Motions limit defederation movement

A defederation movement has been gradually growing, particularly in the months leading up to the 28th Annual National General Meeting (AGM) of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Thirteen of the CFS’s eighty member associations have expressed the desire to leave the union. In the second week of October, dissatisfied members of the CFS released a reform package detailing forty-three motions.

The motions were moved by the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) of McGill University, and seconded by the Kwantlen Student Association, the Alberta College of Art and Design Students’ Association, University of Calgary, University of Regina Students’ Union, Concordia Student Union, and Concordia University Graduate Students’ Association. The reform package states that it aims to “apply basic democratic tenets and organizing principles to the CFS.”

The tension was definitely there, just going in [to the AGM],” says Gurpreet Kambo, Cap’s Students of Colour Liaison who traveled to the Gatineau-Ottawa area, to be the Capilano Students’ Union representative at the meeting. People knew that something was going to be done.”

The thirteen schools who are part of the defederation movement include: McGill’s Post Graduate Society, the University of Cape Breton, Simon Fraser University, Kwantlen Student Association, Guelph University, Concordia Student Union, Graduate Student Association of Concordia, Dawson Student Union, Society of Graduate Students at Western Ontario University, Univeristy of Windsor Students’ Alliance, Carleton University Students’ Association, The Central Student Association at Guelph University, Trent Central Student Association, University of Victoria’s Student Society, Graduate Students’ Association of the Univeristy of Calgary, and University of Regina Students’ Union.


Theres been tension for a long time, going back years and years,says Kambo of the CFS. Another delegate at the meeting told him it was the “most conflict-ridden AGM since the mid-90s”.

The infamous Motion 6, which was the one about raising the … percentage to defederate. That was by far the most controversial one [motion],” says Kambo.

Prior to Motion 6, if a school wanted to defederate there were two main steps they had to follow. They had to give the CFS a petition signed by ten percent of the school's population, and that petition would then allow them to hold a referendum asking their student body if they wanted to leave the CFS. In order to defederate, the referendum must have 50% of the votes in favour of disassociating their student association from the CFS.

Motion 6 states that the requirement of 10 percent for the petition, while “aimed at greater grassroots democracy within our Federation, seems to be open to abuse.”

The motion accuses the defederation movement of being a “coordinated plan to destabilize our Federation by a small group of individuals, including some non-members.”

It goes on to say that evidence indicates, as part of this destabilization plan, “the organizers of the petitions intend to submit them all on the same day in an effort to force the various referendums to be held within the same, small window of time.”

The motion, proposed by the Carleton University Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), calls this “anti-democratic, because the Federation and its members would have no reasonable opportunity to present a case for continued membership in the Federation.The motion proposes that the initial 10 percent for the petition be increased to 20 percent of the student population.

We did it because we realized that the recent defederation attempts really weakened our movement in regards to the time we could allot to other campaigns, especially our Drop Fees rally,” Kimalee Phillip, president of the Carleton GSA, told the Canadian University Press (CUP).

The motion also places a limit of two defederation referenda able to be held across Canada in a three-month period. A student association would be allowed to attempt defederation through holding a referendum once every five years instead of every two.

The spirit of the motion was to ensure stability within our movement and to ensure that our bylaws had no loopholes that could be abused in the future,” says Phillip.

People were discussing that one [Motion 6] all week,” says Kambo. For Motion 6 to pass, they required a super majority.” This requires that 66% of the delegates vote in favour of the motion.

Nineteen delegations voted against Motion 6, and forty-four voted in favour. Six delegations abstained. “That’s really borderline close,” says Kambo.

The motion passed, adding to the controversy.

A point was raised in the meeting, “that the bylaw regarding this says two-thirds of voting members present have to be voting in favour,” say Kambo, “and the word present kind of changes the whole meaning because if you count the abstentions then two thirds of the voting members did not vote in favour of it.”

The CFS Chair, however, said that according to her experience, abstentions didn’t count as voting members. The plenary chair overruled the objection , stating that in her experience abstentions didn't count as voting members. Multiple delegations left the meeting in protest. There is still some debate over whether or not the motion passed.

Kambo also reported that someone pulled the fire alarm during the debate of Motion 6.

The passing of Motion 6 will make it more difficult for student associations to defederate.


Due to the high level of attention that Motion 6 received, many other motions in the AGM did not receive much publicity.

Motion 20 was proposed by the Kwantlen Student Association and requested that the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia “support campus media’s right to report on student issues without the fear of legal and political reprisal.” It also requested that all meetings of the CFS be open to campus media and CUP representatives.

Motion 31 demanded that a campaign take place nationally to raise awareness about the possibility of student funds being diverted into supporting the Pan American games. The University of Toronto is currently part of a bid group to bring the Pan Am Games to Toronto in 2015.

This motion was of particular interest to member locals in BC. “We moved an amendment saying the BC component, because of our experience in the matter with the Olympics, that we are also condemning the diverting of student funds toward institutional international gaming sports events,” says Kambo.

Motion 18 called on the CFS and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) to work together on certain issues and to collaborate on lobbying goals and strategies. At CASA’s AGM, members said in a unanimous motion that they wanted to work with the CFS. Motion 18, however, did not pass.


With the defederation movement gaining such publicity in campus papers prior to the AGM, controversy and retribution were unavoidable, particularly with the presence of Motion 6.

It was obviously two different sides there [at the AGM], and I think that some of the motions were good … and some of them were terrible,” says Kambo of the reform package proposed by the PGSS of McGill prior to the AGM. But I wasn’t about to outright dismiss their concerns. That’s not democratic. I don’t think this organization [the CFS] is above criticism or anything like that.”

The reform package was put out fundamentally with the aim to reform the CFS and resolve some of the current discontent with the Federation. It calls on the CFS to increase the transparency of their procedures, including disclosing the salaries of its employees and opening Federation meetings to the press. As it was reported, there was only one journalist in attendance at the event, Emma Godmere, Editor of the Fulcrum newspaper and Ottawa Bureau Chief for CUP.

Motions also requested that limitations be placed on the length of time a person can work for the CFS, and to end all the current lawsuits against member student unions looking to defederate, like SFU and at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Students have no idea that [the CFS] exists, and there is no indication that they’re an effective organization,” Lex Gill, a student and petition organizer from Concordia, told The McGill Tribune.

What have they accomplished? What are we getting? Free International Student Identity Cards, and people interfering in our elections.”

Rick Telfer, president of the Society of Graduate Students at the University of Western Ontario, told The Tribune that the student opposition to the CFS was unsurprising.

Can you imagine particular groups or individuals who might oppose the kinds of things that the CFS advocates? The Federation has advocated over the years to advance the rights of people who identify as gay or lesbian, they have advocated for Aboriginal rights, and they have played a significant role in advocating for women's equality," said Telfer. "There are many [people] within Canadian society who oppose these efforts. So when you wonder why people are petitioning against the CFS, the answer is self-evident. It's because they disagree with the objectives and aims of the CFS."

While some student unions have endorsed the reform package, other groups like the Canadian Association of University Teachers soundly rejected it.

James Turk, the executive director for the Association, did not support the reform. He told The Martlet at the University of Victoria that the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill was trying to “cripple” the CFS.

Should your motions be successful, it would be a tragic loss for students across Canada,” he said. “We hope the membership of the CFS soundly rejects each of your destructive motions.”


The Canadian Federation of Students describe themselves as a means to “provide students with an effective and united voice, provincially and nationally,” according to their website. Eighty different post-secondary institutions across the country retain membership, which totals a representation of over half a million students.

Capilano University is member local 5 of the CFS, one of the first members since the CFS’s conception in 1981.

There are several services provided to members of the CFS. The CFS supplys students with a free International Student Identity Card, a Studentsaver Discount Card, free tax filing services, and potential benefits through the National Health Network. The CFS lobbies for “halting tuition fee increases” and generally reducing tuition fees. Tuition fees were frozen in BC from 1996 until 2002. Their platform also looks at problems with Canada’s Student Loan Program, under the slogan “Education shouldn’t be a debt sentence!”

With all the controversy surrounding the CFS and its AGM, The Courier decided to look into members’ understanding of the CFS and the services it provides to students. Around forty students responded to our survey. While most were primarily from Capilano, a significant number of students were from Langara, SFU, UBC, and multiple post-secondary institutions in Ontario. 42% of students had been attending their college/university for less than one year, and 30% for 3-4 years.

We asked questions about their knowledge of the CFS and the benefits they received as members.  However, 31.6% of those surveyed were unsure if they were members of the CFS, and 73% were unaware of the benefits they received as a member.

When asked what they liked about the CFS, responses were varied. One reply read that they liked “its awareness campaigns and human rights activism”, and another person thought it was “a good concept to have a uniting organization for Canadian students.”

One question asked if the CFS had any notable flaws. Respondents said, “they [the CFS] don’t do their job,” that they should “try to benefit more students,” and there was a call for “more openness and transparency”.

40% of those surveyed said they didn’t like the CFS or felt that it had too many flaws and was ineffective. 46% said that it has potential, but it needs a lot of reform. And 12.5% said they like most things about the CFS.

When asked if they felt they had a voice, and are represented well by the CFS, 39.3% said ‘never’, 21.4% said ‘rarely’, 10.7% said ‘sometimes’, 3.6% said ‘usually’, and 0% said ‘always’.

60.7% of respondents felt that they did not have a place in the CFS, and did not have a role as a student in the organization.

76.3% of those surveyed said they knew little to nothing about the CFS and what it stood for.


Much controversy surrounded the AGM, but it certainly made for an interesting meeting. The reform package put forth by McGill played a key role.

They propose this huge package of motions for reform and other people within the organization took it as an attack,” says Gurpreet Kambo. I tried not to think in those black and white terms, [instead to] listen to everyone for what they were saying, and what the motion was, rather than who it was coming from.”

I think that organizations like the CFS need to evolve, and they’re definitely not above criticism,” says Kambo.

Regardless of what other schools are doing, Capilano currently has no plans to change its present relationship with the CFS.

//Samantha Thompson

Assistant News Editor

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