Canadian Federation of Students 34th annual general meeting

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Services (CFS-S) will hold their 34th annual general meeting from November 22 to November 25, 2015.

Studentunion.ca has obtained the agenda for the opening plenary.

UPDATED: CBUSU suffers major blow in legal defeat against CFS

The Ontario Superior Court rendered a decision in a case pitting the Cape Breton University Students’ Union (CBUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). This long-standing legal battle stems from a dispute of the legitimacy of a March 2008 referendum on continued membership. Out of the 366 students who casted a ballot, 92% voted against continued membership in the Federation. In summary, the CBUSU remains a member of the Federation and is on the hook for 6 years worth of unpaid membership fees, worth $293,159.13. The CFS was asked to submit its costs submission within 30 days of the release of the decision. This will likely add another significant financial burden facing the CBUSU. 

In Mr. Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s Analysis and Conclusion, he writes: “I am satisfied on all of the evidence before me that the referendum held by the CBUSU was invalid in that it did not comply with the then prevailing Bylaws and that the vote on defederation cannot be recognized on any other basis.”

This charge is based on the fact that, in September 2007, it was in fact the members of the CBUSU executive that initiated the petition that would trigger a referendum. During the trial, it was admitted that members of the executive collected the signature during the first week of classes, September 10-15, 2007. This is where the CBUSU diverged from the CFS Bylaws. According to Bylaw 1, Article 3(a)(iii) of the Federation’s most recently available Bylaws, only “the students collectively belonging to a local student association” (i.e.: the individual students who make up the CBUSU membership) can initiate a petition, not the “voting member” (i.e.: the CBUSU executive is considered a voting member of the CFS).

The consequences stemming from this decision could mean the end of the CBUSU. The student union was ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in damages to the CFS as well as the Federation’s legal fees which could amount to another $100,000. Speaking with CTV News Atlantic, Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, admitted that all options are on the table including laying off some of the student union’s 80 employees or even bankruptcy.

Further reactions to the decision

Students Nova Scotia expressed its concern in a statement regarding the results of the trial.

Paul Wells, political editor at Maclean’s Magazine, weighed in on Twitter leading us to believe he has some knowledge of the Federation’s rocky history:

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner also took to Twitter to say he is “proud” of StudentNS for its stance on the CBU issue:

Finally, to get further historical context, you can go back and listen to an interview from June 2014 which included Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, and Brent Farrington, CFS Internal Co-ordinator. They both spoke with CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton’s host Steve Sutherland.

UPDATED: Saturday August 8, 2015

On Friday, we initially posted an article on our Facebook page which indicated that the CBUSU had filed for bankruptcy. However, this was an erroneous report. Later in the afternoon, another article was published in The Chronicle Herald stating that the CBUSU would in fact appeal Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s decision. Brandon Ellis told the Herald that Toronto-based law firm Borden Ladner Gervais is representing the student union. This is the same firm that represented the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union last year in its legal case against the Federation.

Canadian Federation of Students elects new national executive

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During the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) national general meeting, held last week in Gatineau, Quebec, the plenary elected a new national executive for the 2015-2016 academic year. It should be noted that all three executive positions will be filled by held by women. 

Bilan Arte's March 2012 election campaign poster

Bilan Arte’s March 2012 election campaign poster

Bilan Arte was elected CFS national chairperson for the 2015-2016 academic year. Her involvement in student politics is extensive: she was elected twice as president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) (2011-2012 and 2012-2013), was deputy chairperson (2011-2012) and chairperson (2013-2014) of the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba (CFS-MB) as well as being the Manitoba representative (2013-2014) on the CFS national executive. Ms. Arte is currently the deputy chairperson on the CFS national executive. 

Anne-Marie Roy - BoD poster - February 2011

Current Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) president (2014-2015), Anne-Marie Roy, was elected as CFS national deputy chairperson. You can read about her record as a student politician as of February 2013 here. She is currently in her second term as SFUO president and as Francophone students representative (2013-2014 and 2014-2015) on the CFS national executive. She will likely continue her fast ascent in the CFS ranks. Earlier this year, Ms. Roy was the subject of explicit Facebook messages which were somehow obtained and subsequently made public. This incident received the attention of the national news media in which ‘rape culture’ was highlighted as becoming an epidemic on Canadian college and university campuses and in society in general. Ms. Roy could very easily become the CFS national chairperson in the next couple of years. 

CFS-NS chairperson Anna Dubinski

Anna Dubinski – Photo credits: The Chronicle Herald

Finally, the plenary elected Anna Dubinsky as CFS national treasurer. She is currently the CFS-Nova Scotia (CFS-NS) chairperson as well as the CFS-NS’s national executive representative. Ms. Dubinsky attended the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here’s her experience in campus politics: 

2010-2011: first year representative on the King Students’ Union (KSU) Council of representatives

2011-2012: KSU’s Vice-president, student life

2012-2013: Student union representative on the University of King’s College Board of Governors; Board of governors representative on the KSU’s Council of representatives

2013-2014: She followed in the footsteps of influential CFS personalities such as Kaley Kennedy, David Etherington, Gabe Hoogers and Nick Stark by becoming the KSU president; she also sat as one of the student representatives on the University’s Board of Governors and on the Board’s executive committee.

2014-2015: CFS-NS chairperson and the Nova Scotia representative on the CFS national executive.

It should be noted that, during her tenure as KSU president, Dubinski’s executive faced a $10,000 deficit. Read the discussions surrounding the budget deficit here and the subsequent decision to hold a referendum to increase student union dues by $9,40 in order to eliminate the deficit.

Canadian Federation of Students loses legal battle with its Quebec wing

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The Superior Court of Quebec yesterday released its judgement (in french) in the case “
Rassemblement des associations étudiantes v Fédération canadienne des étudiants et étudiantes“, representing the culmination of a five-year war between the Canadian Federation of Students and the now defunct CFS-Quebec.

Consult more documents relating to this case here

The Court ruled that the Canadian Federation of Students had illegally withheld certain sums of money from CFS-Quebec for a certain period of time between 2007 and 2010, in violation of its own bylaws. The actual amount of money was not specified in the judgement.

This judgement could possibly influence judicial proceedings that are set to be heard in 2015 regarding the validity of disaffiliation referenda that saw three out of four CFS member students’ unions withdraw from the national student organization in 2010: the Concordia Students’ Union, the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University.

Petition sought removal of CFS chairperson Jessica McCormick

CFS - Chaining Fellow Students

Students protested outside the Best Western hotel where the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) was holding its national general meeting on November 23, 2013. This banner, which reads “CFS: Chaining Fellow Students” was erected across the street from the protest – Photo credits: Brandon Clim

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Constitution and Bylaws (Bylaw 5, Article 5-b-ii), the removal of the National Chairperson may be initiated when “a petition signed by no less than three (3) member local student associations [is] presented to the National Executive.”

One such petition was presented to the National Executive during the most recent CFS national general meeting. Current CFS national chairperson Jessica McCormick came under fire when, only days before the beginning of the general meeting, two separate petitions seeking a referendum on continued membership were “returned to sender”. Individual members from the Laurentian University Graduate Students Association (GSA) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) each submitted petitions containing, according to the organizers, at least 20% of their respective student associations (the minimum threshold required to trigger a referendum on continued membership as per the CFS Bylaws). However, the petition organizer from the PGSS were shocked to discover that one of the envelopes containing their petition was returned to sender.

When the petition came up for debate during the CFS NGM, those loyal to the Federation vigorously defended the national chairperson claiming that there are any number of reasons why the packages could have been returned to sender and that delegates should be more concerned about solving the crisis facing students. One student association staffer, Hamid Osman, even went as far as to claim that Canada Post loses 438 million pieces of mail a year (no source was provided) in order to shift the blame on Canada Post. 

The petition to impeach Ms. McCormick was eventually voted down and, ironically, she was reelected as national chairperson for a second term. However, we have since learned that Jessica McCormick did in fact sign for the PGSS’ petition (which had to be separated into two envelopes due to weight limitations for registered mail). Studentunion.ca has obtained evidence which contradicts the various talking points used to defend Ms. McCormick:

Petition from the Laurentian University Graduate Students Association

As you can clearly see below, the envelope containing the Laurentian graduate students’ petition has “RTS” which stands for return to sender. According to official tracking information from Canada Post, the petition was sent on October 18, 2013, an attempt to deliver the package on October 21, 2013 (which was unsuccessful), and the package went unclaimed until finally, on November 15, the package was returned to sender. 

20131129-215018.jpg

Petition from the Post-Graduate Students Society of McGill University

You can also see below that, contrary to various excuses given by CFS officials (clerical error?), the two envelopes containing the petition from members of the PGSS seeking a referendum on continued membership were both signed for by none other than Jessica McCormick herself on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. 

PGSS CFS petition signed for by Jessica McCormick1 PGSS CFS petition signed for by Jessica McCormick2

However, before these envelopes were picked up at the post office, a letter dated October 18, 2013 was addressed to Ms. McCormick from Sa Ge (a graduate student at McGill University and member of the PGSS who helped organize the petition). He indicated that an attempt had been made to deliver the packages containing the petition on October 16, 2013 but was unsuccessful. Ge concluded by asking her to acknowledge receipt of the petition. Ten days later, a legal letter from Ge’s legal counsel was addressed to the national chairperson and concludes as follows: “… should you fail to retrieve our client’s petition from the Post Office prior to October 31, 2013 and address it pursuant to CFS bylaws, legal proceedings shall be instituted without further notice against the Canadian Federation of Students to force a vote for decertification to take place. DO GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY.” Interestingly, the CFS’s legal counsel responded on November 11 stating that “My client was somewhat surprised to receive receive your letter as the status of the PGSS as a member of the CFS is the subject of ongoing litigation. Like your client, the CFS takes the position that the PGSS remains a member of the CFS.” In response, Mr. Ge’s legal counsel writes:

… we were surprised to hear from our client yesterday, that despite having accepted delivery of both packages, and knowing full well what they contained, you proceeded to cross out the address on one of the packages and place it in the mail marked ʻRTSʼ [see below]. It is difficult for us not to conclude that you are acting in bad faith and are indeed deliberately obstructing the decertification process pursuant to CFS’ own bylaws… As a final warning, be advised that should you fail to address our client’s petition, the half returned to our client enclosed herein, at a meeting of the National Executive this month and in accordance with the CFS bylaws, or fail to call a meeting this month pursuant to section 12 of the bylaws to address the petition, legal proceedings will be instituted against CFS without further notice to force a vote for decertification to take place, and claiming any and all damages, including punitive damages, flowing from your attempts to obstruct the decertification process.

20131129-214821.jpg

Isn’t it unfortunate then, that in order for the national chairperson to uphold the legally binding bylaws of the organization she leads, a letter threatening legal action against the CFS must be received? Quite frankly, it’s pathetic! Students have every right to be outraged at how the affairs of their national student organization are managed. Ironically, quoted in Montreal Gazette article, Ms. McCormick claims that elected officials from the PGSS, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Dawson Student Union (DSU) “don’t respect the democratic rules and procedures and, instead, are trying to take actions that are beyond their authority.” Those student associations are currently embroiled in ongoing legal proceedings against the Federation.

It should be noted that both petitions were eventually delivered by hand to the national chairperson during the CFS NGM. So, for those who claim to have absolutely no idea (or who simply choose to ignore the reasons) why concerned students would be protesting against the Canadian Federation of Students outside the hotel where the organization’s general meeting is taking place (Yes, I’m looking at you Anne-Marie Roy), you now have one of many documented examples. Oh, and for those seeking further reasons, you may want to consult the long list of lawsuits involving our national student organization.

EXCLUSIVE: CFS National General Meeting Audio

I know, it’s been a slow month here at studentunion.ca. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) national general meeting recently took place in Gatineau, Quebec, from Thursday November 21 to Sunday, November 24, 2013.

While you’re here, make sure to check out our Facebook pagemake a donation and sign up for email updates.

There’s a lot of ground to cover here so bare with me. This will be one of many short posts.

First, I was provided with audio from both the opening and closing plenaries:

Canadian Federation of Student National General Meeting – Opening Plenary – November 21, 2013

Canadian Federation of Students National General Meeting – Closing Plenary – November 24, 2013

More to come…