by Adam Carroll

The Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) is steadily purging any and all material, campaigns or plans made and associated with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), for its long term goal of leaving the CFS.

“I think the direction of this [CUSA] executive is one that ends up creating an atmosphere of hostility and division, the antithesis of progressive thought. The most serious consequence though is that students suffer; they are improperly served by people hellbent on wasting money,” says anti-homophobia/trans-phobia campaigner Arun Smith. To Smith, the sitting executive is set “on demonizing valuable campaigns and resources of which students made use of every single day.”

Smith has been active in promoting the anti-homophobia/trans-phobia campaign at Carleton. The campaign, customizable per university, is designed to help spread the message of ending discrimination and prejudice towards the LGBT community.  This campaign is supported by the Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA), the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), and the administration at Carleton–as well as with support from Canada’s largest public sector union, CUPE. Despite the mainstream credibility and wide-ranging support of such a campaign, CUSA was alone in voting against it.

CUSA’s Vice President Michael De Luca told the Charlatan that the reason for rejecting the anti-homophobia campaign was due to the fact it was “run” by the CFS, despite it being administered by Carleton students. He also claimed that a solely CUSA-run campaign would debut this fall to combat it. Such a campaign remains to be seen.

CUSA Vice President Fatima Hassan detailed in the Charlatan that their problems with the CFS come from “corruption, undemocratic behavior and profiteering on the backs of students,” and that CUSA indeed wanted to leave the CFS.

She claims CUSA’s actions will ultimately cut costs for students, yet the actions of CUSA contradict a cost-saving rationale.

For example, the CFS had student agendas ready for Carleton, yet CUSA decided to spend money to switch manufacturers and reject the already-made agendas from the CFS. They claim switching will save them money, but rejecting the previously made agendas from the CFS does not.

In general, CUSA has been disassociating and purging anything that has to do with the CFS–despite the fact Carleton remains a paying member and CFS materials are already provided for Carleton students. CUSA is denying students the services they are entitled to by virtue of being paying members of the CFS.

In September, CUSA threatened to “write-up” Service Centre employees if they had any material–including clothing–that contained any reference to the CFS. Three-write ups, and you’re fired. Axed materials include an anti-Islamophobia campaign, an anti-sexism campaign, anti-homophobia/trans-phobia campaign and various other paraphernalia that they have yet to replace with a suitable alternative.

There is reason to believe this is part of a longer-term strategy.

Writer Glenn Burley attended the Manning Centre for Democracy’s Conference in Ottawa in March 2012 and attended a Political Activism on Campus panel where a speaker identified as Bruce,  a former Carleton student, boasted that “from 2009 to present his close-knit group of Conservative students had slowly won position after position, eventually putting them in control of all six student-held seats in CUSA, giving them what he called, ‘full control to battle the CFS,’” according to Burley.

Toby Whitfield, the Ontario representative for the CFS, thinks the behavior from CUSA is “unfortunate.” He thinks all students in Canada should work on anti-discrimination campaigns, and when students work together, they’re more successful.

He says during times of rising tuition fees, post-secondary reform and unprecedented personal debt, students should be working together, not fragmenting and in-fighting like we see from CUSA’s executive.

Kelly Black, Carleton’s GSA  president, thinks CUSA’s approach is confrontational and one-sided.

“The actions of CUSA to date, whether they are dealing with the GSA or the CFS, demonstrate that working together is not an option for them, and as far as they’re concerned there is no power in a student movement,” he told the Leveller.

He points to CUSA’s new health plan following their decision to leave the CFS and GSA-backed health plan which CUSA’s VP Finance, Michael De Luca claims is cheaper. Yet, according to an analysis in the Charlatan, the old GSA and new CUSA plan are identically priced at $178 per student.

In addition, the new deal CUSA has now lasts for five years, and the prices are guaranteed only for two years. This means prices could rise, long after the current executive is gone.

The real reason for switching, Black believes, is that the original health provider is associated with the CFS’s Student Health Network.

With its democratic structure, the CFS can be changed internally, however CUSA’s strategy does not try to engage with the organization whose ostensible purpose, flawed as it might be, is to unite students across the country to facilitate progressive change.

This article first appeared in the Leveller newspaper – Vol. 5, No. 2 (Oct./Nov. 2012)