Former SGPS VP Asfar brings attention to “hidden” CFS bank account

Account at separate bank contained half a million in student funds, according to audit 

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Via Flickr

A post to the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) Facebook page on Monday — from former Vice President (Professional) Mark Asfar — raised alarms about a “hidden” bank account of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) allegedly containing half a million dollars. 

The link Asfar posted came from student newspaper The Varsity. On Jan. 24 their student union released a scathing condemnation of the CFS to whom they pay tens of thousands of dollars per year, over the lack of accountability for the account.  

Members of the SGPS funnel approximately $60 thousand into the CFS annually, via a listed $16.06 student fee from each of the Society’s approximately 4,000 members.  

Asfar, who served as the SGPS’ CFS representative last year, felt that bringing the issue to constituents’ attention was paramount.

“I wanted to raise it as a sort of ‘hey, this is happening, have any of you heard about this? I find this concerning, what do you think?’” he told The Journal on Tuesday. 

“There are a bunch of student unions saying ‘we believe the organization needs to be fixed’. There are a couple saying ‘we don’t think it can be fixed, and we want to leave.’ There’s a bunch more who are continuing to say ‘everything’s fine, let’s get to the bottom of this,’” he explained.

“And we have no opinion at the SGPS. It’d be nice if we were a little engaged with this.” 

The bank account itself has been shrouded in questions. According to The Varsity, a Nov. 17-22 General Meeting voted to approve an audit of the account without access to the forensic audit report produced. 

The CFS National Executive is currently writing a report of their own, intended for their June General Meeting, in lieu of providing members the full report from Grant Thornton LLP. 

The account itself was allegedly first discovered in 2014, after years of being hidden from auditors of the group’s activity, and its existence has never been fully explained.  

In an emailed statement to The Journal, CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch wrote that the account was opened sometime in 2010, and closed after the Dec. 2014 discovery by a former Executive member. 

“The account remained undetected because it was [sic] never reported to the Federation’s auditors, or to members of the National Executive, and it existed at a different bank than where the Federation has its accounts,” Veitch wrote. 

“Since winter 2014, the Federation has undergone significant staffing changes and the personnel involved with the account are no longer at the Federation.”

Veitch added that the Grant Thornton LLP forensic review was shared with auditors from MNP LLP, who “applied additional scrutiny to the auditing of the 2014 statements.” 

“The auditor’s report for both 2014 and 2015 issued an unqualified opinion, the highest level of assurance an auditor can provide that the statements fairly reflect the financial position of the organization,” he concluded. 

Asfar, who sat on the CFS as a representative, said the bank account was hardly outside the norm for the CFS. “The CFS has been, I can comfortably say, controversial over the last few years,” he said. 

He mentioned instances where student unions have attempted to leave the CFS, citing improper spending of student money or internal structure problems, and the unions wound up sued and litigated by the CFS Executive for “leaving incorrectly.”

“That’s left a bad taste in some people’s mouths ... especially for a group that advocates for not wasting students’ money and for anti-corporate pro-student issues,” Asfar said. 

The CFS is easier to enter as a student union than it is to exit, he said. It only requires the support of 15 per cent of a university’s student body to join, while it takes 20 per cent support to leave. “That is a point we made regularly. I remember sitting in the CFS conference thinking, we should not look like the mob.”

As a former SGPS executive himself, he said a large issue is the lack of engagement by graduate and professional students-at-large with SGPS issues like the CFS and national unions. 

“We pay our fees into [the CFS], and send members to the conferences, but they don’t have a super active presence for us,” he said. “CFS is very undergraduate-oriented, and from my experience at the conferences, graduate students are sort of a secondary concern.” 

Asfar believes that all graduate and professional students are crucial to the conversation about the CFS. 

“I don’t think it’s the position of the executive candidates to take a stance on this,” he said. “I think the exec are better suited to be listening.” He intends to raise the situation as a topic of discussion at the upcoming SGPS Annual General Meeting. 

“Just have a conversation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a move to leave, but we should be asking if we need a concentrated strategy on how we engage the CFS.” 

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