Monday, December 11, 2017

Student society refuses to participate in CFS rally; student petition circulates regarding CFS membership

November 2, 2016 by Adam Marsh, student editor 

Every Camosun College student pays, through their student fees, membership dues to the Canadian Federation Of Students (CFS), Canada’s largest national student group. Despite this, the Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) has chosen to not participate in the CFS’ Fight the Fees rally, which is happening on November 2 as part of the CFS’ national student Day of Action.

Tensions between the two groups, as documented in previous Nexus stories, have been rising. CCSS external executive Rachael Grant says that the CFS is not taking the steps they should to be transparent and democratic.

“It does not make sense for us to support an organization that doesn’t utilize the democratic practices it once stood for, that doesn’t exercise financial transparency in the way they are legally obligated to anymore, and who has blatantly disrespected a number of students, particularly the ones from BC.”

Camosun College Student Society external executive Rachael Grant (file photo).

CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte says it is a “missed opportunity” for the CCSS to not participate in the rally; she also denies that there is anything unlawful in regard to the CFS’ financial statements.

“Well, that’s not true,” says Arte about Grant’s claims of a lack of financial transparency at the CFS. “Our federation provides updates at every general meeting around our finances, and around budget committee. And, in particular, there is a further study of the federation’s financial status.”

Grant says that students at Camosun College—as well as students at other institutions throughout the country—have begun a petition to initiate a referendum regarding continued Camosun student membership in the CFS. (The exact wording on the petition is “We, the undersigned, petition the National Executive of the Canadian Federation of Students to conduct a referendum on the issue of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.”)

“Since the change in [CFS] leadership, and the shift in priorities and practices that does not benefit students has happened, it is no longer of value to belong to the CFS,” says Grant, “and the board of directors of the student society here at Camosun is actively working to advocate best for the rights of students when it comes to this matter.”

Grant says the petition is available at the CCSS office (Nexus confirmed it is at the Lansdowne office), and students can send her an email if they want to be filled in on the extensive background that has led to the petition.

“We have the petition available in our offices if students want to sign it or ask questions,” says Grant. “Also, they can send an email to myself. Our contact information is on camosunstudent.org; we’re definitely open to having conversations and explaining background on this issue.”

Arte says that students are allowed to petition to begin the process of having a referendum talking about Camosun student membership in the CFS.

“That’s every member’s democratic right,” says Arte, “so I think if folks are exercising the democratic right to initiate a referendum on the question of continued membership, then that’s their right to do so. There isn’t really much more to say about that.”

But Grant has lots more to say regarding the CCSS leaving the CFS.

“It would be a benefit to leave the CFS with the way it is currently being run,” says Grant. “Right now a lot of energy goes into dealing with the situation, which is incredibly unfortunate. And it’s very sad to see an organization that has done a lot of good for students lose its way in such a tangible way that hurts students so much. To leave would mean being able to spend time and resources on things that directly benefit students every day.”

Arte says that there is always room to talk about change “to be more reflective of the needs and the wants of our members” and admits that the democratic practices of the CFS aren’t always flawless.

“Whatever the iteration of the federation that exists today, it is the result—whatever proximities, bylaws, organizational structures that we have—it is the result of over 30 years of debates and discussion at general meetings, at forums where students across the  country have come together,” says Arte. “It doesn’t mean it’s always perfect, but what it means is that there’s a democratic process in it. It also means that it can change.”

Grant says that the signatures on the petition to initiate a referendum have to represent 20 percent of the student population.

“20 percent of students have to say ‘this is worth voting on,’ then there is a yes-no vote,” says Grant. “It would trigger a referendum; that’s the process we had to navigate to join—and it’s mirrored to leave as well—and that’s practice throughout Canada for this organization.”

Grant says the student society’s decision to not participate in Fight the Fees on November 2 is not because they don’t support access to education but because of the direction the Canadian Federation of Students has taken.

“As someone who has been involved in the student movement prior to the shift in leadership that has been so damaging to the work done nationally for students,” she says, “it’s been really disheartening to see an organization that is capable of so much good go in such a negative direction. I’m encouraged by how this kind of negative situation is often channelled by people into good energy to continue the work to advocate for students, but it’s sad to see an organization lose its way.”

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