Current board members of the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec say they’re concerned about a series of cheques that were, according to cheque requisition forms, issued to their organization by Concordia University.
The CFS-Q represents undergraduate and graduate students at Concordia University, post-graduate students at McGill University, as well as students at Dawson College, a CEGEP.
The cheques, issued at the request of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), total to more than $300,000. Concordia administration collects CFS fees with tuition on behalf of the CSU. These fees are then paid to the Federation by the university administration, when requested by the student union.
While member student unions in Quebec used to pay fees separately to both the CFS and the CFS-Q component, this changed after CFS-Q spent much of January 2008 in a court-ordered lockout after a dispute over the leadership of the organization. Fees are now paid directly to the national CFS office.
However, according to the cheque requisition forms, the cheques in question are made out to the CFS-Q, and have the organization’s Montreal address listed.
“That’s bizarre,” said Noah Stewart-Ornstein, former national executive representative for CFS-Q and current deputy national chair of the CFS. “No cheques were ever made out to [CFS-Q]; if a cheque had been received at CFS-Quebec, it would have been returned and a new cheque would have had been asked for.”
In total, five cheques were issued between Oct. 7, 2008 and March 23, 2009, all of them, according to the cheque requisition forms, addressed to CFS-Q.
According to Stewart-Ornstein, the cheques must have been changed before they were issued.
“The [cheques were] definitely not printed that way, so whether people made some mistakes internally, I have no idea,” he said.
However, Concordia Financial Services confirmed that if a cheque requisition – the form used when a cheque is requested from Concordia University – is filled out, only the person who filed the requisition can change the information before the cheque is issued. All five cheques were requested by former CSU VP Finance André Leroy-Audy.
According to Dave Molenhuis, National Treasurer for the CFS, his office received five cheques in the same time frame, with matching amounts and dated shortly after each of the requests. However, he maintains that all the cheques he received were made out to the CFS, not CFS-Q, as was indicated on the cheque requisition forms.
“We have collected this money, there is an applicable provincial component allocation, all of that accounting is done,” he said. “We receive cheques from Concordia administration, those are directly sent to our office.”
All of the cheque requisitions, except for one, say they are to be picked up by the CSU’s VP Finance. The other cheque was to be picked up by Stewart-Ornstein.
“In a couple of cases I picked up cheques and mailed them to Ottawa,” Stewart-Ornstein said. “But there is no occasion when any cheques would have been written to the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec or would have then been deposited in the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec bank account.”
While the CFS-Q “exists by virtue of the Canadian Federation of Students,” according to Molenhuis it is also an independent not-for-profit company, incorporated in the province of Quebec.
Current members of the CFS-Q board said they’re concerned about the cheques.
“There are very bizarre financial goings on at CFS-Q, recorded irregularities,” said CFS-Q board chair Adrian Kaats.
The Canadian University Press also obtained records that show an attempt to dissolve CFS-Q as a company: a notice of intent for dissolution filed with the provincial government in June, and a receipt from the newspaper Le Devoir for an ad announcing the dissolution of the corporation.
Both are preliminary steps in the process of dissolving a company in Quebec.
According to Stewart-Ornstein, who filed the requests for the intent of dissolution, there was a motion by the board to propose dissolution which would have been presented to the members.
If the CFS-Q was to be dissolved it would be taken over by the national CFS.
It would be “constituted as part of that company, which provides oversight, and takes away from the corporate responsibilities. And also takes away the ability for the organization to get locked in continual lawsuits. It makes it far easier for a smaller organization to operate,” said Stewart-Ornstien.
According to Kaats, the CFS-Q board never approved the dissolution to ask the membership. The dissolution never went ahead.
As well, according to the CFS-Q audit for 2008-2009, the organization only received $95,000 in remittances from the CFS national office. According to current CFS-Q Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Haig, it’s less than they should have received.
“That’s not enough to cover the remittance from the CSU alone, let alone Dawson [College],” he said. According to Haig, the share of CFS fees from Concordia that is remitted to the Quebec component should be around $120,000.
But Stewart-Ornstein disagrees; he said the amount was correct, though lower than in previous years, because “the Concordia Graduate Association and the McGill Graduate Student Society never paid their fees to anyone.”
CFS-Q board members have also said there was other strange spending last spring, around the time of the Concordia Student Union elections, including the hiring of a researcher, whose research they say they cannot find, and who was not listed on the payroll.
However Stuart-Ornstein said that she had asked to be put on a short-term contract, and to be paid directly.
“She worked on creating bibliography of sources around privatization of public education, so that looked [at] research, the corporatization of boards of governors, it looked at a number of areas,” he said, adding that her research was presented to the CFS-Q board of directors.