News  Grad students to vote in long-awaited disaffiliation referendum

Strict referendum regulations partially suspended after court challenge

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council endorsed a “no” vote on the upcoming referendum regarding the society’s continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) on January 7, at a special session held to discuss this issue. The PGSS executive, which unanimously endorsed a “no” vote on January 5, brought the motion to Council, where it passed with 44 votes in favour and a single abstention.

The court-ordered referendum, which will be held on January 15 and 16, is the result of a legal battle between PGSS and CFS that began after CFS refused to recognize the result of a disaffiliation referendum held in 2010. A majority “no” vote will end PGSS’ membership in CFS, provided a quorum of 10 per cent is met.

“The process to leave CFS is very difficult,” chair of the “no” committee for the referendum and former PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney said at Council. “We have a chance next week to do it, but we have to meet quorum. […] Graduate students [at the University of Toronto] voted in a CFS referendum in November 2014; there were 16,000 eligible voters, and they missed quorum by seven people.”

CFS requires that the vote be held by paper ballot. Campaign materials, which fall under a set of CFS campaigning regulations, must be approved by a Chief Returning Officer (CRO) from CFS.

“If there is material [distributed] that is not approved, it can disqualify the referendum,” said Mooney.

“Deviating from [the CFS rules] is very dangerous,” PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet told The Daily. “We are trying to check with the CRO every time to see if it’s okay with the CFS whether we can say things or not.”

The document outlining the regulations also states that the CRO “will not approve materials that […] refer to legal or quasi legal action/s before the courts that relate to the Referendum, or to other legal or quasi legal actions.” Mooney told to The Daily that he tried to challenge this regulation at the CFS Appeals Committee, where it was upheld.

The case was then brought to the Superior Court of Quebec, whose decision arrived on January 7 minutes after the Council meeting was adjourned.

The Court ruled that the prohibition to refer to legal action, as well as the prohibition on campaigning in locations operated by PGSS and in locations where alcohol is served, were an abuse of the CRO’s powers and a violation of freedom of expression. The relevant parts of the regulations have thus been suspended for this referendum.

CFS representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Regardless of the Court’s decision, any campaign materials, including Facebook posts, tweets, posters, t-shirts, and verbal statements must still be approved by the CRO before they can be made public, according to “no” committee members who spoke at Council. The CRO will arrive on campus on January 14 to physically oversee the conduct of the referendum.

On January 15, PGSS will also hold a special general meeting where the endorsement motion that was passed at Council will be presented to the general PGSS membership for a vote.