By Keith Capstick
A petition for Ryerson students to decide whether the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) will remain a member of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) has been started by a new campus group, RU Aware.
According to the group’s website, their aim is to raise questions and educate students about the RSU’s involvement with the CFS.
On Sept.1, the RSU released a report outlining the details of their relationship with the CFS. Within the report, in a section labeled “controversy,” the RSU outlines concerns including: supposed CFS involvement in student elections, a “litigation culture” that deters unions from trying to leave and the frequency of which RSU executives end up employed by the federation.
RU Aware organizer Andre Villanueva, a fourth-year student who ran on the Impact slate (which won most of the positions in last year’s election) with the current RSU executive, said that this group and petition are about giving students the chance to have a formal say in this matter.
“We felt like this discussion is absolutely meaningless without a vote on it,” Villanueva said. “It’s never going to achieve anything, we’re never going to have meaningful discussion unless we vote on it. This petition is the first step needed to have a vote, it is the only step needed to have vote.”
Villanueva also said that the group will be reaching out to student societies and other campus organizations for backing in the coming week, as well as hitting Gould Street for signatures.
Rajean Hoilett, Ryerson student, CFS-Ontario spokesperson and former RSU president, was surprised to hear about the petition.
“We’ve been on campus since the start of the school year talking to students about the work of the federation and the fight for free education with little to no negative push back,” Hoilett said. “In fact, we’ve seen a campus that’s really supportive of the student movement and the ideals we’ve built within the federation.”
He said he hasn’t heard anything as of yet from any of the organizers of RU Aware. But said that the federation would love an oppourtunity to “have some dialogue to discuss where the work of the student movement is at, and how those students see themselves reflected in the CFS.”
Hoilett and the CFS are currently gearing up for their Nov. 2 day of action, where they’re hoping to rally thousands of students to Queen’s Park in support of free education.
RSU President Obaid Ullah said he’s happy that the union’s report motivated students to get involved.
“Students are stepping up and questioning what they’re involved in and that they’re taking the initiative to raise more awareness so that’s definitely a satisfactory moment for the RSU.”
Historically, petitions started by students not formally affiliated with the CFS have been the main way schools are able to leave the organization. Currently, the RSU pays about $500,000 in student money to the CFS each year in membership fees. In recent years, the majority of mainstream conversations regarding the federation have involved schools trying to leave and ensuing litigation.
As recently as 2008, Cape Breton University tried to leave the CFS after a 92 per cent in-favour vote in a referendum cause by a petition—which is what would have to happen at Ryerson as well—but their claim wasn’t recognized because they failed to notify the CFS in a fast enough, according to bylaws. Cape Breton then responded by ceasing to collect CFS membership fees from their students—this led to legal action. In the past two decades at least three similar instances have occurred with schools being denied the ability to leave due to inconsistencies in their process for referendum.