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Quebec associations, graduate student win cases against student federation

CFS mandated to hold disaffiliation referendum for McGill grad students

Updated September 10, 2014 with comment from CFS.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) lost two court cases against the Rassemblement des associations étudiantes (RAE) and McGill PhD student Ge Sa on September 5 and 9 respectively. The latter decision mandates CFS to hold a referendum on whether or not Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) members should remain members of CFS – this comes more than four years after PGSS’s first disaffiliation attempt in 2010.

After CFS refused to acknowledge a PGSS referendum that saw the majority of students vote to leave the organization in 2010, PGSS sued CFS, asking that CFS recognize the results of the referendum. With the case still ongoing four years later, McGill graduate students struggled to get CFS to acknowledge a petition that had the signatures of over 20 per cent of PGSS members earlier in 2014. The petition requested another disassociation referendum for PGSS.

With the petition still unrecognized, Sa successfully stood before the Court on March 18 to request another case against CFS on behalf of individual McGill graduate students rather than PGSS as such, asking the court to schedule a referendum on decertification. CFS did not acknowledge the petition until August 26 of this year, a mere two days before Sa’s case went to trial on August 28.

Justice Gérard Dugré, who presided over the case, ruled in Sa’s favour, arguing that CFS had no right to refuse to hold a disaffiliation referendum, and mandating CFS to hold a referendum for PGSS members on whether they wish to remain members of CFS.

In reaction to the decision, Sa said in a press release, “This judgement sets a precedent for all Canadian students who believe in freedom of association. We thank the court for recognizing the importance of the voice of students, and in upholding the rights of students to not be held hostage by the CFS.”

Dugré, who, during the trial, had noted how much more difficult it was to leave CFS than it was to join it, said in the decision, “Any delay in holding this referendum clearly causes an irreparable prejudice to the right of the plaintiff to not be affiliated with CFS.”

CFS, however, did not see the judgement as a loss. “As part of [the judge’s] ruling, he says that the members have the right to decide on their affiliation to the organization. We could not agree with that more. It was great to see that the Justice also recognized that they’re members because the PGSS has been taking his stance since 2009 that they aren’t members of the [CFS],” CFS staffer Brent Farrington told The Daily.

The other judgement, related to the RAE and delivered four days earlier by Justice Claude Dallaire, ends a five-year legal battle over fees paid by CFS member associations in Quebec between 2007 and 2010.

Following a reorganization in 2007, CFS established a new provincial wing in Quebec, replacing the previously recognized provincial chapter known as CFS-Quebec (CFS-Q), and began collecting fees that were previously paid to CFS-Q. Yet CFS-Q continued to operate, and became RAE after a formal disaffiliation from CFS in May 2010. Alleging that CFS had “essentially disowned” CFS-Q and was therefore non-operational in the province, RAE filed a case against CFS on the grounds that it should be receiving the fees that were being paid to CFS.

The court sided with RAE, declaring CFS-Q to be the legitimate provincial CFS chapter for the period between 2007 and 2010. This judgement has major financial implications, as it entails that RAE was in fact entitled to all provincial membership fees and one sixth of national fees due or paid by Quebec members until May 14, 2010.

In a press release, RAE Director Jonathan Mooney said that RAE is “looking forward to returning these fees to member student associations in Quebec.”

Mooney told The Daily that exact figures for the fees in question will be determined in March 2015 after Concordia student unions’ court cases are heard, as the unions are disputing the amount of fees CFS alleges that they owe.