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  • Robert Lovell

Should We Stay or Should We Go? CFS-CBU trial recap

Student’s Union eligible to leave CFS next fall.

CBU Students’ Union has a tumultuous history with the Canadian Federation of Students(CFS), one that saw us attempt to defederate in 2008, only to be sued 6 years later and forced to pay an undisclosed dollar amount and remain a member until Fall of 2019.

With that date looming, and with many new-to-CBU students over the last few years, we thought some might benefit from a summary of the events. After the timeline, we have an interview with Coty Zachariah, national chairperson for CFS.

What is the CFS?

You may have seen them in the cafeteria promoting their awareness campaigns such as “No Means No”, “Challenge Sexism”. The Canadian Federation of Students is a not-for-profit formed in 1981 to represent the interests of post-secondary students on a national level. Their website currently boasts “…more than 500,000 members in 64 students’ unions across Canada.” This list currently includes CBU Students’ Union.

Timeline of the CFS versus CBUSU Conflict:

August 2007: CBUSU informs CFS of intent to hold referendum to defederate either March or April 2008.

October 1, 2007: CBU students dissatisfied with the services provided by CFS (at a cost of $30,000 per year). Petition to defederate signed by >10% student body mailed to CFS; mistakenly taken and signed for by Red Cross intern, “Amanda”, working in same building.

November 23, 2007: CFS finally receives a copy of student petition.

January 2008: CFS sends letter informing CBUSU the earliest date a referendum could be held is September 15, 2008.

Two weeks before the referendum, CBU Students’ Union posted this ad in The Caper Times.

February 2008: CBUSU responds that it intends to proceed with the vote in March.

March 11-13,2008: Student referendum votes 92% to leave CFS (366 students voted). CFS does not accept the referendum result. CFS bylaws state that petition to leave must be received 6 months in advance of vote.

2009: CFS files legal claim for unpaid membership fees.

June 2014: CFS files a lawsuit for unpaid damages and membership fees of $40,000 a year over 6 years.

July 2015: The Judge rules that the March 2008 referendum was invalid due to violation of several CFS bylaws. CBUSU ordered to pay $293,159.13 in unpaid membership fees and damages, plus legal fees.

September 2015: CBUSU cuts positions, employee hours. With the threat of bankruptcy looming, CBUSU begins the legal appeal process.

April 2016: CBUSU and CFS settle out of court for an undisclosed dollar amount. CBUSU must remain a member of CFS until Fall 2019.

September 2016: 10 students’ unions, including CBUSU sign open letter asking for reformation of CFS and greater transparency in how it operates.

In January, Caper Times sat down with Coty Zachariah, National Chairperson for CFS.We had a brief discussion about the relationship between CBUSU and CFS. Zachariah was here to promote CFS’ role to our Students’ Union council and talk to students about the services CFS provides.

“I wasn’t around for those times. I’ve been made aware of the situation. I think it’s unfortunate that things went the way they did. I think people on both sides got hurt from that… Our reputation got hurt because ever since then, we haven’t been working together as well as we could– I’m just going to be honest about that. There were mistakes that I think were made on both sides. And I think we need to take ownership of that, but I also think that we can’t get stuck in the past…”

“We’ve had turnover on our side; anyone who was around for that isn’t here anymore.”

National Chair Coty Zachariah (Left), and Maritimes Organiser, Grant MacNeil (Right) address the Students’ Union Council.

“I can say that during my time, we’ve had no lawsuits with any unions. We actually dropped a few of them because I don’t see the benefit in students suing students.”

“I think there’s democratic processes in place for referendum, should students take that route. If that were to happen, we would come and talk about the benefits of membership. If students democratically vote to leave, we shake hands and that’s it.”

“Until that time, I think our goal is to continue to show students at CBU what the benefits of not only a provincial, but a national students’ movement are.”

Coty Zachariah, Chair of CFS.

“I’m interested in what the relationship moving forward is like for the next year. Especially since, I would say students in Nova Scotia are getting a rotten deal. Tuition is going up in this province the fastest in the country. What are we going to do to address that? I want to focus on those things.”

“I want to talk about how CBU student members are going to see benefits from CFS. I want to know what they want from CFS. I want to have those conversations; that’s what I’m interested in because that’s how we’re going to reshape what our relationship looks like.”

“I think it’s an important time where we can shape that [relationship]… There’s three members from CBU on the provincial executive of CFS now. We’re almost in a new era because now CBU students are engaged again, they’re shaping the movement again. That’s where we want to get.”

“I think we have to acknowledge what happened in the past, but we need to focus on where we’re going together because you need the benefits in this and we need your voice in this.”

“… We have an organizing power of half a million people. That’s scary to politicians. They should be aware that we have a voice, and if we stand together it’s a pretty loud voice. I want CBU students to get back in on that.”

[This article involved a deep dive into our archives. Special thanks to past Caper Times employees who helped make this story possible]

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