In a sweeping move that simultaneously cuts off 10 per cent of its funding and almost 20 per cent of its members, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) voted at its National General Meeting (NGM) this weekend to expel all member unions belonging to both the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) and the CFS.

The action comes after a multi-year conflict between the CFS and the BCFS over the withholding of membership dues. The two sides disagree over which started the dispute and which still owes fees.

The vote took place during the opening plenary of the NGM on June 9 in Gatineau, Quebec, and was passed after less than 10 minutes of debate. The motion to expel the BCFS members was put forth by the CFS National Executive as a special item that outlined how the Executive viewed the conflict between the two organizations.

CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah said that the move was “no victory.”

“That’s a very solemn thing but we all realized that for the sake of moving on… that sometimes you need a bit of a cooling period,” said Zachariah.

In an interview with The Varsity, BC Representative of the CFS Jenelle Davies said, “I think it’s regrettable. I don’t think anybody wanted it to come this far.”

“I think at this point, the bridge was too burnt to go back across it, and so this seems to be a positive step in allowing both organizations to do the work that they’re doing in their respective places,” added Davies.

Fee dispute

The motion states that the dispute between the CFS and the BCFS has reached a “clear impasse with the BCFS continuing to withhold the national membership fees… the Federation withholding BC Component allocation fees, and a large and growing majority of BC member locals petitioning the Federation for decertification.”

This withholding of fees dates back to 2014, when according to the BCFS, the CFS stopped giving the province its allotted membership dues.

“It’s frustrating that the CFS paints it as like we withheld money,” said Davies. “It was in reaction to something they have already done.”

CFS Treasurer Peyton Veitch told The Varsity that to his recollection, the BCFS is incorrect in claiming that the CFS was the first to withhold fees. “Our understanding is that the BCFS withheld national membership dues for three years,” said Veitch, beginning in about 2014 or 2015.

CFS Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell said that, when it comes to the fee dispute, since it occurred before her term, “it’s a little bit difficult to pinpoint a start.”

“What ultimately happened was that a few years back, there was a major shift within the organization to become less litigious, more financially transparent, more progressive and bold in our advocacy points. And this was a shift that then caused internal conflict in terms of what folks wanted to see out of the Canadian Federation of Students,” continued Kiddell. “It’s not super clear to me which came first, fees-wise.”

According to Davies, the BCFS hasn’t “spent a cent of the CFS money.”

“It’s all sat in a trust account with the intention of having a resolution to this issue,” said Davies. “We’ve kept all of our money. I don’t know if the CFS has spent ours.”

Kiddell said that the CFS does not currently hold any funds belonging to the BCFS. Veitch said that the CFS doesn’t “have fees that were withheld from the BCFS… We never received the vast majority of the fees over this last three year period from BC so we did not have a provincial allocation to provide.”

However, Zachariah’s response differed: “There was definitely a clash of two sides about fees and money was owed on both sides,” he said.

“What I’m trying to explain is that we provide a one-sixth provincial allocation based on the total amount of fees collected based on that particular program,” added Veitch. “We communicated to the BCFS that we would make a one-sixth allocation available upon the receipt of those outstanding membership fees.”

While Davies agrees that the fee dispute stems out of the provincial allocation, she maintains that it was the CFS who withheld fees first.

“In October 2014, when we started to have some grievances with the organization, they didn’t send us the allocation — provincial allocation or membership fees. So they’re actually holding onto fees that members submitted to the BCFS,” she said.

In response to the disagreement over the timeline, Zachariah said that he is interested in looking into what exactly happened because “everybody deserves clarity on that and when this happened and kind of how we got here.”

In a letter published shortly after the vote, BCFS Chairperson Aran Armutlu wrote, “Though we would have preferred the organization become transparent and democratic, the motion of expulsion at this meeting was a way to resolve the ongoing dispute without going through the expensive and problematic referendum processes. It also avoids the inevitable lawsuits that have arisen from nearly every recent referendum process the CFS has overseen.”

Membership fees from the BC unions amounted to roughly $400,000 of the CFS’ total dues, which exceed $3.8 million. The 12 student unions that were expelled also represented over 120,000 students of the CFS’ 650,000 total membership.