The CFS goes to court

Only one school will see a CFS referendum this year, while other schools take legal action

At least one Canadian student union will get the chance to ask students if they want to leave the Canadian Federation of Students this March, while two student unions take the federation to court and several defederation petitions remain in limbo.

The Alberta College of Art and Design Students’ Association will hold a referendum question this year, allowing their student body to vote on whether or not they want to remain members of the CFS.

Meanwhile, two cases are currently before the courts in Quebec and Ontario. The first involves the Post-Graduate Students’ Society at McGill University, which is seeking to fix a referendum date campus paper the McGill Daily, reported. A trial on the issue is likely to happen in April, CFS-National treasurer Dave Molenhuis said, which means it’s unlikely McGill graduate students will see a referendum this school year.

The second group pursuing legal action with the CFS is the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph. The CSA is looking to hold a referendum its students petitioned for, and had asked to be held March 29, 30, and 31 of this year, the Ontarion, Guelph’s student paper reported.  An Ontario Superior Court judge will likely rule on the question on Mar. 23, when the case is set to reconvene.

At Concordia University the students’ union is currently dealing with more than $1 million in alleged fees owed to the CFS as they attempt to hold a referendum at their school. You can read about the Concordia case here.

Campuses buzzed last semester over petitions circulated at twelve schools, and thirteen student unions, calling for a membership referendum, the McGill Daily was first to report in September. Student unions have been behind several of the petitions, but students, as members of their respective unions, have acted independently as well, such as at Carleton University, where fourth-year journalism student Dean Tester organized the “Move On Carleton” campaign to gather signatures.

Students in Ontario, including those from Trent University, Carleton University and the University of Guelph, cried foul when discrepancies arose over how and when petitions were delivered to the CFS-Ontario office, the provincial arm of the organization. Because CFS-Ontario mandates petitions for referendum under separate bylaws from national headquarters, groups say they sent petitions to both their provincial and national offices in accordance with each set of bylaws.

According to CFS-Ontario bylaws, petitions must be received six months prior to the requested referendum dates, to allow executive time to review and verify signatures and set up a referendum.

Daniel Bitonti, the Ontarion‘s editor-in-chief, reportedly obtained an affidavit from one of the Guelph student petition organizers, confirming delivery by process server of the petitions from Guelph to the CFS-Ontario office on Sept. 29. This would have given the CFS the six months required in the bylaws to organize the referendum. But, the bylaws also require the petitions be sent by registered mail. The article Bitonti wrote quotes a previous statement from the CFS-Ontario office, claiming they received the petitions by registered mail on Nov. 9, more than a month after the six-month deadline.

While CFS-National did confirm receipt of several petitions, issues verifying student signatures have also stalled the process at Guelph, as well as at Concordia.

CFS’s Molenhuis said the national executive faced a lack of support from Guelph’s student association in verifying student signatures on the submitted petitions. When the CFS contacted the Guelph student executive concerning the validation of the signatures, the CSA was unwilling to cooperate, Molenhuis said.

“There’s some obstructionism going on there,” he said. “I requested assistance of the students’ union in validating the signatures and reviewing them and they . . . refused to engage in any dialogue.”

CSA communications and corporate affairs commissioner Gavin Armstrong, said the association provided a letter from the registrar’s office verifying signatures of more than 10 per cent of their student body, a percentage required, at the time, by CFS-National bylaws. “That should be enough,” Armstrong said.

Amongst the petition confusion, the CFS held its annual general meeting in November, where new restrictions were placed on membership referenda. At the AGM, Motion 6, proposed by Carleton’s Graduate Students Association passed. CFS-national bylaws now require petitions to have signatures from 20 per cent–previously 10 per cent–of the student body. The number of  membership referenda held nationwide per three month period has been limited to two. The motion also stipulated that referendum held on each individual campus be limited to one every five years. The motion passed 44 to 19, requiring two thirds support by representatives. An article published in the Fulcrum goes on to detail a debate over who constituted as “voting members,” as CFS-Quebec representatives argued because of a number of abstentions, the vote did not receive the support it needed to pass.

At ACAD, the only student union to so far to have a referendum approved by the CFS, the petitions submitted by the students’ association has not faced the same problems as at other schools, ACADSA’s vice-president communications Graham Krenz said.

The association called on CFS for a membership referendum to ensure ACADSA was accountable with their finances and to their student body, not as an action of discontent with the Federation, Krenz said. He said the question had not been posed to students in several years. “We decided it would be an important issue,” he said. “It’s been a very pleasant experience with the CFS so far.”

ACADSA did not have to follow the dual regulations Ontario students did, because with no provincial CFS branch, they only had to submit one petition to the national office.

The CFS is Canada’s largest student lobby group.




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The CFS goes to court

  1. Ah hahaha! Who is running the CFS!? When students start membership referendums, they just make it harder for them to leave instead of listening to their concerns. Facepalm.

    Hopefully some CFS supporters comment in this thread. Can anyone tell me one good thing that the CFS has done? And no, I don’t accept banging drums and making noise, or any other form of impotent activism.

  2. Can somebody please explain the working structure of the cfs? Why do the elected officials within the cfs at both the provincial and national levels take there marching orders from the staffers at the national office? Aren’t these staffers technically just employees? I can’t think of another business model where the employees are in charge and the bosses are mere puppets. If you want to kill a snake you have to cut off it’s head.

  3. I think that if the elected officials took back control of the cfs from the staffers 90% of the problems would go away. If these staff positions are so important, like the director of student services and director of organizing, perhaps they should be elected positions with term limits, this would greatly reduce the chance of corruption in the organization.

  4. I wouldn’t take those bylaws too seriously- whenever the CFS decides that those bylaws don’t represent CFS interests, they change them to be more favourable.

  5. OK, why do you say the staff are controlling this situation? All the comments in this story are from Dave Molenhuis, and he has been elected; therefore he is not a staffer.

    As to the good that the CFS has done, I think it is important to have a national student organization. They lobby in almost every provincial legislature and at the House of Commons and have done a lot of good. They got grants (as opposed to loans) back into the National Student Loans program. They have won tuition fee freezes, and increased research monies in many provinces. Go to their website if you are actually interested, but I suspect you are not. The question of what good the CFS has done seems pretty loaded – seems like your mind is made up. Perhaps you should explain what campaigns or services you WANT to see a national student group take on. I have a feeling many critics (though certainly not all!) don’t want to see any national student group. A shame, I think.

  6. Dave Molenhuis strings are being pulled by the staffers. Just google cfs and corruption, there are tons of articles about staff control of the organization. Some of the staffers are in there 50′s and have been with the cfs since the early 80′s. pretty bizarre for a student organization.

  7. The benefit to having a continuous staff is crucial for a student run organization. There is, by default, a large turnover in all elected positions and having institutional continuity is extremely helpful. We’ve recently re-worked our staff positions at ACADSA to streamline the learning process for incoming executives, and it’s been extremely helpful so far.

  8. I apologize for double posting, but to bring up one of cranky’s points: “Some of the staffers are in there 50’s and have been with the cfs since the early 80’s.”

    This is completely true. The staff member who works with student health and dental plans has been with CFS for decades. One very large benefit of this is his intimate knowledge of the industry and extensive contacts. The emphasis should not necessarily be on “student staffed”, but on “student led”. If you were dealing with a health care buyer, would you want your contact to be a student you’ll speak to for two years, or a staff member who has been involved in the industry for decades? Do you want to have to re-meet your business contacts each year?

    A high turnover also raises negotiating issues. Student bulk health care buying aims to reduce the amount of students taken advantage of by profit driven businesses, as well as to secure a good price. These negotiatons can take years, often longer than an election term. I want cheap health care, I want it managed by someone who is qualified, and I don’t want to have to think about it every two years.

    I’m not advocating all staff positions all the time, I just think when it comes to large groups like CFS generalizations hurt us all. Saying “the staff is pulling everyone’s strings” is a very provocative statement that in my experience is simply not accurate.

  9. With all due respect, it sounds suspicious when the only referendum on continued membership approved by the CFS is organized by an association seemingly sympathetic to the Federation.

    Said otherwise, it looks like the “two referenda per semester” rule that was part of Motion 6 opens the door to a strategy, where the CFS would get small, pro-CFS member locals to hold referenda (that would then be easily won due to the lack of grassroots opposition in those locals) to prevent the referenda in other, more anti-CFS schools to be held.

    It’s especially convenient that the rules give total flexibility to the National Executive to determine which two referenda are held that semester.

  10. With all due respect, I’m impressed that you interpreted my logical analysis of CFS staff as a positional statement on the Canadian Federation of Students. Next time I’ll just shout some rhetoric about CFS ruining my life to fit in.

    All jokes aside, we’re sympathetic to our students, and we’re honest, fair and respectful to people on both sides of this debate. If I can claim that at the end of the day then I’ll have a hard time worrying about what anonymous guests on the Mcleans website think about our role in student politics.

  11. Graham, your comment reaffirms my disapproval of the CFS. I have seen no evidence that the CFS is fair, honest or sympathetic to “people on both sides of the debate”. I’m disappointed to see that CFS supporters don’t acknowledge any greviences from members. Instead they sum it up as “rhetoric about CFS ruining my life”. Who is running this organization? When you have several membership referendums, you would think that they would start asking why.

    How, exactly, do I benefit from being a member of this organization?

  12. Hello Mike,

    That’s what we’re trying to find out this year. Alberta is not one of the provinces with a high concentration of CFS activity, in fact we are one of two member locals in the entire region. As several CFS programs are not even available in Alberta it seemed an important expenditure to analyze. We’re a small local with a limited budget and rarely have contact with CFS aside from campaign materials mailed out to us. This is an important question that needs to be treated with care; it’s a polarizing issue and people have strong feelings on either side.

    That being said, I am confused what CFS’s attitude has to do with ours. No matter what the concencus is on CFS’s attitude it has absolutely nothing to do with my desire to get to know these people and work with them productively. It’s not my job to be angry, it’s my job to be the voice of our student body. They will determine the outcome of this vote and I will help arbitrate as a member of the referendum committee.

  13. @ EKS,

    Check CASA’s website. They claim credit for the same accomplishments that CFS does, i.e., the system of needs-based grants. I’m not saying that the lobbying that the CFS does isn’t important, but I think it’s very reductive to give all of the credit for anything to any single organization.

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