GSA members vote to hold CFS fees in trust

Graduate students at the University of Manitoba voted to hold their fees to the Canadian Federation of Students’ national and Manitoba offices in trust, while the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) continues to investigate issues surrounding their application for membership with CFS-MB.

The decision stems from documents found by GSA research assistant Liz Gonsalves within UMGSA archives, housed at CFS-MB offices.

Approximately 50 GSA representatives and graduate students were in attendance during the GSA 2011-2012 Annual General Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2 to vote on three separate motions stemming from Gonsalves’s findings.

The motions included one to continue Gonsalves’s employment in investigating the relationship between UMGSA and CFS, to hold in trust CFS fees collected until their membership status is either confirmed or denied and to request the U of M Board of Governors cease collection of CFS fees on GSA’s behalf until their membership is either confirmed or denied.

A preliminary report on her findings, “What is the relationship between CFS and UMGSA? What is the relationship between CFS-MB and UMGSA?” explains that there were several documents found within UMGSA archives “disputing membership status of UMGSA immediately following the alleged ratification of said membership at a national meeting of CFS and continuing through most of that term.”

The report stated that there is some documentation that indicates it was then-treasurer Vinod Varadharajan who signed the GSA’s application for membership of CFS-MB in 2001, and that there is some confusion as to whether or not he had the authority to sign and enter contracts on behalf of the GSA.

Adam Awad, deputy chairperson of CFS National, was also present at the meeting. Awad told members that he was visiting Manitoba as part of the National Day of Action and to meet with CFS-MB locals, and that he decided to attend the meeting as it pertained to CFS’ relationship with the GSA.

“I’m not necessarily interested in participating in any sort of debate . . . but if folks do have questions, I would certainly be happy to be able to answer them,” he said.

Students were divided on whether or not to allow Awad to stay, some arguing that it was a democratic decision, other arguing that it would raise a conflict of interest were Awad to stay, considering the nature of the motions presented.

A motion to allow Awad to stay for the duration of the AGM was defeated, and Awad was asked to leave.

During the meeting, Gonsalves presented a video of the UMGSA archives, taken in the CFS-MB office.

The video shows an unsigned letter from then GSA president Amanda Jones located within a folder titled “UMGSA referendum 2001/01 material ‘yes’,” showing support of their application for membership of CFS-MB, with GSA letterhead taped onto the top of the document.

The video goes on to show another folder, titled “Local 96 autonomy,” with a letter of application for full membership of the Canadian Federation of Students signed by Varadharajan and dated May 5, 2001.

The video also featured a letter with the same content and date as the letter of application signed by Varaharajan, but that is on behalf of Amanda Jones, then-president of GSA.

Gonsalves explained that it still needs to be investigated whether GSA are members or ever became members of CFS, CFS-MB, and CFS services.

“I’m not saying we are, I’m not saying we aren’t, there’s way too much information right now. There’s a lot of conflicting information, and there’s a great deal of redundancy, so it takes a lot of reading,” she said.

“[ . . . ] Obviously from what you’ve seen, there are some questionable activities, and more information needs to be observed.”

According to the GSA’s 2011 operating budget the students’ association paid $26,000 to the CFS National office, and $17,500 to the CFS-Manitoba office.

As a result of the decision to hold in trust the CFS fees collected, Nawrot explained that GSA members would have to not make use of CFS services, which include the ISIC cards, posters and buttons and discounts off of Microsoft products and Super 8 motels.

Nawrot argued that by using these services, the GSA would be confirming that they are members.

Marakary Bayo, chairperson of CFS-MB, said that GSA is an important member of CFS-MB and their provincial executive, and that they “will continue to do the work that is guided by our provincial members and their membership.

“This includes working with GSA executives to provide them the information they need,” he said.

A provincial executive meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 24.

“We will have the opportunity to discuss this issue with our members, including representatives from the GSA,” Bayo said.

When asked about the GSA’s decision to hold in trust fees collected by CFS and CFS-MB, Bayo explained that the fees CFS-MB receives from its members “allow [CFS-MB] to provide for our students by way of services, advocacy, campaigns, and protecting their rights.

“A decision to withhold membership fees will make it harder for us at the provincial level to fulfill these duties,” he said.

Bayo went on to say that he was not sure why the documents shown in Gonsalves’s video were present in the provincial office, but that this issue will be discussed at the next provincial executive meeting.

“I personally agree that those documents are concerning,” he said.