The Canadian Federation of Students of Ontario (CFS) “unequivocally supports” and affirms the three York student unions’ right to “autonomy and self-governance.”
“We support the mandate, campaigns, programming and democratic processes that have been established by students, for students that are free from York University administration and government interference,” says the CFS.
“York University’s threats to these unions are a blatant attempt to silence them and prevent them from supporting and advocating for their shared memberships.”
The union represents over 350,000 domestic and international post-secondary college and university students across Ontario. It is part of a larger bilingual national student union, representing 530,000 students from more than 60 universities and colleges across Canada.
The York Federation of Students (YFS), Glendon College Students’ Union (GCSU), and the York University Graduate Students’ Association (YUGSA) are local chapters of the Ontario CFS. YFS notably represents over 50,000 undergraduate students at York.
The CFS confirms they have been in “constant communication” with the three student unions since the controversy began.
The current situation comes after YFS, GCSU, and YUGSA issued a statement of solidarity with Palestine on Oct. 12, which received both support and opposition from York community members, along with a slew of media coverage.
In their initial statement of solidarity, the unions said: “In a strong act of resistance, the Palestinian people tore down and crossed the illegitimate border fence erected by the settler-colonial apartheid state of so-called Israel.”
“These events serve as a reminder that resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary.”
York “unequivocally condemned” the unions’ statement of solidarity and said the statement was perceived as a call to violence and a justification for attacking civilians.
The university said the unions may have breached the regulation regarding student organizations. One of the mentioned reasons for this suspected breach was the unions’ not following the regulatory principles of diversity and equity.
On Oct. 20, York requested the unions to implement several remedial actions, including the resignation of union executives and the repeal of their statement.
Instead, the unions responded with a joint statement of student autonomy, demanding York to “stop their unlawful attack on student voices and repeal the regulation regarding student organizations.”
Because the unions didn’t follow York’s request, the university made an announcement on Nov. 2, stating that a formal process is continuing under the non-compliance portion of the regulation.
York has not released a public timeline of this formal process and states the current proceedings are confidential. The regulation outlines an 11-step process to address the potential breaches.
In an interview with Excalibur, YFS President Ashley D’Souza says the regulation “goes against our democratic rights as an organization, our governing documents, and it totally disregards our autonomy.”
YFS previously participated in several campus-wide protests against the university’s response. And, a new campus group called the Union Solidarity Front has been formed to support the student unions’ cause.
The CFS claims these recent actions from York are neither new nor exclusive to the university: “Many institutions have a long history of attacks on students’ unions and their autonomy, York University included.”
“The student movement has a long history of fighting for change, and the fight against settler-colonialism, in all of its forms, is no different. The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario firmly condemns the actions taken by the York University Administration.”
The CFS adds that York University and the Ontario government are setting a “dangerous and abhorrent” precedent.
The Globe and Mail reported that Jill Dunlop, Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities, met with the presidents of all the publicly funded colleges and universities in Ontario, including York. She advised York University to investigate the three student unions.
On Oct. 13, Dunlop posted a tweet addressing the three student unions and York. She said the unions’ statement was “unacceptable” and that it was “supporting a recognized terrorist organization and promoting and glorifying violence against innocent Israeli civilians.”
Dunlop called on YFS, GCSU, and YUGSA to apologize and rescind their statement while expecting York to hold the unions accountable.
The CFS of Ontario emphasizes that “university and government interference has no place within students’ unions and their autonomy.”