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.

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.