By Farah Mustafa
Students at Ryerson University are taking part in the largest national student movement against the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) since 2009, according to a press release sent out by organizers.
The release claims that students from at least 15 universities across the nation want to end their membership with the group that is meant to voice student needs to provincial and federal governments.
The movement is still in its early stages but, organizers are starting to send out petitions.
The CFS is a group of 83 student unions, representing over 500,000 students nationwide. The only other national-level student organization of its kind in Canada is the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which has 24 member unions and associations. If this movement succeeds, a third organization could be formed.
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) currently pays over $350,000 a year to the lobby group and does not want to seperate.
The RSU works under the CFS and its Ontario branch, which is the largest in the country.
“I’m surprised that anyone on campus would be talking about this,” said Melissa Palermo, current RSU president. “We have had such a widespread support across Ryerson for what we are doing with the CFS.”
Palermo pointed out that the RSU works in collaboration with the CFS to provide services to students such as the community food room.
Ashleigh Ingle, one of three spokespeople for the movement, is working directly with the CFS as a general member.
Ingle said there are currently a number of Ryerson students collecting the 6,000 to 8,000 signatures needed to hold a referendum with the CFS next year.
“People are beginning to have in depth conversations about what they want the Canadian student movement to look like and it’s not surprising to us that people are realizing that they don’t want it to look anything like the CFS,” Ingle said in a statement last Sunday.
Brent Farrington, internal coordinator for the CFS, said they have heard little about it.
“We have yet to hear anything about where [the petitions] are other than a listing of six schools or campuses [that are participating]. So we’re not sure that’s actually the case,” he said in a phone interview Saturday.
According to the press release petitions are also at the University of Toronto, York University and Laurentian University.
Farrington said the CFS meets twice a year with its member unions from across Canada.
Ingle said that members are treated unfairly and oppressively in the CFS and that there is little room for reform.
“They have responded to our critiques that they are an insular and undemocratic organization by becoming more insular, shutting down debates and castigating anyone who expresses a dissenting view.”
Ingle said the CFS is often negative and hostile in their responses to criticism, which is why it has come to this point.
Before a referendum can take place petitions must be signed and ratified by the CFS.
In 2009, a similar movement was sparked with students from 13 schools taking part.
For now, Farrington says the CFS has reached out to the movement organizers to engage in dialogue on how to move forward. Apart from that, the CFS will continue regular work on tasks outlined by their last semi-annual meeting relating to student debt and accessible learning.
Palermo said the “Drop Fees” campaign, a collaboration between the RSU and the CFS, has received positive feedback on campus.
Ingle has a different plan in mind, involving the creation of a new more student-centric organization next year.
“If we want to drop fees, we’re going to have to drop the CFS first. Because students have shown that they won’t – and shouldn’t – get behind an organization as undemocratic, ineffective and dysfunctional as the CFS.”