Canadian Federation of Students disaffiliation referenda initiated at fifteen students’ unions

Today I received a news release from a group of organizers who are organizing petitions for disaffiliation from the Canadian Federation of Students. They claim to be collecting petitions from over fifteen different student associations. A partial list of campuses includes Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Capilano University, the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, Laurentian University, and Dawson College. The spokespersons for this group are Ashleigh Ingle (U of T GSU), Nicholas Di Penna (Dawson), and Alex McGowan (Kwantlen).

The news release also states that these organizers “plan to create new organizing bodies directed by principles of free association and direct membership control,” with a founding congress planned for 2014. If successful, this would put Canada in the unusual position of having three different national students’ federations, along with the CFS and CASA.

Spokesperson Ashleigh Ingle advises me that “no student union executive has taken an official stance at this time” on the disaffiliation efforts.

Students Across Canada Petition to Leave Canadian Federation of Students

September 4, 2013 – College and University students across the country are beginning the process to end their membership with national lobby group, the Canadian Federation of Students. This initiative to “defederate” includes petitions among students at the largest schools remaining in the Federation (the University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University), as well as the only schools left in a few different provinces. Over 15 student associations are currently taking part and this number may grow throughout the fall. Their aim is to end the Canadian Federation of Students’ control over local campus affairs, but also to begin discussions about alternatives for provincial and national organizing that keep decision-making power in the hands of students.

“Many of us are longtime student organizers and have seen students attempt to reform the CFS from within for decades, but to no avail. We are taking these steps to defederate because of our dedication to students and to the student movement,” said Ashleigh Ingle, a graduate student at the University of Toronto. “Students are realizing that their interests are not served by the Canadian Federation of Students. We are not walking away from organizing at the national and provincial level; we are creating the space for that to happen effectively.”

The Federation has recently lost traction in a number of provinces, with its control loosening on many campuses nationwide. This latest mass defection from the CFS could leave them without representation in British Columbia, Manitoba and Québec. Combined with their lack of representation in Alberta and much of the Maritimes, this significantly challenges the idea that the CFS represents Canadian students.

“Every student – from every part of the political spectrum – has a reason to want to leave the Canadian Federation of Students. For us, we have come to this decision because of what we feel are ineffective organizing practices and lobbying efforts, a bloated bureaucracy, questionable financial decisions, and low standards of democratic processes. We believe students deserve better,” says Brendan Lehman a student from Laurentian University.

Some students plan to create new organizing bodies directed by principles of free association and direct membership control, the founding congress of which is planned for 2014. The organizers tell us that, “the proper approach to student organizing involves limiting dependence on members’ money while maximizing student decision-making in the fight for free public, high quality education. But even if students have no desire to join a new organizing body, they should still consider terminating their membership in the CFS. It’s time to take a stand. If you want to start a petition on your campus or help out with an existing one, email It is time to defend the interests of students; it is time to say no to CFS.”


For more information, please email: or contact:

Ashleigh Ingle: Ontario, Central and Eastern Canada Spokesperson

Nicholas Di Penna: Francophone Spokesperson

Alex McGowan: West coast Spokesperson

  • There are statements in here that are not correct. Like saying the CFS is without representation in BC. I work at Camosun College and we and many other Student Associations are pretty happy campers in the CFS. Please check your facts before publishing.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment. Firstly, I would like to point out that we published this press release as soon as we received it (hence the reason why it was published at 2:21 am EST). Now, with all due respect, just because the student association (and its executive) that you work for and others may be “pretty happy campers in the CFS” doesn’t negate the fact that some students have raised legitimate criticisms of the organization. Therefore, when the press release states that “[t]his latest mass defection from the CFS could leave them without representation in British Columbia…”, it raises this as a possible scenario (by using the word “could”) rather than stating this as a fact.

      As a side note, I always appreciate when a student association’s website is continuously updated with the most recent documentation. Keep it up, Michael!

      Thanks again for your feedback!

  • Joël Pedneault

    MathieuLBouchard The only student association in Quebec that hasn’t voted to disaffiliate from CFS is the student union at Dawson College, which didn’t strike for very long, which is why CFS is rarely mentioned in the context of the 2012 Quebec student strike.

    Also, I take issue with the claim that “this would put Canada in the unusual position of having three different national students’ federations”. There are already four national (federalists might say provincial) student unions in Quebec (ASSÉ, FECQ, FEUQ, TaCEQ). Shouldn’t pluralism should be the norm in such matters?

  • Ryan Archibald Smith

    Looks like CASA’s going to be getting a few more members!

    • Anthony Pancake

      I consider this highly unlikely, given that the folk I know who are personally involved in this – Ashleigh Ingle and Brendan Lehman – are both committed radicals. Both have been actively involved as leaders in struggles at their schools, and I trust their judgement far more than the assorted leftovers (Miguel Figueroa, David Bush, etc.) who seem convinced that this will mean a swing to the right. As though tailing the NDP hasn’t meant that?

  • MathieuLBouchard

    I did read very many news and chronicles about the huge 2012 student strike in Québec and I have never ever read the CFS get mentioned at all. The four federations of postsecondary students that got mentioned were FEUQ, FECQ, ASSÉ/CLASSE and sometimes TaCEQ. Which associations are CFS members in Québec ?

    • Legally speaking, the Concordia Student Union, the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, the McGill Post-Graduates Student Society and the Dawson Student Union are members of the CFS. However, the first three are currently involved in lengthy legal battles with the CFS in order to have the results of their referendums officially (and legally) recognized by the courts as being legitimate. Therefore, at the present time, the only undisputed member of the CFS from Quebec is the Dawson Student Union.

  • Steve Lee

    Nevertheless I wish the organizers well as change would be welcome or perhaps maybe this could be the serious kick in the pants existing bodies like the CFS need to wake up!

  • Steve Lee

    It’s sad the CFS hasn’t been effective in a long time. Today a number of friends found out they were getting less than what they expected for student loans and one had to ax three courses and now is only in one. And I’ve heard these stories for more than a decade now.

    Sadly some local student unions could be doing more too – the KSA which I know was recovering from the return of Aaron Takhar was largely silent during the last provincial election with a lobbying fund surplus / buildup of almost $200,000… even if they were short handed they probably could’ve hired a PR lobbyist to help mount stuff to make PSE an issue last spring as the KSA has done in the past very well, most notably in 2002-04.