Recap: Canadian Federation of Students held its AGM

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) discussed support for marginalized students and the audit of a once-hidden bank account at their annual general meeting (AGM) from Nov. 17-20, in Gatineau, Que.

Established in 1981 at Carleton, the CFS is the largest national student association in Canada, according to their website. Representing more than 650,000 students across Canada, the federation lobbies provincial and federal governments to support student issues, in addition to providing advocacy campaign material to student unions.

The CFS holds two national general meetings each year, where student union members from across the country gather to discuss policies, amend bylaws, and vote on motions.

Motions are proposed during the opening plenary on the first meeting day, discussed in sub-committee meetings throughout the AGM, and voted on during the closing plenary on the last day.

During each meeting, student unions are also given the chance to federate and defederate from the CFS.

This year, the student association of L’Université de Hearst and the Mature and Part-Time University Student Association at the University of Prince Edward Island requested membership to the Federation.

The AGM also included a number of workshops for those in attendance. Nov. 17, featured workshops on anti-oppression and current issues in post-secondary education, while the next day featured workshops such as the “Students Organising Across Borders,” while “Organising Against the Alt-Right” was hosted on Nov. 19.

What CUSA thought of the AGM

Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) president Zameer Masjedee said he attended the AGM on Nov. 19 and 20. He said that the closing plenary was a “frustrating” experience because some motions were not voted on due to time constraints.

“To[CUSA’s] dismay, none of the motions that we really wanted to push forward got discussed because they ran out of time,” Masjedee said. “Ironically enough, one of the motions that wasn’t even discussed was to restructure the general meetings in such a way that the entire last day, from the morning to the end, would be dedicated to the closing plenary.”

The closing plenary began after lunch on Nov. 20, with constituency group and provincial/regional meetings taking place in the morning.

Masjedee said having a whole day dedicated to voting on motions would allow for more improvements to be made to the CFS.

“My mindset is I don’t think the general meeting is a place for workshops. I think those workshops should be facilitated during provincial meetings,” Masjedee said. “The general meeting is where we’re meant to be dealing with business.”

Motions Passed and Denied

One motion passed was the CFS expressing solidarity with the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) “in the fight for justice for racialized and Indigenous students.”

The DSU issued a statement on Nov. 1, supporting racialized students on campus and listing 10 demands. It said Dalhousie University failed to properly support marginalized students who are “under attack” and demanded an apology be made to students subjected to “bureaucratic processes that uphold racist and colonial institutional policies.”

The CFS also passed a motion to support the Our Turn campaign to end sexual violence on university campuses, and implement the Our Turn Action Plan published last month. 

Motions were also passed to donate money to earthquake and hurricane relief efforts in Mexico and Puerto Rico, to nationally implement a “Reconcili-Action” campaign, and to commit to sponsoring workshops and educational events against fascism on campuses.

Masjedee said his least favourite part of the weekend was the denial of a motion to view the financial audit of a hidden CFS bank account discovered in 2014. According to the University of Toronto’s student newspaper The Varsity, an unauthorized total of over $250,000 in withdrawals were made from the bank account between 2010 and 2014.

“From a member local perspective, I think it’s very important for us to understand where that money was spent,” he said. “The motion that was originally presented was for us to get a copy of that full financial audit that had all that information in it of where that money went and who it was spent by.”

Masjedee said the CFS told members they received legal recommendation not to release the audit because individuals mentioned in the audit could take legal action. When the motion was amended to exclude names and ask only for parts of the audit showing where money was spent, Masjedee said the motion still failed to pass.

“I think for us, that’s very telling, that’s very scary to know that there is all of this money that is being spent obviously improperly,” Masjedee said. “They voted against financial transparency to their membership and that was very ridiculous. I think as fee-paying students we all deserve to know how our money’s being spent.”

Hostility Amongst Members

Masjedee also expressed disappointment over the hostility he witnessed between some members at the AGM, and the inaction of the anti-harassment officers present.

“There were a significant number of delegates making personal attacks on other delegates,” Masjedee said. “Some members of [the] SFUO [Student Federation of the University of Ottawa] were attacking some candidates. They actually even got to the mic to admit to attacking candidates personally outside of the plenary, and then again refused to apologize.”

Masjedee said members of CUSA received some dirty looks and rude comments from others in attendance. CUSA launched its “CU Later CFS” campaign in September to begin the CFS defederation process.

“As soon as you start making this personal, that is when business is no longer being made the priority and that’s when positive change doesn’t happen,” Masjedee said.

Masjedee acknowledged that the CFS does “fantastic” work across the country, but attempts to improve the organization have been frustrating.

“The CFS is doing good work and I don’t think we ever would deny that,” Masjedee said. “I think it’s just a matter of the realistic value Carleton students are getting and whether or not it’s worth it for us, which is why we’re pursuing decertification.”

Photo by Aaron Hemens