The UBCSUO Is Working On Leaving the Canadian Federation of Students, Not an Easy Task

The UBCSUO has decided to join the plethora of University Student Unions that have, or are in the process of, leaving the Canadian Federation of Students.

The Canadian Federation of Students, or CFS, is described by their website as “the largest national student association in Canada,” and offers services to “offset the high cost of education.”

Services which have “failed to deliver on anything” for the fifth year in a row, says Amal Alhuwayshil, Vice-President External of the UBCSUO.

“This organization is supposed to be doing advocacy work, campaigning and providing services collectively across Canada,” said Alhuwayshil, disappointed in the performance of CFS.

UBC-Okanagan spends over $145,000 annually to continue their membership with the organization, charging each student approximately $18 in fees per year.

Alhuwayshil, along with members of the Board of Directors, is in the primary stages of withdrawing the Student Union from the CFS.

To begin the process of leaving the national division of the CFS, bylaws state that the SUO must send a petition via mail to the National Executive of the Federation with the signatures from 15 percent of students, amounting to approximately 1,400 signatures from UBC-Okanagan students.

In order to be considered valid the names on the petition must be a full name, and “reasonably legible,” followed by the correct Student Identification Number and a “unique signature,” as outlined by Canadian Federation of Students’ Bylaw I, Section 6(a).

If the petition is approved by the CFS, a campus-wide referendum is granted to allow the students to decide whether the institution may leave the Canadian Federation of Students.

Alhuwayshil mentioned that “signing the petition does not mean we leave the CFS, signing the petition is the first step. This is a way to communicate to the CFS that, 'hey, our membership, our students, are questioning their membership with the CFS organization.’”

Alhuwayshil claimed that in British Columba 22 out of the 25 have either left, or are in the process of leaving the CFS, stating, “That shows how unsatisfied student unions are with the CFS.”

Student Unions across Canada working to decertify have encountered difficulties when attempting to leave the CFS. In 2012, Simon Fraser University spent nearly half a million dollars in an effort to leave the federation, before finally agreeing on an undisclosed amount in an out-of-court settlement.

Guelph University from Ontario had similar problems in an attempt to decertify. Guelph’s Central Student Association voted 72% in favour of leaving the CFS only to glean $407,000 in legal fees before finally throwing in the towel and resuming student fees to the organization.

However, not all of the UBCSUO Executive share Alhuwayshil’s sentiment.

Mohamed Azzam, the Vice-President Services for the SUO, disagrees with Alhuwayshil’s decision to leave, stating, “I don’t really think we should leave. I think we benefit more from it than going into an ongoing battle like the other University tried to, and losing a bunch of money.”

President of the UBCSUO, Trophy Ewila, believes that remaining a CFS member promotes collectivism, and argues that UBC-Okanagan will benefit by remaining a certified member. “The majority of students see the benefits in collectivism and for me I believe students have a stronger voice when they're more collected than when they separate,” said Ewila, “What is the alternative when we separate?”

“That shows how unsatisfied student unions are with the CFS.”

Ewila claimed that the CFS’ lack of performance stems from a lack of engagement on behalf of the UBCSUO: “The reason why our campus has not seen many of them is because it's the role of the Executive to take up on these campaigns and bring them to the campus, work together with the CFS. The other past years have either not wanted to work with the CFS, for reasons that they find justified, or just not focused on Student advocacy in that lens.”

Vice-President Internal and Vice-President Finance believe that the decision should have been discussed during a Board or Executive meeting before the petition began. Alhuwayshil retorted that there are no regulations or bylaws stating that the decision must be discussed in a formal meeting.

Although Alhuwayshil is hoping to decertify from the national branch of the CFS, she stated that they will resume their membership with the provincial branch: British Columbia Federation of Students, which is a component of CFS but remains a separate legal entity.

Simka Marshall, Chairperson for the British Columbia Federation of Students, stated that they as a provincial branch have “had to make up for the services that [the Canadian Federation of Students] failed to provide or that were mismanaged.”

Services like a “bulk purchase service” and free “handbook service” that had been previously coordinated by the national branch had been taken over by the BCFS because of missed deadlines, late materials, and overall mismanagement of the services, said Marshall.

Marshall also commented on the unwarranted omission of several motions from the agenda at the Canadian Federation of Student’s National General Meeting held in November. The motions were decided on during a BCFS semi-annual meeting in July pertaining to issues like “electoral fraud . . . the fees that CFS is withholding and . . . the York Federation of Students basically getting a discount for the past 25 years."

According to Marshall, the motions were submitted to the CFS for the National General Meeting’s agenda “well in advance of the deadline,” with verbal and written confirmation that the motions had been received.

“There's no reason that those motions should not have been included in the meeting package,” said Marshall.

Marshall was notified that the motions had been dismissed because they had been deemed defamatory by the At-Large Executives. However, Marshall received contradictory information from their legal counsel.

"It was strange that we had a different communication from their lawyer who was saying that they were dilatory and yet it was the National Executive that was told that they were defamatory. But we were never told by their legal counsel that they were defamatory, and we certainly didn't feel that they were dilatory or meant to obstruct the meeting at all,” said Marshall. “They brought up some really serious issues that all of the student's unions in British Columbia felt were something that were really important to address.”

Following their decertification from CFS, Alhuwayshil plans to join the Canadian Alliance of Students Associations. After attending their meetings as an observer she was impressed with their operations, remarking that if the SUO is successful in withdrawing from the CFS, they would look into becoming a member of CASA.

“I see value in both BCFS and CASA, but I have first-hand not seen a value to CFS. There has not been a value for years, and this is me echoing many VP Externals and SUO Executives before me,” said Alhuwayshil.