Letter: The CFS undermines student democracy

Not only is the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) painfully ineffective, politically divisive, and self-motivated—they may also be subverting the democratic will of students across the country.

A recent article from the University of Toronto’s student newspaper The Varsity outlined allegations of CFS interference in student union elections. Former CFS national chairperson, Bilan Arte, is accused of allegedly using CFS resources improperly to support a failed bid for president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union. She denies the allegations.

There are other allegations from various student unions that pro-CFS student union slates at the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, and Selkirk College received direct CFS assistance in their student campaigns. These are only the reported cases. There could be more instances of CFS collusion.

The allegations are alarming.

Let us not forget that in 2014, a CFS hidden bank account was discovered containing over $600,000 in student funds. We learned at the most recent CFS annual meeting that those funds are missing. How can $600,000 in student funds just disappear?

The fact is: oil is to water as the CFS is to transparency. Abuse of power is the new norm. Democratic process is an inconvenience. 

It is time that Carleton act swiftly to begin defederation proceedings—which are also corrupt, unfair and anti-democratic.

Let me explain this claim.

To leave the CFS, a student association must collect petition signatures from 15 per cent of the student body before gaining permission to hold a referendum vote.

Caveat 1: since we are a member of CFS-National and CFS-Ontario, and the organizations are legally separate, every student must sign each petition twice.

Caveat 2: the CFS can run a “counter-petition” campaign where they try and negate signatures collected with additional signatures.

Now let’s presume the association meets the 15 per cent threshold. The CFS then has three full months to “review” the signatures before granting permission for a referendum. However, this permission is not immediate. There are several other hurdles before a referendum can take place including arrangement of a date with CFS-National and CFS-Ontario, payment of fees owing   (an amount which they typically do not disclose), and the fact that only two schools may hold referendums at a time.

That brings me to explain the actual referendum process.

Guess who appoints the Chief Electoral Officer? The CFS. Guess who sets all election rules? The CFS. Guess who is the only party allowed to bring in off-campus help? The CFS.

One other thing: electronic voting is forbidden and there is a 10 per cent minimum mandated turnout. There was a motion to change this at the CFS annual meeting, but conveniently there was no time to bring it to a vote. If the turnout is not reached with paper ballots, there cannot be another vote for 60 months.

So, let’s say the association wins this thing. It’s over, right? Not exactly.

Most student associations who successfully win their referendum votes are sued by the CFS for lack of compliance with some obscure rule written in small font by CFS lawyers. The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union and the Cape Breton University Students’ Union are two prominent examples.

What happens then is up to the courts.

But let’s not get lost in the legal weeds. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. Carleton has elected a student union slate on a strong promise of CFS defederation, and there is a growing defederation movement at Carleton and across Canada.

Everything good is worth fighting for. Freeing Carleton students from a corrupt oligarchy—and saving each student approximately $65 over four years—is worth the fight.