Student Associations Seeking to Sever Ties with the CFS Suggest Changes to Provincial Law

Several student associations in Quebec want to leave the Canadian Federation of Students—and they’re no longer satisfied with waiting for court dates in their quest to do so.

Instead, they’re raising their concerns with provincial politicians.

“We reached out to Quebec Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne and opposition critics for higher education Pierre Arcand and Stéphane Le Bouyonnec,” said Jonathan Mooney, secretary-general of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society at McGill University.

“The PGSS has worked very closely with the [Concordia Student Union], [Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association] and [the Dawson Student Union] on this matter from the outset and the decision to begin sensitizing political figures to the issues we are facing was made collectively.”

Petitions in favour of disaffiliating from the national student lobby group began circulating among Concordia’s undergraduate and graduate students in 2009. Both the CSU and GSA voted in favour of severing ties with the organization soon after.

“The CFS responded by amending their bylaws to make the process to leave practically impossible and applied these changes retroactively to the Concordia petitions,” said Mooney.

At the CFS’ annual general meeting in November 2009, a motion was passed stating that no more than two referendums on remaining a CFS member could be held in a three-month period.

With other schools having also held votes on disaffiliating from the CFS within three months of the referendums at Concordia, the CFS refused to recognize the CSU’s and GSA’s votes. A trial is expected to begin in 2015 to address a joint lawsuit by the CSU and the GSA against the CFS.

Members of other student associations, such as the DSU and the PGSS, are also seeking to leave the student lobby group. Along with the CSU and GSA, they have decided it’s time “to sensitize other stakeholders involved in student affairs to [the CFS’] abuses,” according to Mooney.

“We have seen first-hand how abusive CFS’ practices are and how flagrantly they disregard students’ freedom of association,” he said.

In a letter sent to both Arcand and Duchesne, Mooney recommends modifying the Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations.

Currently, the law provides for a government-overseen vote to be held for a student association to be accredited as students’ representative. If students vote in favour of their student association becoming accredited, the association gains legal recognition and the university must collect membership fees from students on behalf of the association in the event that members vote to approve such a fee.

If students are dissatisfied with their student association, they can also organize a government-overseen vote to revoke its accreditation.

In his letter, Mooney states the accreditation act doesn’t presently address student federations and asks that modifications be made to the law so that it does.

“The goal of the recommendations is, in effect, to extend the power of the accreditation act to include federations of student associations located at different universities,” Mooney said, adding that the recommended changes to the act would make it “easy for students to join but also easy to leave student federations like the CFS.”

“Rather than having to jump through the CFS’ hoops to try to leave the CFS, students could simply apply to the government which would oversee a vote that would have a binding effect,” he continued.

Mooney said he met personally with Arcand in his constituency office in January, while a group of student representatives met with a member of Duchesne’s staff in late 2013.

Arcand—who is seeking re-election as the Liberal MNA for the Mount-Royal riding—told The Link he decided to raise the issue with Duchesne after meeting with Mooney.

“I was astounded by the problems and especially the huge amounts of money involved—lawyers’ fees—for this kind of a battle,” he said.

“It’s clear that everything related to student associations will probably require, at one point, some change in the law, but at this particular stage, I cannot say exactly what kind of change we’re talking about because we have to define exactly what’s at stake,” he continued.

“One thing is for sure: In this particular case, I think it is something that is not acceptable—the behaviour of the Canadian Federation [of Students] doesn’t seem to be right.”