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Canadian Federation of Students loses two court cases in Quebec

McGill Grad Students Head to Referendum on CFS

by Sa GeRassemblement des Associations Étudiantes

In judgements issued on September 5 and 9, 2014, respectively, two separate judges at the Quebec Superior Court ruled against the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). In the first judgement, the court ruled that CFS was not entitled to claim a portion of CFS membership fees which rightly belonged to its former Quebec component. In the second judgement, the court, noting a quasi constitutional right for students to end their association with CFS, ordered the CFS to hold a referendum to permit students at McGill University to vote on whether to leave the CFS.

In the first judgment, court ruled that a portion of membership fees between 2007 and 2010 claimed by CFS was in fact owed to another organization, the Rassemblement des Associations Étudiantes (RAE ­ formerly CFS’s Quebec provincial component CFS­Quebec). The Quebec provincial component of CFS was incorporated in 1998, but CFS argued that it was entitled to keep all dues owed to this component between 2007 and 2010.

The CFS­Quebec has a strange history, which is laid out in detail in the court’s judgement. To take one example, on May 10, 2009, Noah Stewart­Ornstein, who had been elected Deputy Chairperson of the CFS, attempted to dissolve CFS­Quebec by calling a meeting of CFS­Quebec outside the province of Quebec with only seven’ days notice, even though members of CFS­Quebec objected. Soon after, the CFS did not respond to registered letters asking that newly appointed representatives to CFS­Quebec who opposed its dissolution be ratified, refused to allow elections of new CFS­Quebec officers, and refused to pay the lease signed by CFS for the CFS­Quebec office.

After reviewing the long history of CFS­Quebec, Justice Claude Daillere of the Quebec Superior Court ruled on September 5, 2014 that RAE (formerly CFS­Quebec), not CFS, has the right to all of the provincial fees that were paid or due by CFS members in Quebec for all years up to May 14, 2010. Justice Daillere further ruled that RAE has the right to 1/6 of the national fees that were paid or due by Quebec member associations to CFS, minus expenses made for benefit of these associations, for all years up to May 14, 2010.

“RAE is pleased that the court recognized its right to membership dues that CFS was claiming without justification. We are looking forward to returning these fees to member student associations in Quebec,” said RAE Director Jonathan Mooney. In the second case, the CFS asked the court to refuse to order a referendum of postgraduate students at McGill University regarding whether to leave the CFS even though these students had taken all the steps required by CFS’ bylaws to exercise their right to vote.

Justice Gérard Dugré rejected all of CFS’ arguments in the case and wrote that the conclusion sought by CFS was “manifestly unreasonable.” The judge also ordered the CFS to hold a referendum of graduate students at McGill regarding disaffiliation. The judge ruled, “The plaintiff has demonstrated a clear legal and quasi­constitutional right that a referendum take place in accordance with CFS bylaw I. Any delay in holding this referendum clearly causes an irreparable prejudice to the right of the plaintiff to not be affiliated with CFS. This prejudice is not only serious and irreparable but manifestly irreversible.” Justice Dugré concluded by noting, “quasi­constitutional rights of the plaintiff are at stake and the legal and extralegal costs at play come from student fees, which could certainly be used in a more constructive fashion...”

McGill Ph.D student Mr. Ge Sa, plaintiff in the case, said “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.”

For RAE vs. CFS - ­ Jonathan Mooney ( ­ 514 686 4770
For Sa Ge vs. CFS - ­ Mr. Sa Ge ( ­ 514 572 5682
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Brad Evoy is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, blogger, writer, commentator, and sometimes firebrand. He has served as one of the Summer Membership and Admin. Coordinators for the Toronto Media Co-op and in the past has written for various other publications. Meanwhile, as an organizer, he's associated with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG-Toronto) and Scientists for the Right to Know, along with past associations with various student organizations in two provinces.

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