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.

Canadian Federation of Students suing UTGSU: NO Campaign Committee

According to a group of students who ran the Vote NO campaign in the recent University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), the Federations have filed a notice of application against the UTGSU. The group also claims that the documents were delivered to the UTGSU on Tuesday, 2 December 2014, only 2 days after the CFS chief returning officer (CRO) Stephen Littley announced that the quorum had not been reached. This leads them to believe that the application was well underway even before the results of the referendum were released.

When asked (by email) whether the UTGSU had in fact received the notice of application, the UTGSU’s Civics and Environment Commissioner Susanne Waldorf wrote “We have no comment on this. Sorry.” At the time of publication, neither the CFS nor the CFS-O had responded to email inquiry. 

NOTE: For clarity, “Canadian Federation of Students” refers to the Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Federation of Students-Services (CFS-S) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario in the title of this post.

UTGSU referendum on continued membership in the CFS lacked quorum: CRO

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Voting in the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (
UTGSU) referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) ended on Friday, 28 November 2014. The CFS chief returning officer (CRO), Stephen Littley, updated the CRO website with the following: 

As is standard with referenda, a minimum threshold of voters is required in order for a vote to be valid. In this instance, the quorum requirement was 10% of eligible voters. According to the information provided by the administration of the University of Toronto to the Chief Returning Officer, the total number of eligible voters was 16,056 putting quorum at 1606. The total number of votes cast was 1586 (with 12 double enveloped ballots to be verified). The vote, therefore, was not quorate (Emphasis added). 

However, in the early hours of Saturday, 29 November 2014, an email circulated among UTGSU members which claims that “Almost 1600 UofT grad students voted in the CFS referendum. And over 66% of those GSU members voted NO.”

More to come…

UPDATE: December 6, 2014 at 10:00 am

We were also made aware of another interesting twist of events: Following the initial update from Stephen Littley, CFS CRO, whereby “[t]he total number of votes cast was 1586 (with 12 double enveloped ballots to be verified)”, the website was updated again to read “[t]he total number of votes cast was 1599 (with 19 double enveloped ballots to be verified).” Today, reference of the double enveloped ballots has disappeared. So, according to Littley, the referendum fell short by 7 votes.

U of T grads’ CFS petitions: Chinese student signatories deemed invalid by Deloitte

For more context, I suggest that you read “Canadian Federation of Students won’t recognize UTGSU referendum petition“.

DISCLAIMER: Legal documents contained within have been redacted to protect the personal privacy. 

Voting in the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’ (UTGSU) referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)/Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) began today and will continue until Friday. As we eagerly await the results, we can only hope that everything goes smoothly (rather than a repeat of the disaster in Regina).

Now, to the point of this post: Earlier today, The Varsity published an article (which appeared on the front page of the printed paper) that touches upon the subject matter of this post. After having read it, I was not surprised to find out that it had already been widely criticized as being inadequate. This article will attempt to fill in the (many) holes.

Studentunion.ca has obtained legal documents which seem to indicate that officials from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) instructed Deloitte employees not to validate certain names that were included in the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) petitions to initiate a referendum on continued membership in the national and provincial branches of the Federation. As will be outlined below, the documents reveal that at least 75 Chinese graduate students’ signatures were deemed invalid in Deloitte’s final reports due to the fact that they used their “Canadian” names rather than their “proper full name”.

This obviously raises a number of important questions regarding the verification process which, depending on the outcome of the referendum, may or may not be answered.

Background 

On September 4, 2014, as part of the examination for discovery, Ms. Alessandra Nosko (legal counsel for the UTGSU) cross-examined Mr. Terrence Hatherell, a partner at Deloitte LLP who was ultimately responsible for the CFS and CFS-O final reports. She grilled him on the criteria used by his team in determining whether students’ names were valid. In a package of undertakings requested by Ms. Nosko from the CFS/CFS-O, one particular answer provided reveals a startling fact:

With respect to petitioners who used an English variation of their foreign name, it was determined, based on discussions with CFS (National) and CFSO representatives, that those petitioners should not be considered valid as they did not use their “proper full name” as stipulated in the CFS (National) and CFSO Bylaws (Emphasis added).

On April 2, 2014, nearly a month after Deloitte delivered its final reports to the CFS/CFS-O, Ms. Vanessa Hunt contacted Mr. Yasser Youssef (Deloitte) by email and states that:

It has been brought to our attention that there is a discrepancy between the number of signatures that your office verified on the national petition and the number of signatures that was reviewed by the registrar’s office, possibly due to human error during the photocopying process.

Following the conduct of further revisions of the national petition, Mr. Youssef emailed Ms. Hunt informing her that the 19.53% of the petition signatures were valid. However, 9 minutes later, Youssef emailed Ms. Hunt again:

One of the items that I did want to discuss with you related to Chinese petitioners (approximately 75 – 80 instances) who signed the petition using their Canadian names. We have not considered those petitions valid (consistent with CFS-ON). If we were to consider them valid, however, in the case of CFS (National) the 20% threshold would be exceeded (Emphasis added).

That last sentence is very important. If those 75 (or 80) Chinese students’ names were deemed valid, the 20% threshold would have been met for the CFS petition. So while we don’t know exactly what was said during the “discussions” between Deloitte and CFS/CFS-O representatives, we do know that, in the end, those Chinese students’ names were deemed invalid and were not included in the final tally. 

Stay tuned as more legal documents will be released in the days to come. 

NOTE: For clarity, “CFS” refers to the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario in the title of this post.

U of T Graduate Students to vote on Canadian Federation of Students membership

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The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (
UTGSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)/Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O)1 have arrived at a settlement which will allow a referendum on continued membership in Federation to take place. This referendum notice was posted to the GSU’s website last week. According to the CFS’ chief returning officer website, the UTGSU referendum will take place from November 24 to November 28, 2014. However, campaigning is set to begin today, November 10, 2014 (a total of 18 days of campaigning). In comparison, a provincial election campaign in Ontario lasts roughly 28 days. Once again, Stephen Littley is overseeing the referendum as the CFS chief returning officer.

Read the CFS referendum rules here 

In order to trigger a referendum on continued membership in the CFS, the Federation’s bylaws require that 20% of a student association’s membership sign a petition. Individual members of the UTGSU initiated the collection of signatures at the beginning of September 2013 and, by the middle of the month, over 3000 signatures had been amassed. However, many months passed before the unconventional petition verification process began. Following the publication of the Deloitte audits, the CFS/CFS-O rejected the petitions. Dissatisfied with the methodology utilized by the Deloitte auditors, the GSU’s litigation committee was formed and subsequently resolved to pursue the decision to reject the petitions in court. The confidential settlement was reached at some point in the middle of October and was signed by all three parties. 

New rule prevents use of “third-party sources”

Since the last referendum on continued membership in the CFS/CFS-British Columbia at Capilano University Students’ Union (CSU), the following clause was added to the referendum rules: 

g. The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that contain links to third party sources including but not limited to websites, blogs, Facebook pages/groups or reports or any other source that can not be governed and sanctioned by the Bylaws and these Referendum Rules.

This appears to formalize the practice of banning the use of mainstream media sources imposed by Mr. Littley during the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) referendum. However, this clause does not appear in the CFS/CFS-British Columbia referendum rules that governed the CSU’s referendum. The ban of materials which cite any legitimate sources of information is tyrannical and is not based on democratic principles. What is even more bizarre is the portion of the rules which states that “The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that are defamatory, misleading or false. The Chief Returning Officer shall be the sole arbiter in determining whether materials are defamatory, misleading or false” [emphasis added]. Even though Mr. Littley is a lawyer, only a judge can ultimately determine whether published information is defamatory. This excessive control of information strikes me as antithetical for an organization that claims to espouse democratic principles.The same organization, by the way, that is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Conservative’s Fair Elections Act (which became law earlier this year) in the Ontario Superior Court along with the Council of Canadians. The organizations claim that certain provisions included in the bill “infringe on or deny the right to vote guaranteed by s. 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter“).” Section 3 of the Charter is the Democratic rights of citizens.

We will not be silenced by the arbitrary rules imposed by the CFS CRO. It’s ridiculous to think that anything we publish on studentunion.ca could be construed as a violation of the rules and used to impose penalties against the “No” campaign. We are of the belief that the free-flow of information is an absolute necessity so that students might fairly evaluate the merits of the CFS . Anything less is an abomination of students democratic rights to be sufficiently informed about the real issues surrounding the Federation.

We are already hearing from volunteers on the ground and things are already heating up.

1. The CFS and the CFS-O are two distinct organizations. To lighten the text and unless otherwise noted, when I refer to the “CFS referendum”, it should be understood as referring to both the CFS and the CFS-O referendums. 

Jian Ghomeshi’s involvement in student politics

Jian-Ghomeshi-Excalibur

Jian Ghomeshi pictured in The Excalibur newspaper during the York Federation of Students’ (YFS) February-March 1990 election campaign

Following the National Post’s exposé on Jian Ghomeshi’s York University, we want to document Jian Ghomeshi’s involvement in Canadian student politics as well as his views on various issues surround feminism, racism, etc. None of the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi have been tested in court. 

Since the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) suddenly announced that it had cut ties with Jian Ghomeshi, one of its most popular personalities and host of cultural affairs radio show Q, allegations of sexual assault have surfaced on a quasi-daily basis. Ghomeshi’s firing came only two days after the radio personality informed the national broadcaster that he was taking some “much needed personal time” away from the CBC. 

Read CBC’s initial statement on the firing of Jian Ghomeshi

Jesse Brown (CANADALAND) was the first to report of Ghomeshi’s “leave of absence” and helped break this story along with Kevin Donovan (the Toronto Star’s investigative journalist who broke the story surrounding a video which allegedly featured Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine). In a recent podcast, Brown spoke to Roberto Verì who used to work for CBC’s Q with Ghomeshi. Near the end, he explains why the story broke when it did and the ethical issues surrounding the publishing of such explosive allegations that were, up until that point, backed up only by anonymous sources. 

Only days after the firing of Ghomeshi by the CBC, The Toronto police launched an investigation when three women came forward with allegations of sexual assault. Since then, many other women have also come forward with more allegations.

Read Hubert Lacroix (CBC’s President and CEO) statement to Canadians

Jian Ghomeshi: student politician

As the title of this post indicates, Jian (also spelled Jean in documents referenced below) Ghomeshi was involved in student politics during his time as a student at York University. According to a column in the August 29, 1990 edition of The Excalibur (York University’s student newspapers), he “was a member of the Nelson Mandela Law society, co-chair of the York New Democrats and a found member of the York Pro-Choice Network.” He was elected as president of the York Federation of Students (YFS) in March 1990 under the banner “Unite to Fight for Student Rights” with a record-breaking number of votes. The Excalibur interviewed Ghomeshi during the YFS election campaign. He cited sexism as one of his top three issues on campus:

Sexism is an issue that should be addressed by student government more than ever, considering this year’s atrocities at Ecole Polytechnique and the “No Means Harder” at Queen’s University… I have to stress that women’s issues are something I’ve been involved in for awhile and that’s why it’s an issue for me. I was a Women Studies minor for the first two years I was here, it opened me up to a lot of things.  

Ghomeshi’s views on the Canadian Federation of Students

In the same exposé, Ghomeshi also lays out his views on the Ontario Federation of Students:

Philosophically, I think we have to unite with students across the Ontario… My position is that we should belong to the OFS. I think that this is the year to have a referendum and unequivocally say we should or shouldn’t join… OFS is an important body.

In another column published in The Excalibur, Ghomeshi claimed that he was “convinced that the YFS must become part of the OFS (Ontario Federation of Students) and CFS (Canadian Federation of Students). “We must not be naive. Joining [these groups] will enable us to effectively lobby for student interests, such as battling sexism and racism on campus.” The YFS members would indeed get a chance to vote in a referendum which took place on October 23, 24 and 25, 1990. At the time, the YFS’s membership in the OFS was up in the air when the 1987-1988 council voted to withdraw from the provincial student organization. Ghomeshi was involved in the “Yes Coalition” which took a pro-OFS/CFS stance during the referendum campaign. Inevitably, the YFS officially threw its support behind the “Yes Coalition”. In the end, the YFS membership voted in favour of joining both the OFS and the CFS. In January 1991, Ghomeshi was elected as the OFS campaigns coordinator (which was also the position of deputy chair) for the 91-92 academic year. 

Ghomeshi’s views on other issues

When it comes to other issues, Maclean’s interviewed Mitch Blass (who served with Ghomeshi as the CYSF’s vice president). He claims that Jian “wanted to be the champion of women’s issues”. Shortly after the election, he attended the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) national general meeting as an observer for the YFS (which, at that time, was known as the Council of the York Student Federation or CYSF). He took part in the student rights committee; the meeting minutes of the CFS May 1990 national general meeting recount the discussions which occurred during this particular committee’s meetings:

Our longest discussions were about strategies for the elimination of racism, sexism, and heterosexism on Canadian campuses. What can student associations and the CFS do to fight intolerance? The school year’s long list of shamefully sexist incidents across the country resulted in much discussion.

One year later, Ghomeshi again attended the Federation’s national general meeting. By this time, the YFS had held a referendum in which its members voted in favour of joining the CFS (the YFS was ratified [Motion 90.10.43] as a full member of the CFS during the November 1990 national general meeting). During that meeting, he participated in the campaigns and government relations committee, was a member of the international students constituency group and the ad hoc committee for students of colour.

Allegations against Ghomeshi continue to surface

Jim Hounslow was the communications coordinator for the YFS when Ghomeshi was president. He alleges that Ghomeshi fondled him while they were in an elevator. The Star also spoke with Kerry Eady, another former York University student. She claims that in the fall of 1988, a group of residence advisors held an informal meeting during which they “told us they’d had reports from a couple of young women who had bad dates with Jian Ghomeshi … that he had hit them.”

She said that at the meeting, attended by about 25 students, the resident advisers warned them to be careful in co-ed washrooms and “to be careful in stairwells.” 

According to Eady, “[t]here was no accusation of date rape, but (students had told the residence advisers) that he’d hit them, and one of them had been choked in the stairwell.” Eady initially posted her allegations to Facebook.

An important discussion

These very serious allegations have rightfully launched the issue of sexual assault to the forefront of the national (and internationaldiscussion. Former columnist for Toronto Star, Antonia Zerbisias, and Montreal Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery started the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported when they shared their personal stories of having been raped.

While it’s under unfortunate circumstances, this discussion is an important step in the long road ahead in helping victims of sexual assault, some of which have remained silent for years, if and when they decide to come forward. And while various student organizations have attempted to discuss this sensitive issue through campaigns such as “No Means No“, “More than Yes” and “Consent is Sexy“, various incidents continue to occur on campuses across the country. So, rather than passing lengthy motions and making grand rhetorical statements condemning sexual assault, we hope that student leaders will take a good hard look at what must be done and, in conjunction with college and university administrations, carry out the appropriate changes. Provincial governments also have a role to play when it comes to dealing with sexual assault on post-secondary institution campuses.