Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Where’s the money?: The Canadian Federation of Students claims $200,000 of Camosun student fees is not where it should be

May 17, 2017 by Adam Marsh, student editor

Every semester, each Camosun student pays $2.22 in membership fees to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Historically, that fee has been divided down the middle, with one half of it going to the CFS and the other half going to the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS), which is a separate legal entity from the national organization. The money is collected from Camosun students by the Camosun College Student Society (CCSS), which then remits it to the provincial and national organizations; the breakdown of CCSS student fees on the Camosun College website says that the full amount goes to the CFS.

However, the CFS recently told Nexus that it has not received any Camosun student fees since 2014—an amount the CFS estimates at $228,555.11—despite the fact that the CCSS has been collecting this money from students and saying it’s going to the CFS. (After the CFS made this initial claim to Nexus, the CCSS paid the CFS in the amount of $26,250 for their winter 2017 membership fees, and the CFS provided Nexus with the current approximate outstanding amount: $202,305.11.)

CCSS executive director Michel Turcotte says that the reason the CFS hasn’t seen this money is because the CCSS has remitted all outstanding fees—for the CFS and for the BCFS—to the BCFS. CCSS financial records shown to Nexus confirm that the CCSS has remitted to the BCFS $211,953.27 of Camosun student fees designated for the CFS.

$200,000 of Camosun student fees is stuck between two student groups arguing over who gets it (photo provided).

“The money that [the CFS is] speaking of is likely being held in trust by the British Columbia Federation of Students,” says Turcotte. “The Camosun College Student Society has remitted all its federation fees for both the provincial and national organizations to the provincial office.”

Turcotte says the reason the CFS stopped receiving fees directly from the CCSS—and from other provincial locals in BC—is because, according to the BCFS, the CFS owes the BCFS $1 million as of this academic year.

“When we started most recently remitting the fees to the provincial office, the British Columbia Federation of Students—at that point it was called the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia—was owed a considerable amount of money by the national organization in terms of some dues remittances, as well as the componency fee, which is one-sixth of the national allocation,” says Turcotte. “That was the context in which many BC locals stopped sending all their fees to national.”

BCFS executive officer Michael Olson says that most of the student unions in BC have told the BCFS to withhold their membership fees from the CFS and claims that the CFS is withholding money that belongs to the BCFS. Olson says that some student unions are holding on to the national CFS fees while others are asking the BCFS to hold it in trust. Olson confirms that the BCFS is holding Camosun student fees in trust but was unable to provide Nexus with the total amount of the Camosun student fees that the BCFS is withholding from the CFS before press time.

“Any money over the past couple of years that has been paid to the CFS and BCFS portions has been paid to the provincial organization,” says Olson. “At this time, the money has not been yet paid to the national organization.”

CFS treasurer Peyton Veitch denies that the CFS has taken any money that belongs to the BCFS and says that the BCFS can not take Camosun student fees that should be going to the CFS.

“The BCFS has no authority to withhold those fees in the manner that they are,” says Veitch, “nor do they have any claim to those fees. These are fees that students pay under the assumption, and with the expectation, that they would be used to fund national campaigns and national services.”

Olson says that fees for both the provincial and national organizations used to go through the BCFS office; around 2010, the BCFS agreed to a proposal from the CFS that would centralize administration of fees to the national office. However, Olson says that once tensions started growing between several BC student unions and the CFS, things changed.

“That system worked fine for a number of years,” says Olson, “with the BCFS getting its share of fees as well as supporting documentation on a regular and consistent basis, but in 2014, the CFS pretty abruptly stopped transferring BCFS its share of any of the fees, arguably as political retribution for some criticisms from BC member locals on the way they were operating the organization.”

As for where Camosun students’ money has gone to, CCSS external executive Rachael Grant confirms that the CCSS has given Camosun students’ CFS fees to the BCFS.

“It does look a little bit different,” says Grant, “but fees are collected from students and paid; things are complicated right now between the organizations.”

Grant says that the CCSS’ obligation ended when they remitted fees to the BCFS.

“Once we pay them, it isn’t our legal responsibility whether or not they are divvied between the provincial and national organization,” says Grant. “They have been paid. They left our hands.”

Veitch says the CFS has made numerous attempts to reconcile with the BCFS but claims that the BCFS has not shown interest in reciprocating.

“We’ve communicated on a number of occasions that there is a requirement that locals have to remit those fees,” says Veitch. “It’s my understanding that BCFS has directed locals in the province to remit national membership fees directly to the BCFS and that those fees are being withheld by the BCFS.”

Olson says an end to the dispute may be possible, as long as the CFS first submits to the BCFS the $1 million it is allegedly owed. Veitch denies that the CFS owes that much, estimating an amount of $746,204.03, which includes provincial allocations, Kwantlen Polytechnic University provincial fees (Kwantlen has paid both provincial and national fees to the CFS), and miscellaneous expenses.

Veitch says that the BCFS owes the CFS approximately $1,688,591.81, an amount that includes national membership fees and fees for services; taking off the amount that the CFS owes the BCFS, Veitch claims the end result is that the BCFS owes the CFS approximately $942,387.78. Olson was unable to verify the amount the BCFS owes to the CFS before press time.

However, the organizations are at a stalemate: while Olson says the CFS needs to be the first to pay the money it owes to the BCFS, Veitch says the BCFS needs to be the first to remit the money it owes to the CFS. Veitch says that the reason for that is because until the CFS gets that money, it won’t know what amount to give back to the BCFS in membership fees, as it’s a percentage of the total remitted amount.

“In the event that, at some point,” says Olson, “the people who work in the national office recognize and agree that they have stolen money for several years from the provincial organization, when they pay it back, the executive committee can give direction to do the same or to take action.”

The CCSS received almost identically worded letters in January and February from both the CFS and the BCFS asking the CCSS to remit all national and provincial fees to each organization. As mentioned above, at a CCSS board meeting on March 20, the CCSS decided to pay the CFS and the BCFS their January-March 2017 fees separately. As of press time, it was undecided how payments would be given out in the future, and the CCSS student fee information on the Camosun website still says that Camosun student fees are going to the CFS; the CCSS website lists the BCFS, but not the CFS, as an affiliate.

The Camosun student opinion

Considering that this is Camosun students’ money in question, we went out and talked to students to see what they thought about this situation.

Nona Robertson, second-year Psychology student:

“I think it all comes down to greed. We deserve this money; we should have this money. It definitely seems like they’re not focusing on ‘what do we need to do to take care of the students?’ It’s more like ‘well, what do we need to do to get our money back?’ It’s not considering the students’ lives as much; it’s more considering the money. I think there needs to be discussion between the provincial, federal, and the students, so then the students can have more of an understanding of where the money’s going, so there can be a more clear discussion on the money.”

Jordan Radcliffe, first-year University Transfer student:

“Sounds super convoluted. If it’s not going to where it’s supposed to be going, obviously that’s wrong. The money should go to where it’s supposed to go, especially when it’s my money.”

Jarred Pyke, first-year University Transfer student:

“If you tell me my money is going to go somewhere and it doesn’t go to where it’s supposed to go, you’re kind of lying. It doesn’t really make any sense. I’m disappointed that they’re kind of lying. It sounds like people just aren’t following through on their responsibilities.”

Cory Emerson, third-year University Transfer student:

“It just seems really childish to be holding it back. Maybe there’s more communication happening, but the way it sounds is kind of petty. That should be figured out now. A national and a provincial student association, those make a huge difference toward students. And if it hasn’t been sorted out since 2014, they need to get on that, because that’s money that should be being used, not just being held. I’m sure the BCFS wants to do stuff with the money they’re owed, but it’s all this money tied up that’s not helping anybody. That’s a lot of money. We’re all adults. It’s an awkward conversation, but they just need to go get a mediator, have the meeting, and sort it out, so that our money can continue to benefit us, rather than them just having a pissing contest.”

Some important moments in the CCSS/CFS relationship (by Greg Pratt, managing editor)

1992: 

Discussions at Camosun College in regards to joining the Canadian Federation of Students get serious; a referendum is held and Camosun students join the organization, paying fees through the Camosun College Student Society (CCSS).

2014:

An anonymous email is sent to people associated with the CFS and its provincial components claiming that the democratic election process at the 2014 CFS annual general meeting was corrupt. Members of the CCSS claim to Nexus that this is true; the CFS tells Nexus that it is false. The CCSS stops remitting CFS fees directly to the CFS, instead giving them to the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia (CFS-BC); staff members of CFS-BC stress to Nexus that it is a separate legal entity from the CFS.

2015:

With tensions growing between many provincial locals and the CFS, the CCSS Lansdowne executive claims she was verbally abused and bullied at the 2015 CFS national meeting.

2016:

The Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia, now the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS), to which all Camosun students belong, says in their annual general meeting agenda that it has “no confidence” in the CFS and calls for the resignation of CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte. The organization also starts looking into the process of terminating membership with the CFS.

2017:

The CFS tells Nexus that the CCSS has not been remitting fees to them since 2014 and that the BCFS can not be holding on to the fees, which they are doing. The BCFS claims it is withholding the fees because the CFS owes money to the BCFS.

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