Dear Camosun Students,

You are being misled. It is a shame that the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and its elected officials continue to lie to members, misrepresent facts, and block us all from our democratic rights, all the while refusing to address the real and valid concerns of students for nearly four years.

We are a group of students’ unions from around BC who, just like you, are seeking to decertify from the CFS. At all of our institutions, more than 15% – and in some cases as many as 25% – of students on our campuses have signed a petition asking for a referendum on membership.

Just like you, in every instance our right to a vote has been either denied or perpetually delayed. We cannot let the CFS paint this as anything other than what it is: a deliberate move to block a vote on each of our campuses.

We have read the last several articles in the Nexus about your referendum, and we are frustrated by the assertions made by CFS spokespeople. We are writing to correct and clarify the statements reported in those articles.

CFS IS CLEARLY NOT FOLLOWING ITS OWN BYLAWS

The CFS is in serious miscompliance with its own Bylaws by virtue of its grave delays setting referenda in British Columbia. The CFS’ Bylaws very clearly describe the process for a referendum to take place. They state that the National Executive has 90 days to validate a petition and once a petition is validated, the National Executive will endeavor to schedule a referendum between 60 and 90 days after that time.

The petition from Camosun students was validated nearly 9 months ago – indeed, in some of our cases the petitions were validated nearly 12 months ago and we are still waiting. In one case, the National Executive has not validated a petition with over 2,000 names submitted in April 2017 – that petition has been outstanding for more than 10 months.

In the March 6 article, the CFS said that the “national student organization set April 11 to 13 as dates of the referendum.” This is categorically false. The CFS National Executive has not properly set dates for the referendum, or for others allegedly set for this and past semesters. Whatever dates the CCSS has been told were set were not set through the process set by the National Executive as required by the CFS Bylaws – instead, they are simply an assertion made by one director, the National Treasurer.

The CFS, in particular National Treasurer Peyton Veitch, continues to assert that the referendum at Camosun and elsewhere cannot happen because of outstanding membership fees. Below we will break down this issue of fees owed between the CFS and British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS); however, before we do, we should clarify an important point. Camosun students, just like the students at VIU, VCC, Douglas, North Island and elsewhere, have paid their CFS fees, and those fees were paid to a CFS entity, that being the BC Component of CFS.

At no time in the CFS’s recent history before now have any other students been denied the right to vote on membership because their students’ union sent the membership fees to the “wrong office”. In fact, a look through the CFS and BCFS audits will show that both organizations are financially intertwined with hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing back and forth each year. BCFS audits are online, available here.

RECENT HISTORY OF FEE COLLECTION

Though practices varied across the country, through most of the CFS’s history, students’ unions remitted both the BCFS and CFS fees directly to the provincial component, and the BCFS would send the CFS its portion of the collected fees. The practice changed beginning in 2009, when most students’ unions in BC began sending the combined fees to the national organization for collection. This was done as a means to reduce the administration for each organization. The CFS would then send the BCFS a cheque for provincial fees collected and 1/6 of all the national fees collected as per convention.

However, the CFS stopped sending fees to the BCFS in the Fall of 2014. As a much smaller organization (the BCFS budget is even smaller than the CCSS), the BCFS is much more sensitive to changes in membership fee remittances. In response to this aggressive action, students’ unions in BC made the decision to remit all fees directly to the BCFS to ensure the sustainability of our provincial students’ union.

To this day, virtually no students’ union in British Columbia is directly paying fees to the Canadian Federation of Students; instead, in most cases the CFS fees continue to be remitted to the BCFS to be held in trust.

In brief, the CFS made the choice to withhold BCFS funds without any input from the members who paid those funds, and without input from the CFS National Executive. BCFS received funds owed to CFS because members at BC students’ unions made the choice to send their funds to BCFS and not to CFS.

In the March 6 article Veitch claims that “the CFS can’t remit the money to the BCFS until it gets fees from the BCFS, as the amount the CFS owes the BCFS is a percentage of the total national fees collected.” Not only is this a very confusing statement, it is also completely false. The CFS began withholding fees in 2014, and at that time it had the ability to determine exactly how much it owed to the BCFS. Nothing stops the CFS from doing the right thing and paying the funds owed to BCFS, because there was never any authority to withhold those funds in the first place.

Moreover, Veitch has failed to make any good faith attempts to resolve the fee dispute that the CFS started. The National Executive repeatedly directed Veitch to negotiate a resolution to this dispute with the BCFS. In clear violation of those directions, Veitch has refrained from doing so, and instead relied on the fee dispute to deny all of us our democratic rights.

Of course, the fee dispute is not the only way the CFS has failed BC students in recent years. If you haven’t already, we suggest you read the full timeline of issues between the CFS and BC students as outlined in the appendix to the BCFS Executive Committee Report, available online here (the appendix starts on page 59).

MEMBERS’ RIGHTS TO VOTE ON MEMBERSHIP

The fee dispute between the BCFS and the CFS should have absolutely no bearing on our democratic rights of membership. It is a weak and very obvious way to block a vote from happening on your campus and others across this province. The CFS is blocking our votes from happening because they know what we know: our members are interested in leaving this organization. They know that BC students are interested in working together for more affordable, equitable, and high-quality education across our province and even across Canada—just not in that organization.

The CFS Bylaws even state that “the students collectively belonging to a local student association will have sole authority to make decisions through a vote on all questions of membership of the local student association in the Federation, subject to the other provisions of this Bylaw.” You have paid your fees, the CCSS has paid those fees, and you are owed an opportunity to vote.

MOVING FORWARD

In BC, student representatives agreed unanimously at a provincial convention to increase the membership fee of the BCFS. We did this because the services of the CFS have become so unusable that the BCFS has been forced to take them on.

In order to ensure the organization is able to facilitate the services and pick up the other work the CFS has failed to do, it needs the financial resources. Students at three institutions have already voted to implement the new fee because they have seen first-hand that without BCFS stepping up students would be without key services and much needed advocacy.

The only solution to the current situation is for the CFS to do the right thing. They need to follow their own bylaws and allow individual students their right to vote on membership. They need to resolve their dispute with the BC provincial component. They must stop acting in bad faith, and fulfil their legal obligation to their members in BC.

We are all in this together, and we look forward to continuing to work with Camosun students to fight for affordable, high-quality post-secondary education in the future, and for our democratic rights, today.

In solidarity,

Tanysha Klassen, Director of External Relations, Douglas Students’ Union

Avery Bonner, Director of External Relations, Vancouver Island University Students’ Union

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson, Selkirk College Students’ Union

Riley Walker, Chairperson, Northwest Community College Students’ Union

Kamal Bindra, Chairperson, College of New Caledonia Students’ Union

Mary Rickinson, Chairperson, North Island Students’ Union

Shantelle Bishop, Executive Chairperson, Okanagan College Students’ Union

Zahra Hashemi, Chairperson, Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College