On Campus

Breaking up with Canada's largest student lobby group

Thirteen students' unions petition to leave the Canadian Federation of Students

Although this blog is supposed to focus on advice about going to university, please allow me a moment to dive into the dark waters of student politics. The McGill Daily has the story: 13 students unions across the country are going to run referendums in an effort to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Canada’s largest student lobby group.

I’ve been following the story of the CFS for years, first as a student journalist and then in my work at Maclean’s. And the entire time dissatisfaction with the organization has been slowly growing. It seems to have come to a head in the past couple of years; two years ago, three student unions (Kwantlen, SFU, and Cape Breton) attempted to leave the union, albeit unsuccessfully. Now another 13 are petitioning their students to leave.

The McGill Daily sums up the reasons why these students’ unions want out as:

• A student politician from Trent believes CFS staffers are “incompetent lobbyists” and use their considerable resources to attempt to sway the political perspectives of students (Please note that I don’t necessarily agree with this statement.)

• Some student politicians felt that the organization is not transparent and accountable to members.

• Many of the unions are unhappy with the CFS’ track record of aggressive litigation, often against students.

I wrote a story a couple of years ago about how the CFS deals with student journalists. It described how mere hours before The Eyeopener–Ryerson’s student newspaper–was to go to press, the CFS hand-delivered a letter to the editor threatening legal action if she included certain statements about the CFS in the next issue of the newspaper. This wasn’t a reaction to the newspaper printing something inaccurate or defamatory; this was preemptive–the CFS hadn’t even read the article yet. The Eyeopener did not alter the story and the CFS did not end up pursuing any legal action, even though those “certain statements” were included. The incident seemed to me to be a clear attempt to intimidate student journalists.

Probably because I wrote that story, I was interviewed by the writer of the McGill Daily article. I told her that in my experience as a journalist, the CFS is the most aggressive organization I’ve ever reported on. I don’t mean most aggressive “student organization” but most aggressive organization–period. This includes stories I’ve done on criminals, coal companies, you name it.

Why should the regular student care about this backroom student politics nonsense? Here’s why: The CFS represents some 80 colleges and universities in Canada, which means that half a million students are members of the organization. And it’s funded by student levies that you cough up when paying your tuition. So that means that a student organization is taking student funds and using it to sue and threaten students. Does that sound like an appropriate use of these resources?

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