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Grad student sues student federation, seeks referendum

Presiding judge expresses confusion over CFS disassociation procedures

Update: On September 9, Ge Sa informed The Daily that the lawsuit was successful. PGSS will be holding a referendum to decide whether or not it will leave CFS.

On August 28 and 29, the Superior Court of Quebec held a trial regarding the lawsuit of Ge Sa, Internal Affairs Officer of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), against the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The suit was filed in response to CFS’ failure to process a petition submitted by Sa asking to hold a referendum to disassociate PGSS from CFS; if the case is successful, PGSS will be allowed to hold the referendum.

Sa’s suit, filed as an individual and not on behalf of PGSS, comes after a hearing on March 18 where the courts voted to allow Sa’s case to be heard. This occurred after CFS failed to respond to Sa’s petition to hold a referendum to leave CFS; however, the petition was recognized as valid by CFS on August 26, just two days before the trial.

In 2010, PGSS filed a case against CFS after CFS refused to recognize the results of a referendum to leave the organization in 2010. The lawsuit is still in progress, which, last March, prompted Sa to file an individual suit to prevent CFS from collecting membership fees during the duration of PGSS’ lawsuit.

“I believe that the McGill students have spoken [in the 2010 referendum], and CFS has refused to recognize this,” said Sa in an interview with The Daily. “It’s important to reiterate the fact that […] the students still want to have our voices heard, and to make sure that the members of our society still support our court case.”

In the motion they presented at the trial, Sa’s lawyers requested that the court compel CFS to let PGSS present its members with the following referendum question: “Are you in favour of continued membership of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University Inc. in the Canadian Federation of Students?”

“You can’t keep collecting fees from us, and putting us on your website, and denying our rights to be heard.”

François Viau, the lawyer representing CFS, argued that Sa’s case constituted an abuse of power under article 54.1 of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure, which allows for a court to declare that an action or pleading is improper and, as a result, to “impose a sanction on the party concerned.”

Referring back to the case launched by PGSS in 2010, Viau argued that there was a contradiction between these two cases. PGSS’ official stance in its case is that it is no longer a member of CFS, while in Sa’s case, according to Viau, it is assumed that PGSS is still a member and is willing to abide by CFS’ bylaws.

“Can’t have your cake and eat it too,” said Viau during the trial.

However, Sa argued that it is CFS that is trying to have it both ways. “They are saying things, whatever suits them in different situations,” said Sa. “On their website they list us as members because it is good publicity for them.”

“In the first court case with PGSS, I think they are claiming we are still members to get the $300,000 [in unpaid fees] in question. And in my case, [CFS argues that] we are clearly not members, so that they don’t have to give us a referendum. You can’t keep collecting fees from us, and putting us on your website, and denying our rights to be heard,” Sa told The Daily.

Viau further noted that even if a referendum was held, CFS would not have a fair shot at holding an electoral campaign, given that PGSS has been considering CFS to be persona non grata on campus since the 2010 referendum. During her cross-examination, CFS staffer Lucy Watson said that PGSS has not been giving positive visibility to CFS, even though CFS have been trying to contact PGSS members and collaborate with them over various issues.

Watson told The Daily that, as she is not an official CFS spokesperson, she could not answer questions from the press.

Sa emphasized why the opportunity for a disassociation referendum was important. “I, personally, and many other people in PGSS, believe that CFS has no presence in Quebec, and higher education is a provincial matter, and they have not been representing McGill students.”

Gérard Dugré, the presiding judge, expressed during the trial that he was hesitant about making a judgement that could contradict the outcome of the ongoing litigation between PGSS and CFS.

At the end of two days of hearings, Dugré was not able to reach a final verdict and said to the court that he would deliberate over the weekend. However, he did comment on the peculiarity of CFS’ disassociation process. “Shouldn’t you be able to associate and disassociate as easily as possible? If it’s easy to associate, normally, it should be easy to disassociate.”