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Students Should Seriously Consider Disassociating from Corrupt Student Unions

Recently, there has been a movement called You Decide on campus that is trying to hold a referendum for the UTSU to leave the CFS. The student-organized campaign aimined for 9 000 signatures from U of T students to begin the legal process for leaving.

From the campaign website:

“On November 28, 2002, the University of Toronto Students’ Administrative Council’s (SAC) Board of Directors ratified the results of a referendum in favor of SAC’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Fourteen years later, SAC, operating as the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), is CFS Local 98. For the most part, there’s not a single person who voted in that referendum who’s still a student at U o fT. Since that time, students have been discussing and reviewing their membership with the CFS but they haven’t had the opportunity to formally vote on it. It’s time to give students that opportunity.”

Fortunately, the petition had enough signatures and is awaiting approval. I personally believe that similar petitions in other schools are fantastic opportunities for students to leave this overly bureaucratic, unrepresentative organization. Allow me to explain why, in reasons of no particular order.


  1. They Take Your Money

The truth is that after adjusting for inflation, CFS fees have been steadily rising for the students and their union. I won’t comment on the expenditures of the UTSU, but our incidental fees do matter. Leaving the CFS will put funds back into our union for better student services. As tuition fees climb, students need to get their money’s worth.

This isn’t just a matter of overpricing; the CFS has a history of almost predatory practices in collecting fees. Cape Breton University was sued for about $300 000 by the CFS plus all of their legal fees [1]. The university had a referendum with 92% in favor of leaving, which the CFS obviously objected to. They have a bylaw that prevents unions with outstanding fees from leaving, so who knows how long they have to wait to try again.

2. Fetish for Bureaucracy

The Varsity wrote a well-written account on this matter [2]. To put things short, the UTSU noted that $1 600 000 over 6 years under the CFS’s National Student Health Network. UofT recently switched to another insurer, so thank goodness for that. It was also written in an open letter by 10 universities and a UTSU report that the Federation’s campaign against sexual violence was outdated. There are no current initiatives to update it.

The organization’s inefficiency with their finances and media campaigns is disappointing. It either needs a massive overhaul in its operation, or not exist at all. Given the mountain of bylaws and an established power structure that refuses to change their ways, the latter is looking more likely.

  1. Political Agenda

The CFS was created to support “the existence of a progressive student movement that advances the interests of all student” [2]. They have since taken controversial lobbying positions that students don’t care about or even oppose. Their purpose is to push the interest of students into Canadian politics, not their own mostly left-wing agenda. The biggest example is the BDS movement.

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) Movement against Israel has received the support of CFS [3]. The Government of Canada voted decisively against supporting it, as well as the student body of McGill University[4]. An interesting contrast, considering that the movement “received no opposition at [the CFS’s] annual general meeting last weekend.” [5].

This is a decision that, in no ways, improves the student experience at your local university, and the student body shouldn’t be spending money to lobby for it. If you have a strong opinion on this issue, there are much better venues to make a difference. The funds and support would come naturally. A federation of student unions should not lobby for movements irrelevant to its mission statement.

  1. Lawsuits

Imagine if you wanted to leave an unsatisfactory relationship with your partner, and to prevent you from leaving they decide to sue you. That has sadly happened with the CFS and many of its member unions.

University of Victoria students voted to dissociate with the CFS. “The CFS refused to grant a decertification vote until the UVSS (University of Victory Student’s Society) paid $100,000+ in outstanding membership dues. The UVSS rejected the claim that it owed money and took the CFS to court on February 17.The UVSS argued that by bringing up this issue so late, the CFS was making an intentional move to delay a vote from occurring before the end of the 2010-2011 academic year” [6].

The UVSS eventually won their battle… only to go through a second legal battle. Guess what? It was because they violated another bylaw [7]. A successful petition sealed the deal, and UVic successfully separated from the Federation.

University of Guelph students went to court after their leave referendum. Simon Fraser University students went to court. McGill University grads went to court. Concordia University students had to settle an accusation that they owed $1 800 000 to the CFS. Some lawsuits were successful, others were not. This is an organization whose bylaws and legal funds are restraining student democracy.


Now, what can students do? If you are in favor of disassociation, you can help organize a local petition at your institution. Please visit the YouDecide website and see how the framework functions. If successful at your school, students would be able to move onto a referendum to leave the CFS. It takes a minute of your time, but it can change the future of your university.

The Website:

Sources: [1]


[3] [4]

[5] [6]


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