News  Student unions struggle to leave student federation

Member associations sue Canadian Federation of Students

Correction appended February 16, 2014.

After years of legal battles with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), members of Quebec student associations affiliated with the Rassemblement des Associations Étudiantes (RAE) are still awaiting the judgement of November’s four-day trial between the CFS and RAE. The judgement may have important implications for the individual associations’ lawsuits with the CFS.

The CFS was formed in 1981 when two now-defunct organizations, the Association of Student Councils and the National Union of Students Canada, officially merged. The creation of the CFS aimed to provide accessible post-secondary education and to politically represent students nationwide.

Since 2009, 16 student associations across Canada have decided to sever ties with the CFS. McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), the Concordia Student Union (CSU), and the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), tried to cut ties in 2010 after voting in referenda. However, the CFS has refused to recognize the votes.

“Across Canada, students are still trying to leave the CFS because they have seen how CFS uses student money to fund lawsuits in an effort to prevent its own members from leaving and they do not want to see student money wasted this way,” said Jonathan Mooney, Secretary-General of PGSS, in an email to The Daily.

Following the referenda in 2010, the CFS claimed that PGSS, CSU, and GSA remained members, and that they owe it annual dues. Disputes regarding the dues and the membership of these three student organizations are still being settled in lawsuits before the Superior Court of Quebec.

Only two student associations from British Columbia, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS), have successfully withdrawn from the CFS – UVSS after having its referendum vote ratified by CFS, and SFSS after settling with CFS out of court.

According to Mooney, there are multiple reasons for PGSS withdrawing from CFS, “including the fact that CFS has sued its own members several times and does not respect the rights of its members to leave.”

When PGSS, CSU, and GSA tried to leave the CFS in 2010, “the CFS essentially disowned CFS-Quebec and has tried to keep the CFS-Quebec dues for itself,” Mooney stated. The RAE launched a trial against the CFS in 2010, alleging that they were owed these fees.

In response to the RAE’s allegation, “the CFS in return said that [it doesn’t] recognize CFS-Quebec as the provincial component of CFS in Quebec,” said Mathieu Bouchard, the lawyer representing RAE as the plaintiff in the trial.

The trial was held last year from November 18 to 22, with the judgement expected in spring of this year.

According to Mooney, the outcome of the trial between the RAE and CFS will have significant consequences for student associations. CFS is demanding that CSU and GSA pay it $1 million, which CFS alleges the two associations owe due to underpayment in the last decades.

“We don’t believe this will actually happen, but let’s say […] CFS were able to prove that there was some amount of underpayment, even a lot less. So if [the] RAE [and the CFS] trial succeeds, something like half of that money would actually go to RAE instead of CFS,” said Mooney.

As for the implications of the RAE’s possible win in court for other student organizations in Quebec, Mooney said, “It can be very helpful for the movement against CFS if [the RAE is] able to succeed because that’ll just expose, in a very legal and sound way by an expert, exactly what’s happening with CFS.”

“There’s a lot of money at stake, and [it’s about] being able to choose our own destiny, and not being trapped in some organization we don’t want to be part of,” he added.

In an earlier version of this article, the subheader stated that CFS was suing member associations. In fact, PGSS and CSU are suing CFS. The Daily also stated that the UVSS and the SFSS won court cases; in fact, UVSS had its referendum vote ratified by the CFS, and SFSS settled with CFS out of court. The Daily wrote that RAE was formerly CFS-Quebec; in fact, they are separate entities. The Daily regrets the errors.