The Varsity has obtained copies of four motions that were submitted but not added to the agenda at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) last June. The motions in question, submitted by the the Vancouver Island University Students’ Union (VIUSU) and Douglas Students’ Union (DSU), alleged that the CFS breached their fiduciary duty and engaged in unlawful conduct.
According to Mathias Memmel, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the motions had been distributed to the member locals present prior to the NGM. Memmel confirmed that the Selkirk College Students’ Union received a letter from Gowling WLG, a law firm, explaining why their submitted motion was ruled out of order.
Memmel could not confirm if the VIUSU and DSU had received similar emails from the CFS. “In this case, it was more important that the information be made public. That’s what the movers set out to do, and they were successful,” Memmel said of the information provided in the motions.
Student union elections interference
The first motion, submitted by the VIUSU, alleges that the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS-O) has been interfering in university and college student union elections “for well over a decade.”
This includes, but is not limited to, recruiting pro-CFS-O candidates and putting together slates composed entirely of pro-CFS candidates; producing campaign materials; and interfering in the hiring of returning officers while receiving confidential information from those officers, and in turn instructing them to induce fines on unfavourable slates.
The VIUSU alleges that the CFS-O interfered in student union elections for the UTSU, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, and Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, among others in Ontario.
York Federation of Students
The VIUSU’s second motion alleges that despite membership fee increases that have taken place since the 1996–1997 academic year, students belonging to the York Federation of Students (YFS) still pay only $2 per semester, whereas students from CFS member locals across Canada pay $4.43 per semester, over twice as much.
According to the motion, “The shortfall between what the YFS should have remitted in membership fees over the years and what it actually remitted now exceeds $1,000,000.”
The allegations follow that the CFS National Executive ensured other member locals were aware of the YFS’ failure to collect the correct membership fees “in the hopes of shaming the YFS into doing the right thing.” The motion goes on to claim that in the past three years, CFS leaders “reversed that effort.”
CFS Bylaw 1, Section 3.c. states that member locals are responsible for upholding the bylaws and for ensuring that the federation’s fee is collected at their institutions.
“We will be working with the YFS to resolve it. As for punitive action, no, it can and will be resolved through dialogue,” Peyton Veitch, National Treasurer of the CFS, said in an email to The Varsity.
Unpaid NGM fees
The DSU alleges that since 2015, Veitch and his predecessor Anna Dubinski have been “extremely lax” when collecting outstanding delegate fees for general meetings.
According to CFS Bylaw 1, Section 3.b.i., “Each member of the Federation will have one (1) vote at and participate in general meetings of the Federation provided all outstanding delegate fees for past meetings have been paid in full.”
The DSU alleges that, according to Jenelle Davies, the current BC Representative on the National Executive, there are “at least ten and as many as fifteen member locals” attending NGMs that have not paid outstanding delegate fees, making them ineligible to vote at meetings.
The motion goes on to state that as a candidate for re-election as CFS National Treasurer at the Fall 2016 NGM, Veitch “had an interest in ensuring that no member local that might be supporting him in the election was deemed ineligible to ‘vote at and participate in general meetings’ due to owing delegate fees for past general meeting.” According to the motion, Veitch did not inform the rest of the National Executive of this conflict of interest, violating his fiduciary duties as treasurer.
Veitch told The Varsity in response that his fiduciary duty “means acting in the Federation’s best interests.”
British Columbia Federation of Students
In its second motion, the DSU gives historical background to an agreement by the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) and CFS National, where the BCFS agreed to allow the CFS to take over the administration of membership fees collected from CFS member locals in BC.
The motion alleges that, in response to the BCFS’ opposition to former CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte’s candidacy for election, BC member locals were targeted “for retribution.”
During this “retribution,” the DSU alleges that the CFS stole BCFS fees; the amount stolen “likely in excess of $700,000.” In response to this, CFS National member locals from BC stopped paying fees of any sort to the CFS in an effort to force the stolen funds to be returned and for the guilty parties to be punished.
According to the VIUSU’s second motion, this is to protest the “flagrant disregard for the Bylaws and other democratic structures of the Federation.”
“The Federation provides a component allocation totalling 1/6 of the national membership fees collected in British Columbia. Upon receipt of the national membership fees being withheld since 2014, we will send them their provincial allocation,” Veitch said.
The motion alleges that former CFS National Treasurer Dubinski “unlawfully denied” BC Representative Davies access to the financial records of the CFS, a right afforded to “any member of the board of directors of a corporation falling under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.”
Davies told The Varsity that she has only been able to gain access to the CFS budgets, including “whatever is presented at National Executive meetings.”
“They said I would use the information to harm the Federation,” alleged Davies.
What is happening now?
According to Steven Beasley, Executive Director of the DSU, the motions, which were originally intended to be presented at the NGM, were presented to the entirety of the BCFS at the BC General Meeting. Members in BC resolved to present the motions to the CFS at the NGM in November on behalf of all of the BCFS.
Juhi Sohani, CFS National Communications Director, told The Varsity that there were some questions to which she could not provide answers. The Varsity asked to speak with CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah, though Zachariah was unable to comment.
Retraction (Tuesday, October 31): On October 16, 2017, The Varsity reported allegations made by Vancouver Island University Students’ Union that the Canadian Federation of Students (“CFS”) and Toby Whitfield manipulated elections by means of a “slush fund”. No evidence was provided to The Varsity in support of those allegations.
The slush fund was subject to a forensic audit made by independent investigator Grant Thornton LLP. It found that the CFS management and CFS treasurers who took office after May 26, 2010, which include Mr. Whitfield, were not informed that the slush fund existed and did not authorize any transactions on that account. The audit found no direct or indirect implication of Mr. Whitfield in the creation or operation of the fund.