Canada’s largest student organization, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), held their 71st semi-annual National General Meeting (NGM) in Gatineau, Québec this weekend. The meeting on June 9 began with the opening plenary, which included the admission of new universities and the expected expulsion of 12 institutions from British Columbia.
The CFS represents more than 650,000 students in approximately 80 student unions across the country, including five from U of T — the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the U of T Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students.
Before the plenary began, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and keynote speaker Sarah Jama shared her experience as a community organizer. Jama did not hesitate to speak about the contentious topic of decertification, which is the process member institutions must take to leave the federation.
The CFS has had multiple disagreements in the past with member locals over the process of decertification, including a recent lawsuit with the GSU over the validity of the union’s referendum to decertify. The UTSU executive has also endorsed a referendum on the question of decertification. Multiple motions put forward for the NGM address simplifying the process of decertification, which the judge in the GSU lawsuit called “antiquated and impractical.”
Jama challenged the growing decertification movement by saying that “maybe people who continue to be uncomfortable should just leave… Unless there’s a change in the CFS, it’s going to be a waste of everybody’s time.”
Jama argued that the CFS should be used as a platform to combat the growing trend of racism and white supremacy. “We have an opportunity here today to change the direction of the Canadian Federation of Students.”
Following roll call, the opening plenary passed a motion to admit l’Association des étudiantes et étudiants de l’université de Hearst as a new member. According to the agenda, 95 per cent of the 100-member institution voted to join the CFS. Another successful motion granted the Dalhousie Students’ Union observer status. This move is the penultimate step to becoming a full member of the organization.
Discussion then moved to the special motion to expel members of the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS), which include all but two members from the province, from the CFS.
The special motion was announced to members in an email from Chairperson Coty Zachariah, Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell, and Treasurer Peyton Veitch on April 17. The move was unanimously decided by the National Executive and representatives from BC, though Zachariah stressed that “this is not a direction we hoped for.”
The debate lasted less than 10 minutes, with delegates from the University of King’s College Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Union of the Memorial University of Newfoundland speaking in favour. The motion was passed and enforced effective immediately, with BCFS locals asked to leave the room.
The motion’s success means that the CFS has lost approximately $400,000 in membership dues, or 10 per cent of its annual budget. Only two unions in the province are left in the federation — the Kwantlen Students Association and the College of the Rockies Students’ Association.
The NGM also marks the end of the current term of the National Executive. Although Zachariah will return as Chairperson, Kiddell was defeated in her bid for re-election by National Women’s Representative Jade Peek, and Veitch will be succeeded by CFS-Ontario Treasurer Trina James.