The CFS goes to court - Macleans.ca

The CFS goes to court

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

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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.