Breaking: Canadian Federation of Students national office denies corruption allegations
March 26, 2015 by Greg Pratt, managing editor
The national office of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), based in Ottawa, is the target of recent allegations of internal corruption and union-busting. Today, the organization’s chairperson has denied to Nexus the allegations.
The allegations stem from an anonymous email sent to people associated with the CFS and its provincial branches, such as the Canadian Federation of Students-BC (CFS-BC), which are a separate legal entity.
The email claims the corruption started in October of 2014 at the CFS AGM, when the democratic election process was changed at the last minute, claims which Rachael Grant, external executive of the Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) says are true.
Grant was at the meeting and says she saw the democratic process get undermined. (As part of the external executive job position, Grant is federation representative for CFS-BC.)
“There were several people present who can attest to the voting process not playing out like it normally does, as outlined in the email,” says Grant. “I can definitely confirm that the process that is normally taken on at the national level to ensure that at the very least there is a competent individual running for each position, it was overtaken and BC was left out of the loop last minute. Normally there’s communication across the country, and last minute things were changed, and different individuals were put forward for the positions than originally arranged. That I can confirm is true, having been there.”
But CFS national chairperson Jessica McCormick says that their election was “democratic and occurred just like in previous years.”
“The Federation’s election process is quite simple,” says McCormick. “Interested candidates collect nominations and submit forms by a deadline, an elections forum takes place where candidates can present their ideas and respond to questions from members and voting is conducted by secret ballot during the closing plenary of each fall general meeting. A chief returning officer oversees the process.”
However, a source close to the national office of the CFS who wishes to remain anonymous describes what is happening as a “hostile takeover” and “essentially, a coup.” This person says that the email’s allegations that the CFS has hired security to keep people away from the national office is true.
“The plainclcothes officer stuff, that’s true. There’s certainly an attempt being made to intimidate staffpeople, to intimidate those who are not in the know with this new clique of people that’s running CFS. And it’s an exceptional change in the culture that existed in this office in previous years.”
But McCormick says that the national office only had security for six days in November 2014 due to “ongoing human resource issues” that she can not comment on.
“This decision was not undertaken lightly and ended immediately upon determining our national staff were safe,” she says. “It was undertaken strictly as a precautionary measure. Given the nature of ongoing human resources issues, the Federation required legal advice. This is a common practice for organizations going through similar situations.”
The email says that the national office is engaged in union-busting activities by hiring on the firm MediaStyle to do work that unionized CFS employees should be doing. McCormick says accusations of CFS union-busting are “absurd,” pointing to the CFS’ “long and proud” history of unionization and relations with labour unions.
“The Federation’s staff and executive are collaborating with MediaStyle to assist primarily with the design work for the It’s No Secret campaign and to provide recommendations on ways to improve communications with members and the general public by strengthening communications processes,” she says. “The Federation works with vendors from time to time to assist with a variety of projects including design work. For example, our BC component recently worked with a communications firm in the development of the provincial Squash the Squeeze campaign and the Ontario component recently worked with a developer in the creation of its Generation Vote website.”
Further allegations include many CFS employees being put on, as the original email put it, “administrative leave” “without cause.”
“The issues relate to specific individuals and their actions and has nothing to do with the fact that they are represented by CUPE,” says McCormick. “The CFS is proud to be a union employer and wholeheartedly supports the rights of its employees to Union representation.”
The email was brought to the attention of Nexus by former Camosun student Tyler Cooke. Cooke attended the college between 2007 and 2009; he says he did not write the email that was sent out with the allegations but is very concerned with the allegations in it.
“I think it is hypocritical for the CFS to be fighting with its workers when the CFS is supposed to be a supportive union for students,” says Cooke. “The CFS is either a progressive student federation or it is a backwards and hurtful bureaucracy… there is not much in between.”
The email has opened up dialogue about what members see as problems with communication between the national office and the provincial branches. For example, the CFS recently held a consent forum without bringing the idea to an AGM, which is how the CFS traditionally makes its decisions, says Grant. But McCormick says the forum was the result of “years of ongoing conversations within Women’s Constituency meetings at Federation national general meetings about the need to further develop the No Means No campaign and shift from rape culture to consent culture on campuses.”
“The forum was discussed at length at a national executive meeting with input from all representatives,” McCormick says. “Ultimately, a resolution was passed to hold the forum.”
As for the communication breakdown, Grant says that it’s gotten to the point where there is pretty much no communication left at all.
“I can definitely attest to communication on the part of the national office being pretty much non-existent at this point,” says Grant. “When this email was first sent out we sent an email, as the student society here at Camosun, to Jessica McCormick and have yet to hear a response, although a general email was sent out, to most locals, I’m assuming, and that email just briefly addressed some of our concerns but didn’t answer any of our questions.”
But McCormick says that communication levels and quality of service remain where they have always been.
“We remain committed to working with members to address any issues around communications or services,” she says. “I do not believe communications or services have broken down at any level.”
The anonymous source close to the national office says that students should be asking questions of the national CFS office right now.
“If individual students are concerned about this issue, what I would suggest is they just send messages to the national office as members and ask them what’s going on and ask them to explain their actions and what they’ve been doing with campaigns, why some services are failing, and try to get answers that way.”
Former student Cooke says that because Camosun students are part of CFS they should make their voices heard to get answers to these allegations.
“Camosun students and all students that are part of the CFS should demand that the CFS treat its workers with respect and make sure that services and tuition-fee campaigns come first,” says Cooke.
The CFS’ McCormick says that she too is open to conversations and encourages the author of the original email to join her “in an effort to better the Canadian Federation of Students.”
“The first step is having open and honest discussions about the issues raised and how we can move forward together. I look forward to having those conversations with our members.”
Camosun students are members of the CFS and CFS-BC as part of their student fees go to the organizations.