Court proceedings begin for lawsuit against Ontario government on SCI

CFS–Ontario, York student union argue SCI lacks legal basis, justices to give decision at later date

Court proceedings begin for lawsuit against Ontario government on SCI

Earlier today, the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) concluded the first hearing in their court proceedings against the Ontario government on the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), with the justices choosing to deliver a decision at a later date. The case launched against the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) argues that the government overstepped their authority by enacting the SCI.

The SCI requires Ontario postsecondary institutions to allow students the option to opt out of certain incidental fees that are deemed “non-essential.” At U of T, the CFS–O’s fees were deemed non-essential. 

The CFS–O and YFS launched their application in the Divisional Court, a branch of the Superior Court of Justice and the main judicial channel to review government action in Ontario. If this case fails to come to a final conclusion at this level of the judicial system, it can be appealed before the Court of Appeal of Ontario — with the next highest court being the Supreme Court of Canada.

In its application for judicial review, filed on May 24, the CFS–O and YFS claim that the MTCU breached the legal principles of procedural fairness and natural justice by failing to meaningfully consult student groups on the SCI. 

The Honourable Justices Harriet E. Sachs, David L. Corbett, and Lise G. Favreau heard the oral arguments of all parties involved in the legal battle; however, they chose to render a decision at a later date, possibly after the U of T winter opt-out period begins on November 1.

The applicants

Lawyers representing the CFS–O and YFS argued that the MTCU not only lacked the authority to impose the SCI on universities, but also alleged that the province intentionally structured the policy to target student associations. 

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union joined the legal challenge as interveners. Their representatives gave a brief supporting argument. 

In the midst of intense scrutiny from the judges, student groups asserted that the SCI interfered with the autonomy of universities. They asserted that the MTCU has no statutory authority to impose the SCI on agreements between the university and student groups — citing historical and legal precedent for the autonomy of universities and student unions.

The Minister’s operational jurisdiction is set out in the MTCU Act, the content of which CFS–O and YFS claim provides no authority for the province, specifically Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet, to force universities to comply with the SCI. 

In addition to a host of concerns about the way the SCI has changed the funding and future operations of student associations, these groups see Ford as having a personal animus against them. In a fundraising letter sent to Progressive Conservative party supporters, Ford wrote that student unions are engaged in “crazy Marxist nonsense.” While there was some debate about the admissibility of Ford’s campaign letter, the court decided to hear all arguments first.

The applicants point to the letter as evidence that the SCI isn’t truly aiming to give students a choice, but rather to “marginalize and silence student groups which are perceived as critics of the governing party,” as they wrote in their application for judicial review.

The respondents

Lawyers representing the MTCU argued that the SCI is about promoting choice. The respondents also noted that the SCI is reflective of the overarching policy of this provincial government which deals with “affordability, accountability, … transparency, … autonomy, and freedom of choice.”

Addressing whether the SCI constitutes an overextension of power, the respondents said that the government is “interested in making the postsecondary experience affordable for everyone,” and that they are entitled to a degree of influence over these institutions.

The respondents faced a slew of questions from the bench, including an inquiry into why the government would present the SCI as a tool to promote affordability while simultaneously cutting student aid and reducing funding for organizations that defend student accessibility, “all in the name of financial accessibility for students.”

The respondents further explained that the SCI focuses on incidental fees itself, not on the specific student associations. This was in response to the applicants’ assertion that the categorization of essential and non-essential fees was arbitrary and unfairly targeted toward student associations. They also noted that some student association fees may be declared essential, and that the government did provide notice to student organizations. 

The government’s counsel claimed that notice was given to student organizations regarding the SCI on January 17 and that a period of questions and answers followed this notice.

In closing remarks, the applicants responded that January 17 was the same day the SCI was announced to the public and that the memo to student associations merely asked if groups had any questions regarding the policy. 

B’nai Brith Canada, an organization committed to “defend[ing] the State of Israel…[and] combatting antisemitism,” according to their website, supported the respondents in the hearing. They believe that the SCI is “measured” and “balanced.”

The organization has been an outspoken critic of the CFS for its endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a campaign that calls for sanctions against Israel in response to alleged human rights abuses in Palestine.

Responses to the Hearing

The Varsity caught up with Kayla Weiler, National Executive Representative for the CFS–O, to ask about how a delayed judicial decision might affect campuses, especially as student associations may have to contend with another semester of reduced funding. 

Weiler said that in regards to the fall semester’s opt-out period, “there was still a lot of confusion between administration, student unions, student organizations, and the students as their members… I think we’re going to see more of that happen in the winter semester.”

The MTCU wrote to The Varsity that since the courts have not issued their ruling it would be inappropriate for them to comment at this time.

The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.

The story is developing, more to come.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata elected Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson

Plans to put pressure on governments, move away from lobbying

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata elected Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson

Current University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President Felipe Nagata has been elected to be the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) chairperson beginning on June 1. He will be replacing CFS–O chairperson Nour Alideeb, who has held this position for two consecutive terms and was also a former UTMSU president during the 2016–2017 school year.

In this election, registered delegates were sent on behalf of each local to vote, with one local counting as one vote. Nagata ran uncontested for the position.

Nagata told The Varsity in an email that he plans to “unite students across the province” and pressure local and federal governments to “prioritize education.”

“Building capacity and bringing students together will be crucial in the fight for a more accessible post secondary education because it will be more efficient and impactful with one unified voice. There are many ways to do this like sending letters to local MPPs and rallying students to skills development and coalition building,” wrote Nagata.

Nagata’s election comes at a hectic time in Ontario student politics, with the Ford government’s controversial decision to cut tuition by 10 per cent, cut student grants, and add opt-out options to formerly mandatory non-tuition fees.

With the Ford government in power, Nagata plans to scale back on government lobbying, especially with a government that he sees as having little concern for student input.

“I want to spend the next year supporting students in developing a mobilization strategy. With the help of student unions and other groups on campus, we can focus on educating and mobilizing to create a sense of unity for the scary times we have ahead.”

Aside from the provincial government, Nagata also has his eye on the upcoming federal election.

“I want to make sure that every party has education on their platform. I wish to partake in a campaign to increase not only the student voter turn-out but also voter literacy.”

Nagata called this “an essential piece” in showing the government that students “have a weight and voice.”

Alideeb, the current CFS–O chairperson, is graduating from U of T this year but plans to continue her life in student politics.

“Even though I’m graduating and I won’t be an elected representative anymore, I’m still going to fight for a free and accessible post-secondary education,” she wrote to The Varsity.

“Especially with the recent government announcement, I feel like it’s my responsibility as a prospective graduate student, older sibling and citizen to continue this work. So where it will take me, I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited about this new chapter in my life.”

The Breakdown: A look into the Canadian Federation of Students’ National General Meeting agenda

NGM to address mental health, Israel-Palestine conflict, budgetary concerns

The Breakdown: A look into the Canadian Federation of Students’ National General Meeting agenda

Motions from the National Executives and various student unions are on the agenda for the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) 37th National General Meeting (NGM) on November 16.

The CFS represents 64 postsecondary student unions across Canada, including five at U of T: the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Scarborough Campus Student Union, the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, and the Graduate Students’ Union.

The organization’s goals are to lobby for university and college students at the provincial and federal level and to create accessible postsecondary education.

The organization has a marred history with the UTSU — in 2017, half of the union’s executives signed a statement supporting decertification from the CFS. Following that, last year’s UTSU hired students in a campaign to hold a referendum on membership in the federation. The current UTSU executive team was also elected on a platform supporting a referendum on membership.

Aftermath of BC unions expulsions

After expelling 12 student unions from British Columbia in June over a membership fees disagreement, a motion by the National Executives seeks to submit budget amendments and to hold a smaller June NGM. The proposed NGM would be a two-day meeting with a maximum of one delegate registration per local. Recent NGMs occurred across four days with multiple delegate registration/s per local.

The motion cite the expulsion of the BC unions as the cause of a “new financial reality.”

In addition to the fact that the June NGM plenary adopted a budget with expenses for only one general meeting, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act also prohibits the exclusion of the June NGM leading the National Executives to seek such changes.

Another special motion seeks to change the bylaws to allow for the election of constituency representatives at the upcoming NGM.

Adding votes

A motion from the College of the North Atlantic Students’ Union (CNASU) proposes splitting up the union’s one vote into four, citing the fact that it has 17 campuses each with different “needs and views.”

The votes would be given to Eastern CNASU, Central CNASU, Western CNASU, and Labrador CNASU.

They point to examples of other schools in Newfoundland and Labrador doing this as precedence.

$1,000 to political podcast

In a motion proposed by the now-expelled Selkirk College Students’ Union and the UTMSU, the CFS would donate $1,000 to a podcast co-hosted by Nora Loreto.

Loreto, as mentioned in the motion, made controversial tweets following the deaths of Humboldt Bronco hockey players in April.

The motion reads, “Without questioning the tragedy of the death of the amateur hockey players or the support for their families, independent journalist and former Federation activist Nora Loreto made an arguably innocuous comment about the radicalized, gendered nature of grief.”

The motion further gives the “highly sophisticated political attack due to her straight forward assessment of the nature of public discourse regarding grief” as reasoning for the $1,000 donation.

The Sandy & Nora Talk Politics podcast is co-hosted by Sandra Hudson, the former UTSU Executive Director who settled a lawsuit with the union last year.

Mental health policies

A motion submitted by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design calls for the CFS to adopt a policy that supports the provision and funding of mental health services for students by universities. The motion specifically opposes any institution’s use of a mandatory leave of absence policy, particularly ones that would force students to leave residence.   

Since June, U of T has implemented a controversial mandated leave of absence policy that places students on a non-punitive leave if their mental health is deemed to be negatively affecting their grades, or is considered a danger to themselves or others.

Condemnation of the occupation of Palestine

Citing university institutions that invest in weapons manufacturers supporting what it calls “War Crimes globally and within Israel,” the York Federation of Students submitted a motion for the CFS to oppose the “ongoing occupation of Palestine.”

The motion calls for the CFS to support “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions [campaigns].”

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

UTSU reveals Student Commons opening delayed again to April 2019

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

Students took full advantage of a question period at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting, asking the executives about topics ranging from the operations of the Student Commons to the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Immediately prior to question period, UTSU President Anne Boucher delivered her presidential address. Boucher reflected on the tumultuous relationship the union has had with its constituency in the past, citing, in particular, how 95 per cent of engineering students voted to leave the UTSU in 2013.

She stressed that the UTSU is focused on building strong financial relationships and wants “to be the best UTSU possible in absolute terms rather than relative ones.”

Following Boucher’s address, the floor was opened up to questions from members.

Canadian Federation of Students

Joshua Bowman, Academic Director for Social Sciences, asked about the executives’ campaign promise to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student association representing over 70 post-secondary student associations across the country.

Boucher said that, through her personal experience with the CFS, she feels that there is no room for internal change in the organization. In the past, she has been a strong supporter of leaving the CFS.

In response to another question from Bowman about You Decide — a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the CFS — Boucher stated that the UTSU is not actively collecting signatures for a referendum, and added that any petitions are independent of the UTSU.

Student Commons

In one of the more notable parts of the AGM, Vice President, Operations Tyler Biswurm revealed that the opening date for the Student Commons has been pushed back — again — from January 2019 to April 2019.

The Students Commons is a proposed student-run centre at UTSG that is 11 years in the making. The building was originally scheduled to open in September 2018 but was delayed to January 2019 over the summer.

Biswurm gave similar reasons for this delay as he did for the last one, saying that the building’s age as well as contracting complications have caused problems in the renovation process.

On this point, member Tom Yun asked about reports that The Newspaper, an independent campus publication, had been denied office space in the Commons.

Former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel responded that despite covering issues relating to U of T, The Newspaper does not have status within the university. As such, the UTSU made the decision to prioritize U of T clubs.

Boucher assured the union’s membership that other student groups that were promised space in the Student Commons were told about the delay and have spaces elsewhere until the opening.

Other questions

New College Student Council President Madison Hönig raised a concern about a lack of preparedness during orientation, specifically regarding students’ access to water.

Hönig said that the UTSU did not provide a sufficient supply of water to students, which posed a health problem on Parade Day, as it was especially hot.

In response, UTSU Vice President, Student Life Yolanda Alfaro acknowledged that they were not prepared for the extreme heat. Alfaro stated that more needed to be done in creating contingency plans for unexpected events like weather.

Following that, Arts and Science Students’ Union President Haseeb Hassaan asked about who was taking on the responsibilities of the UTSU’s General Manager (GM) position, which has been vacant since mid-July.

Boucher responded that the union has brought in Memmel to help with financial management while the UTSU searches for a new GM, which they hope to have by mid-November.

Explaining the rationale behind Memmel’s hire, Boucher acknowledged that “people tend to jump to certain conspiracies,” but that “when you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization… it’s a good resource to have.”

“It’s unfair to assume that having a presence of someone who has been a past executive would be something that is worth discussing,” she added.

With regard to the empty GM position, 2018 UTSU Junior Orientation Coordinator Dhvani Ramanujam asked about who was handling the union’s human resources concerns. When Biswurm responded that he and Boucher were filling the role, Ramanujam asked if it was a conflict of interest that the person who handles paycheques also handles complaints.

Biswurm responded that he did not think it was a conflict of interest. He said he believes it is the “default arrangement” in other employment contexts, as “the boss telling you how to do your job is also the person who signs your cheques.”

However, Biswurm acknowledged that there were gaps that he and Boucher could not fill, which is why the UTSU is aiming to hire a GM soon.

Near the end of the question period, a student asked the executives if they would endorse a college for the U of T Memes for True 🅱lue Teens meme bracket, a competition in a Facebook group that is pitting the university’s colleges and faculties against each other.

Boucher responded that while “there is not an official UTSU take on the war going on… my heart is in engineering.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi


Disclosure: Tom Yun is The Varsity’s former Managing Online Editor (2017–2018) and News Editor (2016–2017).


Editor’s Note (December 13, 5:18 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Boucher about the UTSU being the best in absolute terms rather than relative ones.

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.


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.