacked by Arte, [CFS Executive Director] Toby Whitfield, and their clique, and turned into something that bears no resemblance to the organization we originally created,” said Kaur.
Whitfield claims that the allegations are fabricated. “The Federation doesn’t get involved in students’ union elections,” he told The Varsity. “[I] can only assume the purpose of this motion is to cause further division at a time when student unity is more important than ever before.”
Local 04 is currently seeking to leave the CFS, having submitted a petition in December 2016. “Selkirk College students want a student movement that fights for better education and leads by example,” Kaur said. “The recent national general meeting was yet another example of how the CFS is not a part of that student movement.”
Selkirk’s motion implicates a number of current and former student politicians in its web. It alleges that Cameron Wathey, former Vice President, Internal & Services at the UTSU and an unsuccessful Presidential candidate, received help from the CFS during his election bid in 2015. It also alleges that Aaron Beale of the Dalhousie Student Union received help in 2014, and Travis Perry of Memorial University and later the Newfoundland and Labrador Representative on the CFS received help in 2013 from then-CFS Deputy Chair Jessica McCormick.
The Varsity did not receive any replies from requests for comment from Wathey, Beale, Perry, or McCormick. The Varsity did not receive replies from emails sent to the listed addressed of “Wilbur Flat” and “Har Gobind Singh,” either.
Beyond the call for Arte’s removal, the motion also calls for membership fees to be refunded to member locals that have allegedly had their democratic elections interfered with by the CFS “for any and all years during which the interference took place.” In addition, the motion includes a number of other resolutions related to transparency and oversight.
According to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Mathias Memmel, the motion was never included on the official agenda for the NGM, which Memmel described as “sketchy.”
Local 04’s motion had not been discussed by the last day of the NGM, until it was entered into the agenda as an emergency motion. According to Memmel, members appeared to filibuster other business, which prevented the motion from being discussed.
The motion was pushed to the agenda for the next NGM, which will be held sometime between October 15 and November 30 this year. In the meantime, the CFS will decide whether or not the motion is in order.