Whether the Canadian Federation of Students likes it or not, seven of their members – including Concordia – are attempting to leave the federation this semester.
While bylaws approved last November stipulate that only two schools can vote on leaving Canada’s largest student lobby group per semester, but student unions trying to leave the group say the rule shouldn’t apply to them because they submitted petitions calling for referendums before it was passed.
The only two student organizations approved by the CFS to hold membership referendums this semester were the Alberta College of Art and Design Student’s Association and the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society. Even the PGSS has overstepped CFS bylaws, though, by holding a longer-than-approved voting period for the referendum, which they say is necessary to achieve enough voters to make a decision.
The University of Guelph Central Student Association received permission from an Ontario Superior Court judge on March 24 to hold a referendum in April questioning their membership in both the national and Ontario components of the CFS.
That same week, the University of Calgary Graduate Students’ Association voted 740 to 166 to end their membership with the CFS, with a turnout of 15.6 per cent 8212; despite not having approval from the national federation. Matt Musson, director of campaigns for the association, said their council has approved the results and they will begin exiting “according to CFS bylaws.”
The University of Regina Students’ Union has also indicated that they will be moving forward with a membership referendum.
In Quebec, where the “defederation” movement has been extremely vocal, continued-membership referendums have or are going ahead at three of the federation’s four member student unions there 8212; the Concordia Student Union, the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association and the PGSS 8212; with the PGSS referendum being the only one approved.
Last week, over 70 per cent of Concordia students voted in favour of leaving the group, but the CFS has already said they won’t be recognizing the results.
The CFS, who has claimed all three unions owe them a significant amount of money, has refused to participate in two of the three referendums and is expected not to recognize their results.
Even while sanctioned by the CFS, the PGSS has wound up in court with the federation several times over the referendum.
The PGSS intends to go ahead with a four-day referendum despite only being approved for two days by the CFS. Federation bylaws stipulate that they must select two members for referendum oversight committees 8212; but because the PGSS is overstepping the approved referendum dates, PGSS president Daniel Simeone believes that CFS-appointed members of the referendum oversight committee could attempt to hold a separate referendum overlapping with the last two days of the official PGSS elections and referendum, which run from March 29 to April 1.
According to Simeone, much of the discussion at the oversight committee has revolved around the dates of the referendum and who sets the dates. Simeone said the PGSS was not consulted when the CFS set the original two-day referendum.
In February, the PGSS council passed a motion that required a four-day referendum should be held if the oversight committee was not able to come to an agreement by March 5. Simeone said the PGSS was not informed of CFS’s committee member appointments until March 3. However, he said, “Communication was still ongoing.”
Like the CSU, Concordia’s GSA, will be holding a referendum on continued membership in the CFS, that hasn’t been recognized by the federation. And like the CSU, the GSA has also recieved a steep bill demanding the payment of back fees.
According Erik Chevrier, a GSA councillor, CFS lawyers have told the grad association’s legal counsel that the GSA owes the CFS over $200,000 in membership fees dating back to 1995.
“It’s quite unfortunate that they’re doing this to us now, because it’s not the responsibility of our students to pay this 8212; it should have been corrected right from the source, right from the beginning,” said Chevrier. “Now 15 years later, we can’t expect the students to pay for the bill of what was done before.”
Chevrier said that GSA council had not discussed the issue yet, and were still looking into whether the amount was legitimate.
“This is what they claim; now we’re looking into the matter to see what the situation actually is.”
The CFS has also denied the GSA has the right to hold a referendum on the grounds that it would violate the CFS bylaw that prohibits more than two referendums in a three-month period.
According to a series of letters between lawyers representing the two groups that were obtained by the Concordian, the GSA believes the bylaw does not apply because it was passed after they had submitted a petition calling for a referendum.
However CFS lawyers have rejected the claim.
“It is the CFS’s position that the amended bylaws do apply to the CGSA and that their application is not, as you say, retroactive.” CFS lawyer FranÃ§ois Viau wrote in a letter to GSA legal council. “The only detail of the defederation process that is being modified by the amended bylaws is the scheduling of when a defederation referendum can take place. This is a purely procedural matter.”
But Chevrier said he takes issue with the claim that the scheduling of the referendum is purely procedural 8212; he said it’s a matter of student rights.
The lawyer’s letters also make it clear that the CFS will not recognize the validity of any unapproved referendum.
“We’re going to go through with the referendum despite them telling us that we’re not allowed to,” said Chevrier. “We’ve invited them to come sit in a meeting and discuss the referendum.”