Canadian Federation of Students

Canadian Federation of Students
Canadian Federation of Students
Fédération canadienne des étudiantes et étudiants
Canadian Federation of Students' Logo
Founded 1981
Members 500,000 (est.)
Country Canada
Key people Roxanne Dubois (Chairperson)
Office location Ottawa, Ontario

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest student organization in Canada. Founded in 1981, the stated goal of the CFS is to work at the federal level for high quality, accessible post-secondary education.[1]



The name "Canadian Federation of Students" is generally used to designate three legally distinct organizations: the national CFS, one of the provincial components of the CFS, or CFS-Services.

CFS and CFS-Services share the same bylaws[2] and decision-making structures. These structures include biannual general meetings, where every member students' union receives one vote regardless of its local membership, and an executive,[3] which includes representatives of each provincial affiliate. In provinces where a significant number of students' unions are members of the CFS, the affiliated component (e.g. CFS-BC, CFS-Ontario) has its own general meetings and executive, the latter being formed by representatives of the local students' unions.[4] In October 2009 CFS-Quebec ceased to operate as a recognized provincial affiliate of the CFS.[5]


The CFS was officially formed on October 18, 1981, from the merger of two national organizations - the National Union of Students in Canada and the Association of Student Councils - and student federations from five Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan). The goal of the merger was to create a united student movement in Canada that could provide student-oriented services and political representation at the federal and provincial levels of government. Part of the impetus to organize came from the federal government's announcement of $2 billion of cuts from Established Program Financing (including cuts to federal transfer payments for health and education).

Founding conference

The founding conference was held at Carleton University between October 14–19, 1981. Mike McNeil was elected as the organization's first Chairperson, along with Mike Walker (Treasurer), former NUS treasurer Kirk Falconer (International Affairs Commissioner), Kathie Cram (Women's Commissioner), Brian Robinson (Graduate Student Representative), Ben Freedman (Member at Large), and Leslie Neilson (Member at Large).[6] The Federation's bylaws and constitution were finalized and over 50 motions were passed during the plenary. After hearing speeches by Salvadoran and Chilean students, delegates passed motions condemning human rights violations and anti-student policies in those countries.[7]

A campaign strategy was also launched to oppose the federal government's planned cut to Established Program Financing (EPF). The slogan for the campaign was "Access not axe us" and it called for an establishment of an all-grant system and a public inquiry into the future of post-secondary education.[6] The campaign also called for alliance building with community groups and public sector workers to gain support and fight against cutbacks to social programs. The campaign was named after a research report of the same name, by Bruce Tate. The report focused on effects of the Government of Canada's cutback to education and highlighted issues such as access and tuition fee levels.[8]

The conference ended with a student presence in Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons, a meeting with Secretary of State Gerald Regan, and a one-on-one debate between Chairperson Mike McNeil and Member of Parliament John Evans (parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Allan MacEachern) in the Snake Lounge at Carleton University.[9] Delegates attending Question Period were denied entry by security guards.[10] Mike McNeil and delegates were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting with Gerald Regan.[11]

Evolution of membership


In 1992, six students' unions decertified from the CFS to create the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, due in part to CFS' lobbying on social issues.[12]

The CFS reached a membership of 440,000 students from 65 member students' unions in 1993-1994. In the following year, many students' unions organized votes to decertify from the CFS. For example, the executive of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) argued that the CFS's stance for the abolition of tuition fees was unrealistic, and criticized the CFS' involvement in social justice issues. The chairperson of the CFS at the time, a former SFUO president, argued that broader economic issues such as free trade have an impact on public post-secondary education.[13] Executive members from the SFUO, the Carleton University Students' Union and the Ryerson Students' Union signed a letter stating that these criticisms of the CFS had motivated students' unions from 20 universities to found the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.[14]

Overall, 20 membership votes were held in 1994-1995, with the net result that 59 member students' unions formed the CFS in September 1996, the latest being the York University Graduate Students' Association (Local 84).[15][16]


Between 1995 and 2007, over twenty students' unions joined the CFS, including many graduate students' associations and part-time students' associations.[17]

Several large undergraduate students' associations voted to certify during the same period. In 2002, the University of Toronto Students' Administrative Council, which had never been part of a national students' union before, voted to join the CFS.[18] At the November 2005 Annual General Meeting of the Federation, the positive result of certification votes at both University of Manitoba Students' Union and the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union were ratified. The latter vote result was challenged by former USSU director, and in 2007, the courts ruled the vote to be of no force or effect. The CFS website continues to list the USSU as Local 17.[19] In October 2007, USSU voted to keep prospective membership in the CFS and hold a referendum in the next two years;[20] however, in September 2009 the USSU voted to rescind that motion and claims that its certification is void.[21]


In March 2008, students at four campuses (Cape Breton University, Simon Fraser University, Kwantlen University-College, and Graduate students at University of Victoria) held votes to decertify with the CFS. The negative media coverage of the CFS was one of the reasons listed by the Kwantlen Student Association representatives for calling the decertification votes. Members at CBU, the SFU and the UVic (graduate students) voted to decertify. CFS representatives did not participate in the Cape Breton referendum, noting that the CBUSU failed to give proper notice. Fellow CFS members from other campuses participated in the Simon Fraser decertification vote, but then national chairperson Amanda Aziz stated that problems with the voting process could result in the outcome not being recognized by the CFS. The UVGSS result was not contested by the CFS.[22] The Canadian Federation of Students petitioned the BC Supreme Court to postpone the Kwantlen referendum after Kwantlen Students Association representatives hired Schiffner Consultants to run the decertification vote (contrary to CFS bylaws but in accordance with KSA standard operating procedures).[23] Then-KSA chairperson Laura Anderson claimed that the Federation was attempting to stall the vote, but the court granted the CFS the injunction and the decertification vote was rescheduled for April 2008.[24] Three weeks after the referenda at SFU and UVic (graduate students), Kwantlen students voted to remain members of the CFS.[25]

In the fall of 2008, the largest bilingual student association in Canada, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, re-joined the CFS.[26]


In October 2009 students at Carleton, Guelph, and Concordia organized a decertification drive, resulting in petitions meeting the threshold necessary to initiate decertification votes.[27][28] Students at the University of Victoria Students' Society, and the Graduate Student Association at the University of Calgary collected enough signatures to initiate a decertification vote.[29][30]


In the spring of 2010, undergraduate students at the University of Guelph and the Alberta College of Art and Design and graduate students at the University of Calgary and McGill University attempted to hold decertification votes. Only the Alberta College of Art and Design vote followed the CFS bylaws for decertification. Several irregularities in the conduct of the students' unions at McGill and Calgary were citied by the CFS as reasons for invalidating the decertification votes.[31][32]


In March 2011, undergraduate students at the University of Victoria voted to decertify from the CFS.

Membership Disputes

Concordia University

The CFS is a defendant in a suit launched by the Concordia Students' Union seeking recognition of a decertification vote in 2011. [33] [34] [35] The National Executive refused to grant a decertification vote before outstanding membership fees were remitted. Both the undergraduate and graduate students' unions this claim[citation needed].

Simon Fraser University

The CFS is currently the defendant in a case brought by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) at Simon Fraser University over the validity of a decertification vote in March 2008. After a summary trial was rejected, the judge ruled that the SFSS had the option of holding another vote or continuing to resolve the legality of the disputed decertification through a trial. The judge urged both parties to consider settling the matter out of court before spending large amounts of money on a full length trial.[36][37] A month long trial for the case is now scheduled for January 2012.

University of Guelph

The Central Student Association representing undergraduate University of Guelph students submitted an injunction on February 16, 2010 against the CFS and its affiliates [38] for denying the student association a decertification vote as a result of a dispute over the validity of a petition required to initiate decertification.[39]

Without providing reasons for judgement, Justice O'Connor of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered that a decertification vote be conducted and administrated by a referendum oversight committee (ROC) based on CFS bylaws (consisting of two representatives selected by the CFS and two representatives selected by the student association). Justice O'Connor modified the committee by appointing former Ontario Superior Court Justice James Chadwick as a fifth member of the committee to act as an independent third party to break deadlocks should the two parties disagree on administration of the vote.[40]

The court-ordered decertification vote was conducted online in early April 2010.[41] Guelph students allegedly voted 73.5% in favour of decertification in an online poll conducted by the university adminstration. [42] The court decision and decertification vote were upheld by the court in an appeal by the CFS.[43][44]

University of Victoria

The University of Victoria Students' Society (UVSS) representing undergraduate University of Victoria students submitted legal action against the CFS in November 2010 to seek a vote on decertification. The dispute centered around a petition submitted by UVic student Jose Barrios in the Fall of 2009 that had the required 10% of signatures needed to initiate decertification. In Spring 2010, the CFS National Executive rejected this petition because hundreds of students signed a second petition calling for their names to be removed from Barrios decertification petition list. In November 2010, Barrios initiated legal action against the CFS.

Mr. Justice Malcolm D. Macaulay of the Supreme Court of British Columbia heard oral arguments from both sides on January 6th and 7th, 2011. On February 1st 2011, Justice Macaulay ruled that the use of a 'counterpetition' to nullify the original petition 'must fail' and ordered that the process to hold a referendum on continued membership must move forward.[45] On the applicability of the second 'counterpetition', Justice Macaulay wrote: “The national executive of the CFS invoked a process that was not contemplated by the bylaws in effect at the time and, as a result, applied an irrelevant consideration in determining that the petition was not in order. The adoption of a process outside the bylaws amounted to an excess of jurisdiction.”[46]

The CFS refused to grant a decertification vote until the UVSS paid $100,000+ in outstanding membership dues. The UVSS rejected the claim that it owed money [47] and took the CFS to court on February 17th.[48] The UVSS argued that by bringing up this issue so late, the CFS was making an intentional move to delay a vote from occurring before the end of the 2010-2011 academic year.[48] Justice Macaulay ignored the bylaws and ruled that the vote should take place regardless of outstanding dues. In March 2011 UVic undergraduate students to decertify.[49]

Legal Cases (Advocacy)

Student loan bankruptcy

In 1999 the CFS challenged the legality of the student loan bankruptcy prohibition in the Superior Court of Canada.[50]

Translink and Free Speech

The legally separate but closely related affiliate, the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia (CFS-BC), in participation with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and British Columbia Teachers' Federation, won a case against Translink for refusing to put CFS-BC Vote Education advertising on buses that Translink deemed to be partisan advertising during an election. The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it ruled that Translink's actions violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in doing so, the Court set the precedent that “arms-length” government agencies such as Translink do come under Charter scrutiny.[51][52]

Government relations

A large part of the CFS' mandate is to lobby the federal government from its national office in Ottawa. Over the years, CFS representatives have testified to dozens of House of Commons committees, including the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Humans Resources Development and Persons with Disabilities (student loans).[53] In 2009, the CFS national chairperson was invited to deliver a workshop on lobbying policy-makers at a conference hosted by the Federated Press.[54]

In addition to the ongoing testimonies and meetings, the CFS holds an annual Lobby Week that brings together dozens of students from across Canada to meet with their local Members of Parliament and Senators. In 2010, over 175 meetings were held to lobby for more affordable post-secondary education.[55]

Current political positions

Social Issues

In 2004, the CFS joined the coalition Canadians for Equal Marriage.[56]

Current campaigns

Tuition freezes/cuts

The CFS actively lobbies on tuition-related issues, including holding rallies and national "days of action" to address such issues as tuition freezes and reductions in student loans. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the only province where all public college and university students' are members of the CFS, students pay the second-lowest average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada.[57] There, tuition fees were reduced by 25% in the 1990s and have remained frozen. The current Progressive Conservative government has pledged to keep the freeze in place until the end of their mandate, and recently eliminated the interest on the provincial portion of student loans.[58]

In British Columbia, the CFS lobbied the former New Democratic Party (NDP) government to introduce tuition fee freezes and reductions.[59]

Rock the Vote

The CFS has also been involved with attempting to increase turnout (particularly among students and young people) in elections. For example, in 2005 CFS-British Columbia (the provincial chapter of the CFS), the Langara Students' Union and the Corus Entertainment owned radio station C-FOX led a "non-partisan" campaign registering young voters in BC called Rock the Vote BC, based on the Rock the Vote campaign drives used by the Republican and Democratic parties in the 2004 US election to register young voters. Elections BC did not endorse the initiative because of concerns of partisanship.[60]

The CFS was one of several groups admonished by the Commissioner of Canada Elections in October 2002 for having failed to submit an elections advertising report by the established deadline. The Commissioner notes that the report was filed by CFS in May 2002.[61]

Aboriginal student issues

The National Aboriginal Caucus is the mechanism with the CFS by which Aboriginal students can organize campaigns. The Caucus has its own budget and runs campaigns such as Where's the Justice for Aboriginal Peoples.[62]

Graduate student issues

The Canadian Federation of Students is the only student organization in Canada with a distinct graduate caucus that elects its own directors and operates with its own budget. Known as the National Graduate Caucus (NGC), 60,000 graduate students at 31 campuses across Canada currently comprise the NGC.[63]

Commercialization of research

The NGC campaigns to oppose commercialization of university research because its research shows that pressures from industry partners can threaten academic freedom and the public interest.[64] It points to cases such as those of Nancy Olivieri and David Healy as examples of commercialization run amok.[65]

Whistleblowers campaign

In 2006 the NGC began working with Christopher Radziminski, alumnus from the University of Toronto, to support his battle with the University of Toronto and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) over research conducted with ERCO Worldwide. The former student alleges that a drinking water experiment in Wiarton, Ontario was not accurately reported in scholarly journals, posing a serious health risk to Canadians.[66] The NGC is supporting a judicial review of NSERC's decision not to press for an investigation at the University of Toronto.[67]

Post-residency fees

The NGC has an active campaign to reduce fees charged to graduate students after their residency period. Graduate student unions affiliated to the NGC urge graduate students to sign pledges that they will not make alumni donations until their university reduces post-residency fees.

Copyright renewal

The NGC has been lobbying the federal government in partnership with several organizations over current reform of the Canadian Copyright Act. This involves a letter writing campaign to MPs and participation in developing the Creative Commons project.[68]

Research funding

The NGC advocates for increased graduate student funding in the form of scholarships and training programmes.


The Canadian Federation of Students-Services (CFS-Services) is a legally separate branch of the Federation, founded in the early 1980s as the successor organization to the Association of Students' Councils Canada (AOSC). Services made available to individual student members or member students' unions of the CFS include:[69]

  • Travel CUTS and the International Student Identity Card (see below);
  • the StudentSaver Discount Card;
  • the Student Work Abroad Program (SWAP);
  • the National Student Health Network (NSHN), a non-profit health and dental benefits buying consortium;
  • a handbook and dayplanner producing service, which aims to reduce the cost per handbook to the individual students' unions, through economies of scale;
  • Website Service, a comprehensive web authoring solution for students' unions that allows them to easily publish and maintain database driven websites.

Travel CUTS

Travel CUTS (Canadian Universities Travel Service) is a travel agency that was majority-owned and operated by CFS-Services (CFS-S), which operates in Canada and the United States. It has since been sold to Merit Travel Group.[70]

As a member of the International Student Travel Confederation, Travel CUTS is the Canadian issuing agent for the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), an internationally recognized student identification that also provides access to discounts on travel. Services at Travel CUTS are not restricted to members of the CFS, but full members can obtain an ISIC at no charge. The ISIC is considered[by whom?] to be the most direct financial benefit associated with CFS membership.[71]

In 1996, the University Students' Council at the University of Western Ontario initiated a lawsuit against CFS-Services, to be later joined by three other student societies (Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia, Queen's Alma Mater Society and University of Alberta Students' Union). The plaintiffs "alleged the CFS-Services illegally transferred assets from the AOSC, including Travel CUTS, to itself at a 1987 meeting".[72] A settlement was reached in 2006 through which the plaintiffs acquired 24 per cent of Travel CUTS and two seats on its board of directors.[73]


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  2. ^ "Bylaws" (PDF). Canadian Federation of Students. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
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  4. ^ "CFS-Ontario contacts". Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Nancy Boyle, "CFS: Working together for change" The Charlatan, October 22, 1981.
  7. ^ Ben Schaub "International policy workshop focuses on human rights", The Charlatan, October 22, 1981
  8. ^ Bob Cox, "Access not axe us" The Charlatan, October 22, 1981
  9. ^ Susan Sherring, "Evans spars with hostile crowd of students", The Charlatan, October 22, 1981
  10. ^ Susan Sherring, "Students not welcome to sit in House of Commons" The Charlatan, October 22, 1981
  11. ^ "CFS unites Student Voice" The Ubyssey, October 22, 1981
  12. ^ Carol Whynot (May 17, 1995). "Rival student organizations: CFS and OUSA". University of Waterloo Gazette.,%20May%2017,%201995/Rival%20student%20organizations:%20CFS%20and%20OUSA. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  13. ^ Charles-Henri Warren, "FÉÉUO vs. FCÉÉ", La Rotonde, November 21, 1994
  14. ^ Jean-François Venne et al., "Pour une nouvelle alliance étudiante canadienne", La Rotonde, January 16, 1995
  15. ^ John Besley (May 29, 1995). "CFS continues to fight pull-out referenda". The Peak. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  16. ^ Samer Muscati (September 4, 1996). "CFS and CASA butt heads over students". The Peak. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
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  18. ^ Erica Simpson (February 5, 2002). "SAC joins Canadian Federation of Students". The Strand. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  19. ^ staff (August 28, 2007). "Canadian Federation of Students loses appeal and U of S membership — Precedent-setting decision may affect McGill's upcoming membership referendum". 
  20. ^ USSU (October 11, 2007). "University Students' Council Minutes" (PDF). 
  21. ^ USSU (September 17, 2009). "University Students' Council Minutes" (PDF). 
  22. ^ Erin Millar (2008-04-11). "Simon Fraser, Victoria and Cape Breton vote to leave the CFS". Macleans OnCampus. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  23. ^ "David Karp "CFS goes to BC Supreme Court to delay Kwantlen referendum"". The Gateway. March 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  24. ^ Laura Anderson, "MEDIA RELEASE // Canadian Federation of Students files BC Supreme Court Petition to halt Student Referendum" Kwantlen Student Association's 'Defederation' Campaign, <>
  25. ^ Erin Millar (2008-04-11). "Kwantlen votes to stay in the CFS". Macleans OnCampus. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  26. ^ Samya Kullab (2008-09-27). "Another one rides the CFS bus". The Varsity. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
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  58. ^ The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (2009-03-26). "Newfoundland and Labrador Budget 2009". Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  59. ^ Scott Newman. The (CFS)-Files. The Peak, Simon Fraser University's Student Newspaper. Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  60. ^ Megan Stewart. Political, not partisan, says Rock the Vote. Martlett — University of Victoria's independent newspaper. Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  61. ^ "House of Commons—Private Bills". Canada Gazette Part I 136 (43). 2002-10-26. 
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  63. ^ National Graduate Caucus, Canadian Federation of Students. Accessed July 27, 2008:<>
  64. ^ CFS - National Graduate Caucus
  65. ^ Alex Kazia, Naushad Ali Husein, Jade Colbert, "Welcome to your corporate campus," The Varsity, Accessed July 27, 2008: <>
  66. ^ Feds draw on study of controversial chemical for new drinking water guidelines
  67. ^ CFS - Media
  68. ^ "Canadian Federation of Student on Copyright Reform", The Creator's Copyright Coalition, April 29, 2008 <
  69. ^ CFS - Services
  70. ^ Travel CUTS :: About Us
  71. ^ "Report concerning the Canadian Federation of Students - Benefits of membership" (PDF). Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. July 22, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-02. [dead link]
  72. ^ Smusiak, Cara (2006-03-03). "Travel CUTS lawsuit settled". Queens Journal (Queens University). Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  73. ^ Shearon, Kimberley (2006-03-03). "Travel Cuts suit settled". The Charlatan. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 

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