Commentary | Don’t shoot the messenger

Critiques on CFS shouldn’t devolve into mud slinging

In September, I broke a story about some students at 13 universities across Canada petitioning for their student unions to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the largest student lobby group in Canada. While this news did not directly pertain to undergraduates – since SSMU is no longer a prospective member – it did apply to graduate students at McGill, and was a nationally important story. I also felt it fit The Daily’s Statement of Principles, as the students I mentioned in the story were critical of a multi-million-dollar lobby group, which is important even if the organization espouses left-wing principles that Daily editors like myself might otherwise agree with.

Since then, assorted pro-CFS types have been throwing my name around, accusing me, among other things, of manufacturing a crisis, of being a Conservative and a poor writer who would have failed in journalism school. While there’s nothing I can really say about that last one, I want to set the record straight from my end – because let’s face it, when a group of politically motivated students chooses to take down journalists rather than focus energy on constructively addressing actual grievances (however much you disagree with them), that’s a serious problem.

I don’t deny that there were issues with the article. A fairly evenhanded comment on a blog said my article was a bit hyperbolic, because I suggested the petition movement to leave CFS was massive – I concede that point. Only movements at seven of the 13 schools were being led by the student union executives. That fuck-up did discredit the impartiality of my story, but it didn’t mean that the story was false. The same story ran in the Link, the Peak, and the Gauntlet, with stories of individual petitions (with varying degrees of success) in the Eye Opener, the Charlatan, the Ontarian, the Univesity of Western Ontario’s Gazette, the Martlet, and the Concordian. There were also posts on Maclean’s oncampus blog who seemed to endorse the story. Similarly, just because some of the petitioners were in the minority doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reported on. They’re critical of a multi-million-dollar industry, and that’s a news story.

How this whole debacle makes me a Conservative, I’m not sure. A poor writer, maybe. A liar, definitely not. Getting my name thrown around by people who don’t even bother to read my articles – they might find out that I am, in fact, not a clandestine Conservative – is less annoying than how juvenile the CFS debate seems to be. The Internet is ablaze with blogs and opinion pieces on either side of the debate, but as Maclean’s blogger Robyn Urback points out, none of them actually address how to improve the CFS. Instead, they shout and point fingers, seeking to discredit the writer of any piece they don’t immediately agree with.

From some of the pieces I’ve read, I personally think the burden is on pro-CFS writers to respond constructively. The Daily’s Statement of Principles, which mandates that writers analyze power relations, makes me cast an inherently critical eye at any multimillion dollar lobby group, no matter its politics. CFS seems to suffer from the problems of a typical bureaucracy; even the United Nations needs more transparency and accountability, and its members are upfront about it. The fact that CFS makes it so difficult for its members to leave, has an overzealous team of lawyers, and is slow to reveal its financial statements distracts from the good work it might do. The same thing goes for its critics and champions. When you sling mud at someone you agree with – much less journalists for mistakes that could have been settled with a simple and polite erratum – you undermine your points. Call me naïve, but both sides should take into account what students at their schools are saying, even if they’re in the minority, and bring their views to the upcoming CFS annual general meeting.

Erin Hale is The Daily’s coordinating News editor. She’s a U3 Philosophy and IDS student. Tell her she’s a crypto-fascist at erin.hale@mail.mcgill.ca.


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