The RSU is currently still considered a CFS member, but what may happen next is unclear
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is still considered a member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), despite Ryerson University terminating its operating agreement with the union.
Kayla Weiler, the Ontario National Executive Representative for the CFS, said she’s not sure what would happen to the RSU’s CFS membership if the union dissolves.
“When it comes to the Ryerson situation, historically, students at Ryerson voted to be members of the provincial [and] national organization that is the federation,” Weiler said. “So we would expect the administration to respect that referendum.”
The RSU itself was also created through a referendum. Ryerson has been criticized by the CFS and other groups for overstepping this in its termination of its operating agreement with the RSU.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi did not directly say whether Ryerson still recognizes the CFS as representing students now that it no longer recognizes the RSU. He noted that the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) is still a CFS member.
“We have been recognizing, over a number of years, RSU and CESAR to represent students,” Lachemi told the Ryersonian. He added it’s up to the RSU, CESAR and Ryerson students to decide what national organizations represent them.
The CFS is a national and provincial students’ union. They are involved in advocacy such as the Fight the Fees campaign.
Ryerson students pay around $500,000 collectively to the CFS every year. However considering Ryerson will not collect fees from students for the RSU in the next academic year, it’s not clear whether the RSU will have money for the CFS next year.
RSU president Vanessa Henry has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding the RSU’s membership with the CFS.
For a student union to join or leave the CFS, 15 per cent of students need to sign a petition calling for a vote on decertification, according to the CFS’s bylaws. Then the CFS will recommend a chief returning officer to oversee a referendum.
The CFS can vote to expel members for violating its responsibilities as outlined in the CFS’s bylaws.
After allegations of fraud arose against executives in the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa in 2018, students voted for a new student union. The old union is no longer listed as a member on the CFS website and the university’s new student union decided not to affiliate with the CFS.
Lachemi said it will be up to students to decide whether Ryerson’s new student government is affiliated with the CFS.
The RSU’s relationship with the CFS
Ryerson students voted in a referendum to become CFS members through the then-Students’ Union of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in 1982, a year after the CFS was created.
In 2007, an RSU executive drafted a motion to defederate from the CFS and direct the student fee to the RSU instead, but the motion failed at a Board of Directors meeting.
In 2016, the RSU released a report evaluating its relationship with the CFS. The report said that CFS services, such as online tax-filing and a student savings card, are offered at a lower cost through alternate providers. It also noted the RSU’s concerns with CFS governance, including the complicated process of leaving the federation.
In 2017, some Ryerson students started a petition to leave the CFS, but it wasn’t able to gather enough signatures to move to the next stage.
CFS condemns Ryerson’s actions
In a statement released the day after Ryerson announced it was terminating its operating agreement with the RSU, the CFS said the decision “undermines the democratic rights of students and student organizations that represent them.”
Weiler said Ryerson overstepped the original referendum that created the RSU when they terminated the agreement.
“This process that the administration has put forward is determining a new structure for a students’ union is, again, an overstep of student democracy,” she said.
She called Ryerson choosing the election committee members biased and “suspiciously not democratic.”
In an interview with the Ryersonian, Ryerson’s vice-provost, students, Jen McMillen said she’s aware of concerns regarding Ryerson’s role in creating a new student government.
She said she uses the language of “facilitating” intentionally, noting that the website for the committee who will oversee the election for a new student government structure is “separate and independent” from Ryerson.
“We’re trying to create the conditions under which students can be successful in determining what their future representation looks like, but we don’t have authority over it,” McMillen said.