UMSU continues to be at odds with federation

Failed plebiscites, harassment claims and more

As UMSU president Jakob Sanderson and the board of governors prepare for an emergency vote on whether or not to affirm membership with the Canadian Federation of Students, the current executive has become part of a long history of strife between UMSU and the federation.

Just eight months ago, in a non-binding plebiscite that wrapped up in February, U of M students voted overwhelmingly in support of remaining with the Canadian Federation of Students.

Only 35 per cent of the more than 3,800 students who cast ballots voted to leave the national organization. More than 63 per cent supported remaining.

The vote came after UMSU passed an emergency motion in 2016 demanding the federation extend an apology to UMSU president Tanjit Nagra, who claimed she had been verbally harassed during the November 2016 annual general meeting.

The federation responded with a two-page letter detailing its anti-harassment strategy that did not include an apology.

Sanderson said support for remaining with the federation was a matter of lack of education on the relationship being provided to students, and that before he was involved as an UMSU executive, he was in support of staying.

“I, myself, wasn’t at all convinced that we should leave the Canadian Federation of Students,” he said.

“And I thought that either way, students weren’t being given enough information about it at that point.”

Expressing support for the federation before taking over the presidency of the students’ union is also common.

When Nagra was running with the UMSU For You slate in 2016, she spoke positively of the federation and said she’d “like to solve whatever issue CFS has with UMSU and hopefully move on and prosper together,” while admonishing prior UMSU executives for their handling of issues with the federation.

Sanderson himself voted as a proxy against holding the plebiscite when it was first brought to UMSU council in November 2017.

“I didn’t think that the approach was one that was proper,” he said.

“I didn’t think it was an approach where we were giving students enough education,” he added.“I didn’t like the approach of the plebiscite.”

The federation and the student union have been in a tug-of-war for several years.

In September 2013, UMSU executives tore out all pages promoting the Canadian Federation of Students from the day timer agendas provided on campus.

Then-president Al Turnbull said the decision was a response to a deal that the federation had locked UMSU into which forced the union to pay full price for the agendas, even after they had found a cheaper quote elsewhere.

Canadian Federation of Students internal co-ordinator Brent Farrington said the contract was only locked because production of agendas was already underway.

In January 2015, it was reported that UMSU was refusing to pay around $640,000 in student fees, which included fees owed to the federation as early as 2013.

Turnbull said the fees had not been paid because the federation had not responded to requests to give UMSU ownership of their website’s domain name.

The dispute was not resolved until July 2016, when UMSU agreed to pay the federation $993,562.18 in provincial and national fees.