Student groups seek change

Some Canadian Federation of Students member organizations feel disgruntled

As dissatisfaction with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) spreads across Canadian campuses, Queen’s student leaders are keeping their distance.

The CFS, the largest student union collective in Canada, has links with 60 different universities and college governments, including the Queen’s Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS).

The national group aims to lower tuition rates, protect student rights and provide numerous other services.

Last Saturday, protesters in Gatineau, Quebec took to the streets protesting against the union and carrying banners criticizing the union’s defederation procedure.

Defederation refers to the process required for student groups to exit the CFS.

The protest is part of a larger movement against the CFS, as students at 15 different schools dispute the efficacy and transparency of the union — looking to cut ties with it.

Currently, the party interested in defederating must set up a petition for their entire membership.

The petition must receive signatures from 20 per cent of the student body before a referendum vote is held to decide if the student body will separate from the union.

Student discontent stems largely from unsatisfactory results where the CFS lobbies external bodies on behalf of students.

The CFS has also drawn criticism for taking legal action against schools that have tried to break away from the national union.

Jessica McCormick, chairperson of the CFS, said these groups didn’t use the correct channels to defederate.

“It’s when the process is not followed that we have problems,” she said. “That’s at the root of what I think many of the issues are with the students participating in the protests.”

McCormick stressed that the defederation bylaws were democratically decided on by members of the federation at general meetings. Iain Reeve, SGPS president, said the CFS defederation process is specifically designed to make it difficult for dissatisfied schools to leave.

He said he recalls student discontent with the CFS spanning back to his undergraduate years at Simon Fraser, when defederation campaigns were run against the CFS in British Columbia.

“There’s been problems for a while, it just happens to be in the right circumstances now that there’s a bigger movement,” he said.

However, a national student union is valuable as a body which advocates for student interests at a provincial and federal level, Reeve said, and its services have been managed well.

The CFS offers a variety of services to graduate students at Queen’s, including free tax filing software, a student saver card, ISIC international student cards and ethical wholesale merchandising opportunities.

Because the majority of student bodies linked to the CFS are undergraduate institutions, Reeve said he feels issues affecting graduate students are not being voiced as loudly.

“The efficacy on the lobbying side is demonstrably not super strong, and not always representing the practical needs of the member schools,” he said.

Reeve said he sought CFS support for the recent Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeal, but they were uninterested, despite the precedent the appeal set for the rest of Ontario.

While the SGPS will take no official stance on the debate surrounding the CFS or defederation processes, Reeve said they are hoping to bring the issue up at council next semester.

The SGPS is interested in opening up discussion about the CFS to find out how students feel, he added, and they won’t prevent students from starting a campaign for or against the CFS.

Meagan Crane, SGPS vice-president of campaigns and community affairs, told the Journal that the CFS brings value to the SGPS, although it can be overly bureaucratic and “frustrating”. Crane said the lack of support for the OMB appeal was partly the fault of the SGPS.

“While they weren’t particularly helpful, we didn’t go through the appropriate channels to ask for help,” she said. It’s not really up to the SGPS to decide if Queen’s students will run a defederation campaign, she added.

“You don’t need to have any kind of ties to the student government at all to run a defederation campaign,” she said. “Anybody can do it.”

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