The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)

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The Trent Central Student Association is Member Local 71 of the Canadian Federation of Students/Fédération Canadienne des étudiantes et étudiants (CFS). Many university students go through their academic careers without ever hearing about the organizations their student unions are a part of. The Canadian Federation of Students is the largest student organization in Canada, consisting of 80 member locals in 9 of the 10 provinces, with Quebec being the only exception.

CFS formed in 1981 after the merger of two previous organizations, the Association of Student Councils and the National Union of Students Canada. Their goal is to provide adequate and accessible education to Canadian students as well as to be a voice that politically advocates for students and their rights. On their website, under “constitution,” CFS/FCEE has listed seven main aims of their organization:

1. To organize students on a democratic, cooperative basis in advancing our own interests, and in advancing the interests of our community;

2. To provide a common framework within which students can communicate, exchange information, and share experience, skills and ideas;

3. To ensure the effective use and distribution of the resources of the student movement, while maintaining a balanced growth and development of student organisations that respond to students needs and desires;

4. To bring students together to discuss and cooperatively achieve necessary
educational administrative, or legislative change wherever decision-making affects students;

5. To facilitate cooperation among students in organising services which supplement our academic experience, provide for our human needs, and which develop a sense of community with our peers and other members of society;

6. To articulate the real desire of students to fulfil the duties, and be accorded the rights of citizens in our society and in the international community;

7. To achieve our ultimate goal—a system of postsecondary education which is accessible to all, which is of high quality, which is nationally planned, which recognizes the legitimacy of student representation and the validity of student rights, and whose role in society is clearly recognized and appreciated.

Currently the federation has thirteen key issues that they have created campaigns around to advocate for students as well as human rights. From consent culture to ending the blood ban for gay and bisexual men as well as trans folks, CFS has a wide range of issues for students to be vocal about. Their biggest campaign, the national “Fight the Fees!” movement against rising tuition, took place across Canada—even on campuses not a part of the federation. Trent itself has participated in the “National Day of Action” as well as other campaigns such as “Not Your Stereotype” which discusses cultural appropriation of Indigenous cultures for Halloween costumes.

While CFS has been credited for providing opportunities for students it has been marred in controversy for various reasons. What appears to be at the center of the criticism concerning the federation is member locals feeling that there is an inability to leave the federation on their own terms. Sixteen student unions or associations have made the decision to leave the federation over the last several years, including all of the associations located in the province of Quebec.

Concordia and McGill University have been the most well known cases in the most recent years with court proceedings dragging on into 2015. Concordia is accused of owing the
Canadian Federation of students $1.8M in unpaid students fees while McGill has already spent $400,000 in legal fees. Most recently at the 2016 Semi-Annual National General Meeting on November 17, motions were put forward by member locals calling for a change in the CFS bylaws mostly focusing on the logistics of locals being able to de-federate.

Fourteen of the motions in fact were put forward by one of the federation’s largest ember locals, Local 98 which is the University of Toronto. One motion asked that be it resolved that member locals should be entitled to a membership fees refund if the local does not feel that the federation provided them with accurate and sufficient financial statements. Emotions ran high and the most recent NGM, with some locals feeling as though many of these motions were tearing the federation apart.

The Canadian Federation of Students/Fédération Canadienne des étudiantes et étudiants can be many things; it can be a champion of student voices and accessible education, and it can also be an organization that member locals feel does not meet their needs. Whatever they are, Trent students will be able to participate and have a say in what their relationship is with CFS.