Upon filing a lawsuit with the Quebec Superior Court on March 17, the Concordia Students Union (CSU) officially became the eighth student union in three years to sue the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
The CSU is suing the CFS, the largest student lobby group in Canada, to force the federation to recognize its decision to secede. In March 2010, the CSU held a referendum in which students voted 2,348 to 931 to leave the CFS. The federation has refused to recognize the results of this referendum, and maintains that the CSU is still a member.
“It’s not a choice. CFS forced us to go to court since they are denying us a fundamental right provided by the Charter. We need the court to settle this once and for all,” wrote Heather Lucas, CSU President, in an email to The Daily.
According to Concordia’s newspaper The Link, CSU executives have warned their Council that the court case will likely continue for at least two years, and will cost at least $220,000.
The CFS maintains that the CSU owes the federation $1,033,278.76 in unpaid fees, and refuses to recognize a referendum until the CSU repays its debts. The CSU has refuted these claims.
“We decided to dismiss [the debt] because we have all the paperwork to back our argument [that] we don’t owe them anything,” Amine Dabchy told The Daily last March, while acting as CSU President.
CFS National Chairperson David Molenhuis denied that the federation had violated any bylaws.
“The Federation is defending the bylaws of the organization adopted by members. The Federation maintains that the allegations made are frivolous and without merit,” he wrote in an email to The Daily regarding the suit.
McGill’s Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), one of the other eight unions involved in litigation against the CFS, has been in court for over a year with a similar lawsuit.
PGSS’s case has been ongoing since February 2010, when it asked the courts to require the CFS to set a date for their referendum vote. In March 2010, 86 per cent of PGSS members voted to secede from the federation in a referendum condemned by the CFS. The PGSS is currently in court to force the CFS to recognize the referendum’s results.
“For the moment, the PGSS is still working at making sure that the referendum is being recognized. The case should be inscribed in June 2011, and so the trial in court could go maybe next year in spring 2012,” said Marieve Isabel, who is running acclaimed for PGSS VP External.
Both the PGSS and CSU have accused the CFS of acting undemocratically. Each of the groups is seeking $100,000 in damages.
“We want the courts to condemn the CFS to pay two plaintiffs in the way of punitive damages pursuant to section 349 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the sum of $100,000, because of their violation of the right under article three which provides the freedom to associate,” said Philippe-André Tessier, a lawyer for the CSU, in The Link.
The CSU is currently in the midst of elections. However, if elected, both presidential candidates have promised to continue with litigation against the CFS.
—With files from Jessica Lukawiecki