Canadian Federation of Students’ closing plenary debates hidden bank account, U of T mandatory leave policy

Meeting declines to release full audit report, condemns mandated leave

Canadian Federation of Students’ closing plenary debates hidden bank account, U of T mandatory leave policy

The Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) on June 9–12 ended with a six-hour closing plenary that succeeded in going through a two-year backlog of motions. During the plenary, members voted against releasing an audit report, rejected online voting, and passed a motion to condemn the proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy at U of T.

The CFS is a national student organization that represents almost 80 member local student unions across Canada, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students at the University of Toronto (APUS). Its goals are to lobby for accessible postsecondary education and advance student interests.

Indigenous perspectives

Prior to the plenary, Phyllis McKenna — a delegate from the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) and Chair of the Circle of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Students at the CFS — criticized the lack of Indigenous students at the Federation. McKenna called on the CFS to “do better,” saying that “silence is violence. We all know that.”

CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah told The Varsity afterward that he is “fully in support” of McKenna’s statements.

“I think the CFS isn’t perfect. That being said, we do a lot of great things, and I think we’re striving and recognizing some of our shortfalls, and that’s the kind of transparent organization that we’re fostering moving forward,” said Zachariah.

Budget review and audit of hidden bank account

The plenary included a report from the budget committee. CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch said that, during the committee meeting, delegates were able to take a look at the audited statements and the budget for the upcoming year. Of note in the report was that student unions voted to reduce the number of meetings from twice to once yearly.

Also on the agenda was a contentious motion regarding details of a hidden bank account that was revealed by the CFS in 2014, but the details of which only emerged in 2017. A summary of the account showed that an unauthorized total of $263,052.80 in deposits and $262,776.13 in withdrawals were made between July 2010 and December 2014. The motion proposed releasing the full forensic review of the account.

During the discussion on the motion, Veitch said that if the report were released, confidentiality would not be guaranteed, even with an in camera session of the member locals. As such, releasing the full forensic review would open the federation up to litigation, according to Veitch.

Munib Sajjad, Executive Director of the UTMSU, said that Veitch had done a thorough job with the report and the handling of the hidden account, encouraging members to defeat the motion.

Soon after, the question was called and the motion failed.

“I think what members appreciate is the fact that the National Executive has done its due diligence to initiate a forensic review of the accounting question,” Veitch told The Varsity after the plenary. “The fact that individuals associated with that account are no longer employed by the federation and were held to account for their actions, and that a summary report of that forensic review has been made available to all members at the past several general meetings now.”

The summary of the forensic review discloses that there were five recipients of the unauthorized disbursements — “two of whom, are former employees of the Federation, a further individual, one law firm and a consulting company” — although the summary does not say who they are.

“I think people have been satisfied with that level of disclosure, recognizing that providing the forensic review report in full would actually put the federation in a position of legal liability,” added Veitch. “I think people are now ready to turn the page on that issue. They know that due diligence was done.”

Mandated leave of absence policy

One of the last items on the agenda was an emergency motion brought forth by the SCSU, asking members to condemn the proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy at U of T. SCSU Vice-President External Hana Syed spoke on the motion, mentioning that it had been signed on by all five CFS locals at U of T. Syed called the proposed policy “an infringement on human rights.”

Many other locals supported the motion, including the Mount Saint Vincent University Students’ Union and CESAR. During her speech, Amanda Lin, Vice-President Services and Finance of CESAR, passionately spoke against the proposed policy, saying, “I am my own person. I have autonomy. I know myself best.”

An amendment to the motion was also introduced, asking the National Executive to pen an open letter to the U of T administration to express their opposition to the policy, with space for member locals to sign on. Both the amendment and the motion itself passed.

Postmortem

Once the closing plenary had ended, CFS Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell told The Varsity that she believed that “it was a really productive decision-making space.”

“We saw delegates coming together, discussing motions, sharing diverse perspectives, and ultimately making decisions with a strong feeling that the majority of students felt represented,” she added.

Zachariah echoed Kiddell’s statements, saying that “this is one of the best meetings we’ve had in four years.”

UTSU delegate and former UTSU Vice-President Operations Daman Singh later told The Varsity, “I think it was the worst of the five experiences that I’ve had,” referring to previous NGMs he had attended.

Singh was particularly unhappy with the fact that the question was called on “almost every substantial motion.”

According to the rules of order that govern CFS meetings, calling the question can be done by any member at any time during the debate, and it means that members must immediately vote on whether they want to end the debate and vote on the motion.

All of the calls to question passed because, according to Singh, “There are so few schools left after BC was expelled that are actively seeking reform.”

In response to dissatisfaction expressed by members like Singh, Veitch said that “in a democratic organization, people disagree about the outcome of decisions. That’s fine. That’s why we have the structure that we do. It allows for people to express their disagreement or their support for motions in a productive way.”

“I think it’s a very convenient argument when you’re on the winning side to say, well, we have 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the votes — this is just democracy,” responded Singh. “I don’t think the Federation leadership actually believes that. I think that’s a clever talking point; I think it’s a sexy talking point, but I don’t think that coincides with their beliefs, and if it does, that’s kind of disappointing.”

The Varsity has reached out to the APUS, SCSU, UTGSU, and UTMSU for comment.

Canadian Federation of Students votes to expel 12 BC student unions

Conflict stems from disagreement over membership fees

Canadian Federation of Students votes to expel 12 BC student unions

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.  

CFS national meeting opens with admission of new members, expulsion of British Columbia locals

The Canadian Federation of Students met in Gatineau June 9–12

CFS national meeting opens with admission of new members, expulsion of British Columbia locals

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.

Motions show Canadian Federation of Students to address expelling BC unions, simplifying decertification

What to expect from this weekend's National General Meeting

Motions show Canadian Federation of Students to address expelling BC unions, simplifying decertification

The Varsity has obtained a copy of the motions that will be presented at the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) this weekend. Among the more than 30 motions up for debate are proposals to expel all BC unions, to simplify the decertification process, and to approve over $100,000 in spending on various projects.

The CFS is a national student organization that represents almost 80 student unions across Canada, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students of the University of Toronto. Its goal is to lobby for accessible postsecondary education and advance student interests.

Expelling BC unions

In a motion put forward by the National Executive, the CFS is proposing to expel all shared members of the CFS and the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS). The 12 unions to be expelled would remain members of the BCFS and continue to have access to the International Student Identity Card program.

The CFS and the BCFS have had a difficult working relationship since 2014, when the national organization and its provincial counterpart began withholding fees from each other. Since then, a large number of BC unions have petitioned to leave the CFS.

In the motion presented for the NGM, the National Executive stated that the dispute has “served as a distraction from the CFS and the BCFS core mandates of serving member students and fighting for progressive change.” As it is impossible for the BC unions to initiate decertification until they pay all their fees, the CFS is proposing to summarily expel all the BC unions to bypass the process altogether.

The motion further states that this action is “not intended to be punitive… but rather serve as a mechanism to allow both the BCFS and the CFS(-S) to continue their work independently from one another, to the mutual benefit of their members.”

Simplifying decertification

Of the 30 motions to be presented at the NGM, seven of them touch upon the process of decertification, which has been criticized in the past as being “antiquated and impractical.”

Among the motions are proposals to lower the number of petition signatures needed for a referendum from 20 per cent of students to 15 per cent, to allow online voting, and to shorten the time given to schedule a referendum from 90 days to 60 days.

A motion forwarded by the Student Union of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (SUNSCAD) also proposes loosening regulations on waiting periods between decertification votes. As it stands, universities must wait 60 months between votes, which SUNSCAD calls “absurdly drawn-out.” They propose lowering the timeframe to 18 months.

The UTSU has also put forward a motion proposing to abolish the petition process altogether. Instead of requiring a petition signed by students to initiate a referendum, they recommend that member unions vote to hold a referendum.  

Approval for spending

In response to what it calls a trend of “terminal decline” in the CFS, the Selkirk College Students’ Union proposed a motion to allocate $100,000 to fund a “congress of student unity.”

The motion states that since “support for the Federation has arguably collapsed in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and New Brunswick,” the CFS needs to bring together all student unions across Canada and “find common ground.”

The Selkirk students union also proposed to donate $1,000 to a political podcast, Sandy & Nora Talk Politics, hosted by Sandra Hudson and Nora Loreto. Hudson was a former Executive Director for the UTSU who recently settled a lawsuit with the union regarding allegations of civil fraud.

The donation is in response to “political attacks on Nora Loreto” from what they describe as “fascist and ultra-right groups in Canada and North America.” These attacks occurred in response to Loreto’s tweets about the Humboldt Broncos hockey players’ accident in April 2018.

Two more motions further propose allocating $3,000 to the Decolonizing Conference taking place at U of T in the fall, as well as $3,000 to fund travel for care workers attending the Reclaiming our Bodies and Minds Conference.

The NGM will take place from June 9-12 in Gatineau, Quebec. Be sure to follow along closely with The Varsity‘s reporting from the scene.