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.

PGSS votes to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (again)

On January 15 and 16, 2015, members of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) had the opportunity to vote in a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

According to the PGSS website, preliminary results indicate that graduate students voted overwhelmingly in favour of cutting ties with the Federation:

Referendum question: Are you in favor of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)?

Number of votes: 2129* (26.3% voter turnout)
Yes votes: 56* (2.7%)
No votes: 2014* (97.3%)

*All results are preliminary, subject to change pending University verification and receipt of mail-in ballots. The CRO will post the official results in due time. The referendum and formal request to leave the Federation will need to be ratified at the next General Assembly of the CFS.

Readers were reminded in an article published in the McGill Daily that the PGSS continues to be involved in litigation with the Federation stemming from a March 2010 referendum during which members of the PGSS voted to leave the CFS. The CFS would prefer to acknowledge this month’s vote as this would imply that the PGSS has continued to be a member of the Federation since March 2010. This, in turn, would mean that the PGSS owes 5 years worth of membership dues (between March 2010-June 2015). Before the CFS agreed to hold this month’s referendum, the PGSS was forced to pay over $300.000 in outstanding dues as per the CFS Bylaws. The PGSS will continue to pursue the litigation emanating from the 2010 referendum and will now seek to recover that money. Court hearings in that case won’t begin until 2017.

A McGill Tribune article quotes CFS chairperson Jessica McCormick who appears to show that the Federation would likely recognize the results at the Federation’s General meeting in May/June 2015. A statement (http://aboutcfs.ca has already been rendered inaccessible) by the Ms. McCormick was released just before this month’s referendum and deserves to be quoted:

Unlike other votes on membership, the Canadian Federation of Students will not be engaging in a traditional campaign on campus in order to highlight the importance of working together. The reality is that over the past five years, the graduate student members at McGill have been so misled and misinformed by portions of the elected leadership of the PGSS about the work of the Canadian Federation of Students and the formerly positive, supportive relationship with the other members of the organization that it would be virtually impossible to set the record straight in a short campaign period. As an example, there has been so much disinformation that the average McGill graduate student incorrectly thinks that the Canadian Federation of Students has been suing the McGill PGSS. In fact, the PGSS has engaged in a sustained campaign of legal attacks against the other member local unions that comprise the Federation in order to achieve a specific outcome-to isolate graduate students at McGill from students across the country.

While the Federation made it seem like no traditional campaigning would occur, many people were brought in by the CFS to act as poll clerks (May not be an exhaustive list): 

Carole Blank – Kaileigh Macrae  – Munib Sajjad – Carolyn Hibbs – Emma Campbell – Alena Peters – Jasmine Parent – Glenn Burley – Adam Awad – 
Sarah McCue – Alyssa Blank – Nadia Fentiman – Lauren Montgomery – Nick Stark – Brent Farrington – Laurel Walsh – Anna Dubynski

I do hope that as many graduate students will read the entire statement (also available in French) to see how condescending it really is. McCormick’s attempts to speak down to students seem to suggest that graduate students are unable to think critically about the information they have received from the “elected leadership of the PGSS” and judge the organization on its merits. While the PGSS has in fact brought the CFS to court, to characterize the litigation as a “sustained campaign of legal attacks” is exaggerated rhetoric that is often used by the Federation to describe anybody who dares to disagree with and/or criticize the organization. Let this CFS statement be seen for what it really is: a sophisticated, camouflaged admittance of defeat, a throwing in of the towel.

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.

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.

Stephen Littley: Canadian Federation of Students chief returning officer

During the May 2011 Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) semi-annual general meeting, a motion (2011/05:N15) was passed which saw the referendum oversight committee (ROC) replaced with the position of chief returning officer (CRO). The CRO would thus oversee CFS referendums and all powers previously invested in the ROC would be transferred to a single individual, nominated by the CFS national executive and approved by the general assembly.

When talk of defederation began to heat up last September, the Federation’s national executive recommended that former CFS national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard be appointed as CRO at the November 2013 national general meeting. In the end, her appointment was ratified during the closing plenary. When the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) learned of this partisan appointment, its executive addressed a letter to the CFS national executive requesting that Giroux-Bougard’s appointment be reconsidered. In response, a letter dated December 3, 2013, national deputy chairperson Vanessa Hunt indicated that Giroux-Bougard’s appointment had been ratified during the opening plenary and that “there were no objections or opposition” voiced at that time. However, these facts were disputed by the UTGSU executive in a letter to General Council.

Giroux-Bougard replaced by Stephen Littley as CFS CRO

Then, in an email dated January 20, 2014, Hunt informed member locals’ executives that, “due to work obligations”, Katherine Giroux-Bougard would “not be available to undertake the duties associated with the position of Chief Returning Officer.” She was replaced with Stephen Littley (pictured on the right), a lawyer from British Columbia. Because Littley’s appointment as CRO required the approval of the membership, a motion was passed at the most recent CFS semi-annual general meeting.

Stephen Littley’s involvement in student politics

The same email further outlines Mr. Littley’s qualifications and previous involvement in student politics:

Mr. Stephen Littley is a member of the BC Bar and has been practicing law since 2005. He is a partner in the Bastion Law Group, a firm he founded with his fellow partner in 2007. Mr. Littley completed his law degree at the University of British Columbia in 2004, following completion of his undergraduate degree with double majors in Anthropology and Psychology. While an undergraduate student, Mr. Littley was active in international development work. He co-founded a grassroots NGO that raised money in Canada to enable children in the developing world to attend school, rather than being forced into labour. He also led several international field schools to India and Thailand, and completed graduate work in Anthropology at Simon Fraser University.

Mr. Littley served as President of the Malaspina (now Vancouver Island University) Students’ Union from 2000 to 2002, and served two terms on the Vancouver Island University Board of Governors as a student representative. During his students’ union involvement Mr. Littley oversaw both elections and referenda, serving as an electoral officer and chair of the elections oversight committee.

His previous experience includes involvement in the Federation, having served as the Local 61 Members’ Representative to the [CFS-]BC Executive Committee between 2000 and 2002 and [CFS-]BC Treasurer for the 2002-03 term. Littley maintains an active role in advocating for students, currently serving his second three-year term as the Alumni Representative on the Vancouver Island University Senate. Mr. Littley is currently a member of the Trial Lawyer’s Association of British Columbia, and has served as counsel for the Ministry of Children and Family Development since 2008.

During his time as Malaspina Students’ Union president, Littley was a part of a delegation of CFS representatives at the British Columbia Legislature in 2001 when the Access to Education Bill was introduced by NDP MLA and Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology, the Honourable Cathy McGregor. Furthermore, upon graduating from Malaspina University-College in 2000, he attended the University of British Columbia Law School while simultaneously working on his Masters degree at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

While at SFU, he got involved in student politics: he sat on the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) board of directors as an at-large representative (graduate students) and was a member of the advocacy committee until he resigned on February 5, 2003. In an article published in The Peak, some SFSS student representatives claimed that “[t]here is a little clique within the student society who seem to be more concerned about the CFS than they are concerned with SFU students.” They alleged that Littley was a member of this pro-CFS faction. He was also elected (by acclamation) to sit on the SFU Senate Committee on University Teaching and Learning (SCUTL) during the 2002-2003 academic year but failed in his bid to be reelected for a second term.

Finally, according to the Vancouver Island University Alumni Magazine Journey (Volume 7, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2014), Stephen Littley has served as the alumni representative on the VIU Senate since 2009.

Administration of CFS referendum at Capilano University

Mr. Littley oversaw the most recent CFS referendum that took place earlier this year at Capilano University. I first emailed him regarding the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) referendum on continued membership in the CFS/CFS-British Columbia on March 19, 2014. He had recently ruled that the No committee must remove articles that were published in mainstream media from its website. After two subsequent emails, Mr. Littley finally responded on March 23 by stating: “I am in contact with the Parties and campaigns involved, and will not communicate with media while the referendum is underway.” I therefore followed up with him on April 10 and again on April 23 again requesting to speak with him about the CSU referendum on continued membership. He responded on April 23 informing me that when he had completed and released his report, I should ask one of the parties (the Yes and No committees) to disclose it to me.

It was clear to me that he had absolutely no intention of answering any questions about his role in the administration of the referendum. Similarly, the Yes CFS committee didn’t to respond to interview requests from yours truly as well as from The Runner student newspaper.

Littley’s refusal to answer questions from the media doesn’t serve the interest of anyone involved with the CFS. According to sources, the CRO failed to provide the official results to the CSU and the No committee; The results were conveyed by the scrutineer from the No committee. It’s also problematic that the Federation has yet to release Littley’s final report. All in all, it would appear as though the entire referendum process lacked procedural fairness, transparency, and the administrators of the referendum, including Littley himself, were biased in favour of the Federation due to the fact that they’re all closely connected to the organization.1

1. The deputy returning officer was Lori McDonald, the executive director of the Emily Carr Students’ Union; The Appeals Committee is made up of two individuals, also appointed by the Federation: Amy Hammett, Student Federation of University of Ottawa’s executive coordinator and James Bowen is an organizer for the North Island Students’ Union (NISU).