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Montreal students gather to oppose federation; GSAÉD has four motions passed

Photo by Spencer Van Dyk

More than 80 schools across the country sent representatives to Gatineau for the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) national general meeting Nov. 21–24 to vote on policy and future campaigns.

At the meeting’s closing plenary, the CFS budget report was presented and approved without amendments and an omnibus bill including eight motions was carried. The University of Ottawa Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) put forth four motions, all of which were adopted. The GSAÉD moved to investigate what a zero tuition fee education would look like, to look at the possibility of producing a short documentary on the commercialization of campuses and research, to create materials to support breastfeeding rooms on campus, and to support safe consumption sites.

GSAÉD external commissioner Seamus Wolfe said their motions all received “positive and constructive amendments.” He said the motion for the creation of a documentary on the commercialization of research took up the most time and debate.

“That motion took a bunch of amendments,” Wolfe said. “The most significant was the dollar amount we had proposed and it was given up to the national executive to decide what the most appropriate amount would be for something like that. It was also decided that it would be done with an open-access, creative-commons licensing so that it could be used freely by people who wanted to use it and change it.”

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) was also present at the meeting. SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy said the motions on unpaid internships and the condemnation of the misuse of funds by the Senate of Canada are ones she feels are particularly important to students.   She said there is “very limited information” on the exact number of unpaid students on internships, but the CFS estimates it is between 100,000 and 300,000.

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union presented a motion to endorse the Work is Work campaign to encourage work equity. The motion was passed within the omnibus bill.

Roy said the federal budget is also a question of priority, and that “myth-busting” has become necessary to educate students on where public funding is really being spent.

“The budget is about priorities,” she said. “The government is spending billions of dollars on oil exploitation, tar sands, the military, so clearly there is a lot of money at the federal level, it is just not being spent where the CFS assembly felt it should be directed.”  A motion for member locals to reaffirm commitment to the No Means No campaign against rape culture on campus was also passed.

As the panel on countering rape culture took place inside the Palais de Congrès, where the meeting was held, protestors assembled outside.

Montreal students from McGill and Concordia Universities and Dawson College gathered to decry the CFS’s refusal to let them cut ties to the federation. Protestors played famous pop songs, altering lyrics to reflect the group’s anti-CFS nature, and used a lobster trap to illustrate how student unions can get into the federation but can’t get out.

“We are very unsatisfied with the way that they operate,” said Melissa Kate Wheeler, president of the Concordia Student Union and one of the leaders of the protest. “We followed their own process to defederate and they don’t have a choice but to listen because we have a right to choose who to associate with.”

The protest follows a September announcement from students on at least 15 post-secondary campuses across Canada, which stated they plan to start a petition to exit the federation. To leave the CFS, members of that student union must collect a petition with signatures and present it to the CFS executive. Once the signatures are ratified, a date is set for the referendum to take place.  Brad Evoy, a delegate from the University of Toronto, walked alongside a handful of other attendees outside the hotel to join the protesters. He said after they left, CFS staff locked the doors.

Roy, a supporter of the CFS, said she “never really got an understanding as to why there was a protest.”

“I know they have some criticism toward the CFS, but we have democratic mechanisms in place to make changes if member locals collectively feel like there should be changes,” she said.

Wolfe said despite contention, the meeting helped facilitate extensive progress for the CFS and its campaigns.

“Sometimes at these meetings, process and negativity can dominate opening and closing plenary, and this time, although there was some contention raised, what really dominated were motions about issues,” Wolfe said. “What really stood out was the debate about tactics and issues,” he said.

Several motions were passed to show solidarity with and support for Aboriginal groups.

“The motions for indigenous solidarity, especially Elsipogtog, were really important, especially for GSAÉD to be a part of,” Wolfe said.

A proposal to add a queer student representative to the CFS national executive was referred to the next general meeting. However, a motion to investigate the structure of the executive in general was passed.

“There was another motion to ask the national executive to investigate the constituency representative structure that we have,” said Jessica McCormick, national chairperson for the CFS. “We’re going to be doing that work to make sure the representatives around the table are inclusive of the different constituencies that the federation represents.”

McCormick is responsible for helping to coordinate the meeting, chairing different segments and presentations, and providing remarks on behalf of the organization. In opening plenary, a member local asked to have McCormick impeached because it was her responsibility to ensure the executive received a mailed petition from said union. McCormick said she never received the petition. After much debate, the delegates decided through a vote McCormick should not be impeached.

“There are a number of reasons why a document or a package would be returned to the sender,” Roy said. “I think it is incredibly unfair to be putting that responsibility on Jessica McCormick.”

“We’re not here to pick battles with each other, we’re here to discuss student issues, and I don’t think we should be talking about impeaching somebody for mail problems that could happen to anybody,” she said.

The meeting also addressed the Quebec Charter of Values, a potential boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the presence of CFS executives while member locals hold a vote regarding the CFS on their own campus.

—With files from Mackenzie Gray and Jane Lytvynenko