Quebec Superior Court Justice Gérard Dugré ruled in favour of Ge Sa, a McGill Ph.D. student, last Tuesday on his case against the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an organization that campaigns on the federal level for student rights.Justice Dugré ordered CFS to hold a referendum to allow Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) students to vote on whether to leave the CFS.
Mr. Sa initiated a petition in September 2013, calling for a referendum on whether to continue PGSS membership in the CFS. With over 2,000 signatures, the petition surpassed the 20 per cent quorum required by CFS bylaws. However, the CFS had refused to recognize the validity of the petition, as it claimed the PGSS had not complied with its bylaws in obtaining the signatures.
Justice Dugré rejected the arguments made by the CFS and found the solution sought by the organization to be “manifestly unreasonable.”
“The plaintiff has demonstrated a clear legal and quasi-constitutional right that a referendum took place in accordance with CFS bylaw I,” Justice Dugré said in his judgement document. “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 also manifestly irreversible.”
“We are very pleased with the verdict,” Sa said. “This case will set a precedent for students across Canada who are fighting to disaffiliate from the CFS and wish to exercise their right to freedom of association.”
According to Brent Farrington, internal coordinator of CFS the National Executive will at its next meeting in October discuss proposing dates for the referendum.
“Hopefully, the PGSS is willing to work with us,” Farrington said. “They have a role and responsibility as per our bylaws on what the dates of the vote will be.”
“Knowing the CFS, they might attempt to delay [the referendum] further,” Sa said. “We’re already half a year behind on what was initially scheduled. If they delay it more than six months or so, we will go back to court to make sure our rights are respected.”
“We do not see this as a loss by any means,” Farrington, said.
“We were happy to see that the justice upheld our position that members of the PGSS are in fact members of the CFS and have the democratic right to exercise their vote on whether or not they will continue to be united with students across Canada.”
The PGSS itself is involved in a separate ongoing litigation with the CFS, contesting its membership in the organization based on a referendum held in 2010. The CFS’s refusal to recognize the results of referendum prompted Sa to initiate the petition.
This separate litigation disputing the date of which PGSS ceased to be a member of CFS was considered by Justice Dugré in his judgement, where he advised the court to consider the case on “the facts as they are and not as they might be.”
“At the time of the current judgement, it is without a doubt that PGSS is an association member of the CFS,” the judgement reads. “As indicated by the prosecution, CFS cannot claim that the first referendum is not valid and, in the same breath, affirm that a second referendum cannot be held.”
This court loss for CFS against Sa came soon after its loss to its former Quebec branch on Sept. 5. In his ruling, Quebec Superior Court Judge Claude Dallaire found the Rassemblement des associations étudiantes (RAE), formerly known as CFS-Quebec (CFS-Q), entitled to membership dues collected on behalf of the CFS between 2007 and 2010, as well as one sixth of national fees collected during that period as per CFS bylaws.
“Given that the [CFS-National (CFS-N)] recognized that the CFS-Q only ceased to be the organization’s legitimate provincial wing in May 2010 in the transaction that interests us, and since the CFS-Q was, in fact, continuing to act as such until May 14, 2010, to the knowledge of the CFS-N, the CFS-Q had the right to receive all the fees to which a provincial component of the CFS-N has the right under the latter’s regulations,” Justice Dallaire wrote in his judgement document.
“The at large members of the national executive were very confused by the ruling,” Farrington said. “We will be seeking further clarification on what the impacts and specifics will be.”
The judgment may influence related judicial proceedings scheduled for 2015 involving members of RAE, all of whom have attempted to disaffiliate from the CFS.
RAE is comprised of PGSS, Concordia Student Union (CSU), Concordia Graduate Student Association (CGSA) and the Dawson Student Union (DSU).
“It weakens their case against Concordia. We are very happy our colleagues down there,” Jonathan Mooney, director of RAE, said. “It also means that the money that was paid to the CFS will now reimburse PGSS, CSU, GSA, and the DSU.”
According to Mooney, the RAE board is set to meet in order to determine the amount of money owed.
“Some of that will not be settled until March 2015 when the Concordia case is resolved,” he said. “But some of it is known now and we will be sitting down with the lawyer, make sure we all agree on it, and will approach CFS about getting that money back.”
“The judge made it perfectly vague to try to ensure that the parties work out the details,” Farrington said. “But we don’t believe that RAE has any interest in sitting down with the CFS to do so.”
The CFS has 30 days to appeal the ruling. According to Farrington, the CFS will discuss the issue at the national executive’s next meeting in October.