Two students from Quebec City’s Laval University went to Quebec’s superior court on January 23 to file a constitutional challenge against the Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations. The Act outlines the rights and duties of student associations in the province.
The plaintiffs are Laurent Proulx who was a leading member of the pro-tuition green square movement during the student strikes, and Miguael Bergeron. They intend to end what they call the “monopoly on representation” of student societies.
Proulx and Bergeron’s complaint was filed against various aspects of the Act, stating that it violates the freedom of association and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Act indicates that every student in Quebec is automatically a member of the student association of the institution they attend, unless they take the necessary measures to opt out.
Their motion argues that “it is no more justifiable for the State to force students to join any given association than it would be in forcing hospital patients to join a patients’ association.”
In Quebec, only one student association is allowed per faculty and per department. The plaintiffs want students to have other options if they feel their university’s student association does not represent their political views. The plaintiffs’ motion cites examples from the student strikes of last year.
“These associations directly imposed a particular mode of conduct on their members by, for example, blocking access to classrooms. They also indirectly imposed a mode of conduct on their members by using their dues for political purposes,” their motion reads.
SSMU executives were unaware of whether there was a way to opt out of the society. According to SSMU President Josh Redel, no one has recently tried to opt out of SSMU.
Redel was unsure of the effects that the lawsuit would have at McGill.
For him, a scenario in which students were able to completely opt out of SSMU would be “very unfortunate,” since it would significantly weaken the Society.
According to Redel, were two or more student associations to exist at McGill, the funds for each one would not be sufficient to provide for larger events.
“There is no point in having two services that duplicate each other,” he told The Daily.
While SSMU does not advertise a formal process of leaving the union, it does give students the option to opt out of some of their services.
A spokesperson of Confédération des associations d’étudiants et étudiantes de l’Université Laval (CADEUL), Laval University’s student union, explained how students could opt-out.
“[The students] just have to fill out a form with information about opting out before a certain date. […] After some period of time, they will get a full reimbursement of the fees,” the spokesperson told The Daily by phone.
As reported by Radio-Canada on January 23, only a few dozen students used this process, escaping CADEUL’s $13 annual fee. Neither Proulx nor Bergeron have opted out of CADEUL.
Alexandre Meterissian, co-founder of Fondation 1625, the foundation backing the plaintiffs, told The Daily in a phone interview that students should be allowed more choice.
“Many students don’t feel represented by their student associations and they have no time to participate in the assemblies. Different voices on campus could give them more choice. […] If students think they get their money’s worth for contributing [in an association like SSMU], they will.”
Foundation 1625 is also behind the class action lawsuit filed last August against 25 educational institutions for having suspended classes during the Winter 2012 semester.