“Let our school defederate!” chanted over sixty students outside of Best Western Plus Hotel in Gatineau, Quebec, where the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) 32nd National General Meeting was taking place, on Saturday afternoon.
Students from member schools across the country attend the meeting every year to lobby and discuss the current campaigns of the organization. This time, however, Quebec students stood in protest against the CFS for not letting them discontinue their membership and for the negative attitude taken towards them.
McGill University’s Post-Graduate Students Society (PGSS) organized the demonstration with the participation of Concordia Student Union (CSU) leaders, Dawson College and fellow McGill students. Representatives from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan and the University of Toronto were also in attendance.
Six police cars surrounded the protest, and six police officers patrolled the area, one of them was directing traffic circulation. Protesters were prohibited on hotel property.
“I don’t want to pay my student fees to an organization that’s going to use those student fees in court battles against other student associations,” said PGSS Secretary General, Jonathan Mooney.
About 15 schools from across Canada have requested to cease their CFS membership since 2009. The CFS, however, has not recognized their petitions although student unions followed the process dictated in the bylaws of its constitution. Instead, the organization is suing most of these unions, claiming ‘uncollected and/or unremitted membership fees’ under the Acknowledgement of Debt Agreement.
The CSU and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) opted to withdraw from the CFS in the fall of 2009, along with 10 other voting members from Quebec and other provinces, including the Dawson Student Union (DSU) and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA).
According to the CSU Motion to Institute Proceedings document signed in 2011 to counteract the CFS lawsuit for over $1M in supposed unpaid fees, the CFS changed “amendment of Article 6 b. iii. of BYLAW I,” in 2009, thus referendums are now limited to 2 per year.
In addition, the signatures required for each referendum increased to 20 per cent, instead of the previous 10 per cent. And 60 months became the “minimum period between referendums” and “to join the CFS” rather than 24 months.
“They are basically making it impossible to leave,” said Moore.
The amendment was invalidly adopted, for it missed 2 votes in favour to meet with the 46 votes required by its own constitution.
Mooney states that members are opting out because the CFS has not proven to be effective in representing them. For example the organization played no significant role in the student movement against tuition hikes in 2012. He also pointed that it is because the CFS lacks “transparency and accountability.”
In fact, there have been reported cases by Laurentian University and University of Toronto graduate students that their petitions sent by registered mail asking to initiate process to leave were never picked up and consequently returned.
During the protest, students participating in the meeting who joined the protest claimed that they had been verbally harassed and intimidated by staff members for not agreeing with CFS procedures.
“There goes the fat fuck again,” Mark Stewart, senior stick of Manitoba University Faculty of Arts, said he was called by someone in the hotel. He added that long-time CFS staffer, Lucy Watson, “insinuated I was an arsonist.”
“People are being told in meetings […] that information on the [CFS] budget is (quote and quote) none of their business […] this is the internal culture for this meeting and has been for a long time,” Brad Evoy, External Commissioner of the Graduate Student Union of University of Toronto (GSU), said in a speech.
“We spent a hundred and eighty thousand dollars on the CSF and they deliver us zero dollars in profit,” said UBCO Internal Coordinator, Sharman McLean, adding that membership of his school was “grandfathered” from the Okanagan University before it was purchased by UBC.
“We came here last year, trying to reform the CFS, now we just want out of it,” he continued, “we were attacked verbally and, actually, this time we’ve been threatened physically”.
The Concordian approached Lucy Watson for an interview while she stood outside the hotel main entrance, but she declined saying she wasn’t authorized to give any comments, and that “media [was] not allowed in the hotel.” Students there also declined to be interviewed.
Flyers distributed early in the morning under members’ hotel room doors said that “right-wing” students were plotting to discredit the CFS. Stewart brought his for demonstrators to see.
At 2:14pm the protest concluded.