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Quebec Superior Court to decide on court-ordered PGSS referendum regarding CFS membership

Last Thursday and Friday, the Quebec Superior Court heard an injunction filed by Ge Sa, a graduate student at McGill and internal affairs officer of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), against the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).The trial, presided over by Judge Gérard Dugré, recognized the validity of a petition by members of the PGSS to run a referendum regarding their disaffiliation from the CFS. The case is currently awaiting an official ruling by the Superior Court.

Initiated by Ge Sa in September 2013, the petition expressed the desire to pose a referendum question to the PGSS disaffiliation from the CFS. In accordance to CFS bylaws, the petition surpassed the 20 per cent quorum required to validate a new referendum question, with over 2000 students signing the document. Prior to the trial, however, the CFS had refused to recognize the validity of the petition due to a number of factors.

“The CFS lost the petition in the mail and could not decipher some of the signatures,” Ge Sa said. “[They] were unable to obtain the full list of students from McGill University because the university refuses to share student information in terms of privacy.”

Lucy Watson, representative of CFS Canada, confirmed that the CFS’s National Executive Team would now recognize the petition as valid.

The petition originally stemmed from the CFS’s continued refusal to recognize a PGSS referendum in 2010, during which 85.6 per cent of PGSS students voted to disaffiliate from CFS. However, the question—which was run over the period of four days—was deemed invalid by the CFS, who stated that the length of voting surpassed the mandated two days. As a result, the PGSS has been in a separate litigation battle with the CFS over the past four years regarding the recognition of PGSS’s referendum question to leave the CFS.

“The position of PGSS is and has been for the last couple of years that [the vote] is valid. It should be recognized [and was not a] bylaw violation,” said Jonathan Mooney, PGSS secretary-general from 2012 to 2014.

Sa’s legal team has pressed forward with the trial, aiming for a court-ordered referendum and voting period from Oct. 21 to 24, 2014. A precedent was set by the University of Victoria, which was expelled from CFS-British Columbia after a similar litigation case March 2013. The judge for that case initially recognized the University of Victoria’s referendum, but did not order a referendum period. The CFS refused to hold a referendum following this ruling. The judge then ruled to set a voting period. Sa is trying to avoid a similarly protracted legal battle with the CFS.

“We’re hoping that the judge will order [a referendum], so that the CFS cannot […] avoid having a referendum,” Gesa said. “It has been more than a year since we got the petition ready. It’s about respecting the rights of the people who signed the petition to have a referendum.”

Juan Pinto, the current secretary-general of PGSS, drew clear lines between the student society’s ongoing case against the CFS, and Sa’s litigation regarding the petition, which he is operating as an individual member of PGSS.

“In the case [of PGSS vs. CFS], we argued that the referendum that was held was valid—therefore our [stance] is we left the CFS [in 2010],” Pinto said. “We’re in litigation because the CFS does not recognize that […. A] group of interested students headed by Sa [decided] they wanted to file an injunction [….] So we do coordinate, because we have different issues in common, but it’s two different litigations.”

If Dugré sets a court-ordered referendum which subsequently passes, the focus will shift upon the PGSS case and the $270,000 in membership fees that the CFS has accused PGSS of withholding since the original referendum in 2010. 

“My expectation is that if Ge Sa’s case were successful to end membership, and the other case wasn’t successful, there would be a negotiation about the outstanding fees between 2010 and 2014,” Mooney said. “CFS Quebec ceased to exist in 2010, so the question is: Would they be claiming the fee from an organization that didn’t exist between 2010 and 2014? […] But it’s not a simple question of: ‘Okay, we would owe this much exactly [right away].’” 

Since 2010, PGSS has set aside a Contingency Fund of $100,000 per year, used specifically for the litigation against the CFS. If all charges are resolved and the PGSS is able to formally disaffiliate from the CFS, the money from the contingency und will be be redirected to funding student services.

While no official date has been set, a decision from Dugré is expected to be released by the end of this week.

CFS representatives and legal advisors declined to comment when approached by the Tribune.

A previous version of this article ran on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. The corrected version was updated Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. 

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