UTSU to stop printing International Student Identity Cards

Service provided through CFS deemed unnecessary

UTSU to stop printing International Student Identity Cards

On October 3, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Services Committee voted to stop printing International Student Identity Cards (ISICs) out of the UTSU office. ISICs are a form of student ID available in Canada through the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The motion was moved by UTSU President Mathias Memmel, who argued that the service was an “inefficient use of labour hours given that students are able to do it online,” according to the meeting minutes.

UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh wrote to The Varsity that “the infrastructure for making and printing ISIC cards was terribly outdated and would often be broken.”

“The process of printing a single ISIC card would take up a substantial amount of time for our front-line workers, and the labour costs of printing ISICs was simply not worth keeping the service,” Singh explained.

UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher echoed Singh’s statements, calling the CFS servers, required to print ISICs, “absolute garbage.”

“It just makes sense to get rid of something unreliable and inaccessible when a reliable and accessible version of it becomes available,” Boucher said.

In the meeting minutes, Memmel further stated that he found it “interesting” that the CFS would allow ISICs to be purchased online “given the CFS’s stance on the accessibility of online voting.” The UTSU has long criticized the CFS’ unwillingness to allow students to vote online in referenda on matters such as defederation.

“It’s nice to see the CFS is beginning to see the value in online platforms,” said Boucher. “I hope this will translate over to online voting — otherwise, it would be morally inconsistent on their part.”

ISICs provide students with “discounts in Canada and around the world and [demonstrate] you’re a full-time student (which is handy when people don’t recognize your student card),” according to the CFS’ website. The cards are available for free as a benefit of membership in the CFS.

In 2016, the UTSU released a report on the CFS that criticized the organization of overstating the value of ISICs.

The report stated that, in theory, the cards grant access to student discounts, but in reality do not provide a tangible benefit above standard student IDs. “There are few, if any, discounts available only to students who have ISICs,” according to the report.

An audit of a secret CFS bank account revealed that the account received payments titled “International Student Identity Card applicant.” The account has also been linked to a travel company that distributes the cards.

The CFS did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

CFS still receiving revenue from programs linked to secret bank account

Summary report of audit reveals CFS receives revenue from travelcuts

CFS still receiving revenue from programs linked to secret bank account

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is still connected to travelcuts, the travel agency it used to co-own, by way of a secret bank account that was revealed in a summary report of an audit released this summer. The CFS issues International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) and also receives revenue from the Summer Work Abroad Program (SWAP).

The original purpose of the bank account was to pay off debt from travelcuts — which the CFS sold to Merit Travel Group in 2009 — but it was also used for unauthorized transactions.

“Today Merit has a services agreement with the CFS-S, which is the Canadian Federation of Student Services, to operate the SWAP program, the Summer Work Abroad Program, and to be an alternative issuer of ISIC cards through our travel business,” a spokesperson for Merit told The Varsity.

The business of ISICs

In the summary report of the audit, there are 27 transactions listed as “International Student Identity Card applicant,” with the total sum of money from those transactions amounting to $584.

According to the CFS budget from 2001–2002, the federation received around $1.1 million in revenue from travelcuts between 1999 and 2000.

The CFS has not released the full report of the audit, meaning that any information on where the money came from or where it went is unknown.

According to the audited CFS financial statement of the 2013 fiscal year, the CFS recorded a loss of $37,506 from “ISIC income.”

In the 2016 fiscal year, the CFS had a net loss of $96,366.73 from the cost of selling ISICs.

In Canada, the CFS owns the license for distributing ISICs, but travelcuts, under Merit’s services agreement, can also sell the cards.

“Today, however, the majority of ISIC cards are distributed as a benefit of membership so the program doesn’t generate profit,” CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch told The Varsity via email.

Veitch detailed that the ISIC is a free benefit of membership in the CFS, but $20 for everyone else. The individual amounts from the 27 ISIC transactions in the secret bank account varied among $20, $21.50, and $43.

According to a draft report from a 2016 UTSU ad hoc committee on the CFS, in 2014­–2015, the CFS received revenue of $120,000 from the sale of ISICs.

“But what is the point of an ISIC? In theory, the cards grant access to student discounts, but most student discounts are available to anyone with a valid student ID; there are few, if any, discounts available only to students who have ISICs,” the draft report reads. “In short, the value of ISICs is overstated, principally by the CFS (which is, again, a partial owner of the for-­profit travel agency that issues ISICs).”

Veitch added, “The Federation also receives around $5,000 each year related to promoting Merit Travel through SWAP.”

U of T professor Richard Powers, whose areas of expertise include business and corporate law, wrote to The Varsity that “student governing organizations often own and run services for students – printing centres, pubs, housing co-ops – nothing sinister about that.”

Powers did question what happens to the profits from CFS businesses. “They should be going back into improvements in the services, or into other student-related activities and services – not into someone’s pockets,” he said.

Selling travelcuts

The spokesperson for Merit said that “the interesting thing about the deal was… we did not buy the shares of the travelcuts business. We bought the assets of the travelcuts business.”

In a share deal, the buyer acquires 100 per cent of the company’s shares, meaning that it takes on any and all pre-existing liabilities.

In an asset deal, the buyer can pick and choose the parts of the company that they want to purchase, which means that they do not have to take on any unwanted liabilities.

“In order not to be responsible for the liabilities (debts, etc.) you just buy assets–the liabilities remain with the seller,” said Powers.

UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh wrote in an email to The Varsity that in principle, there’s nothing wrong with a student organization like the CFS securing discounted goods and services for students.

“However, the CFS mismanaged Travel CUTS into bankruptcy, and now the CFS seems to be a partial owner of a for-profit travel agency. The whole arrangement is very strange, and the members of the CFS know very little about it,” Singh wrote. travelcuts went into receivership in October 2009, when it was bought by Merit Travel, after incurring severe debt.

Ryerson University students left without access to International Student Identity Cards

Ryerson Students’ Union unable to provide cards due to miscommunication with the CFS

Ryerson University students left without access to International Student Identity Cards

There has been an enquiry as to whether Ryerson University students have been purchasing International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The Ryerson Student Union (RSU) has allegedly been unable to supply them. 

When asked about the inability to provide ISICs to their students, RSU president Andrea Bartlett explained that they have encountered problems with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).   

Bartlett claims that their membership services coordinator at the membership services office (MSO) has been waiting for the CFS to format and fix the system. “She was in contact with someone last semester, who eventually seemed to lose contact with… but emailed them again before the holiday break, and again in the new year. She never received a reply from any CFS representative who is responsible for maintaining the system,” Bartlett said. 

Bartlet added that “shortly before reading week, someone emailed ​our MSO coordinator from CFS asking what wa​s wrong, and ​she​ explained the above story. They said they would come by this past Friday at 4 to check out our laptop/system. They never came.” 

UTSU president Ben Coleman said that the UTSU “does not have the ability to provide ISICs to Ryerson students.”   

According to the ISIC website, members of the CFS may receive their ISIC for free at select issuing offices across the country, including through the UTSU and RSU respectively. For this reason, Bartlett says that she is “unsure why UTSU would charge Ryerson students for ISICs to begin with.” 

The membership services coordinator at the RSU contacted several nearby institutions and travel agencies asking for assistance in providing Ryerson students with ISICs in urgent circumstances. The RSU had been instructing students to go to Travel Cuts, a Toronto-based travel agency, or to contact OCAD or George Brown’s student unions for assistance.

Bartlett stated that she had not heard of any Ryerson students turning to the UTSU for their ISIC. “Neither myself or our MSO Coordinator have heard of students going to U of T to get an ISIC card currently, but if that’s the case we strongly advise them to first reach out to our MSO office,” she said. 

​“As far as we [the RSU] are concerned, we have done everything in our power given that the CFS has sole capacity to fix this situation, with no cooperation or willingness to resolve the issue from the CFS. It is very disappointing that an organization that our members pay into, are not able to receive the services that they pay for,” Bartlett said.

Rajean Hoilett, Chairperson for CFS Ontario, said that the CFS had visited Ryerson to fix their ISIC system. According to Hoilett , the two groups were supposed to meet over the reading week but could not agree on a time. Hoilett told The Varsity in a phone interview that the CFS had been in “constant communication and very accommodating” with the RSU.

This article has been updated to include a comment from Rajean Hoilett,  CFS Ontario Chairperson.