CUP – Canada’s largest student lobby group will be in Quebec courtrooms twice next week.
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is pursuing legal action against the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec Inc. (CFS-Quebec), alleging that the group is using their name illegally.
At the same time, the Post Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) is seeking legal action against CFS, asking the court to fix a date for a referendum on the society’s continued membership in the national federation. The PGSS was one of more than a dozen schools across Canada to launch a petition last fall to examine the possibility of exiting CFS.
While CFS-Quebec was recognized by the national organization as their Quebec branch until as recently as last summer, a CFS lawyer sent a letter to the executive of CFS-Quebec on September 30, disassociating the organization from recognition as CFS-Quebec and demanding that the group stop using the CFS name.
CFS’s legal action against the Quebec component comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed last month by CFS-Quebec against CFS, seeking over $400,000 in membership fees that the Quebec group says should have been earmarked for Quebec initiatives by the national federation over the last three years.
The September 30 letter accused CFS-Quebec of engaging “in activities which have caused and continue to cause damages to the CFS and are contrary to the goals and objectives of the CFS.”
The letter also stated that since CFS-Quebec is no longer recognized by the national federation, it is no longer entitled to any portion of CFS membership fees. It went on to demand that CFS-Quebec “cease any and all attempts to collect, claim and/or deposit said membership fees from members of the CFS/CFS-Services and any affiliated provincial component.”
But CFS-Quebec executives say that because the group is recognized by the CFS members in the province, they should be recognized.
“At the annual general meeting of the CFS, there was a decision taken, without opposition, by the members from Quebec explicitly to the effect that the CFS-Quebec Inc. is the only legitimate arm of the CFS within Quebec,” said CFS-Quebec secretary-treasurer Andrew Haig.
CFS bylaws require the national federation to transfer one-sixth of its membership fees from each province to the provincial component or to spend that money directly in the province.
According to claims in the lawsuit filed by CFS-Quebec, CFS has done neither for three years.
“It’s unfortunate that we were forced to take those steps,” said Haig. “But six months in, we have no records for what happened to the money that was provided to our organization.”
The four CFS members in Quebec – PGSS, the Dawson Student Union, the Concordia Student Union, and Graduate Students’ Association – allegedly pay over $400,000 combined to the lobby group each year, though that figure is unclear.
The newer case filed by CFS against the Quebec federation attempts to prove that CFS-Quebec has continued to work against the federation, in addition to not complying with the September cease-and-desist letter.
The case’s evidence includes a report from Ladan Mahabadi, the PGSS VP External and a CFS-Quebec board member, submitted to PGSS council. The report states that the PGSS has had a poor relationship with CFS and CFS-Quebec.
It also includes a blog post from CFS-Quebec president Gregory Johansson, written in defence of an unsuccessful motion package to reform the national organization that was presented at the CFS semi-annual meeting in late November.
In early January, Johansson was denied entry to a meeting of the national executive of CFS, despite being ratified as a national executive member at November’s annual general meeting.
In addition to seeking a referendum date, the PGSS action is also asking the court to impose different rules on the referendum than those set out in the CFS bylaws.
“PGSS has a mandate from council to preserve the integrity of the process,” said Daniel Simeone, president of PGSS. He said they want to “ensure there is a fair set of rules that would allow adequate time for voting.”
“Regrettably the situation is before the court at the moment,” said CFS national treasurer Dave Molenhuis. “We hope that these matters are resolved quickly.”