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PGSS member takes CFS to court over disassociation referendum

McGill graduate student Ge Sa has formally requested that the Quebec Superior Court order the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to allow the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) to vote on leaving the CFS.

PGSS Councillor Sa appeared before the Court on March 18. The final decision on the case will be made after a two-day trial on Aug. 28 and 29.

This is the second attempt by PGSS to leave the CFS through a referendum. A previous attempt in 2010 was not recognized by the federation due to a disagreement about the length of the voting period. The case is also currently in court, as the CFS alleges that PGSS owes them approximately $270,000 in membership fees since the 2010 referendum.

On Oct. 11, Sa mailed a petition to the CFS with more than 2,000 signatures requesting permission to hold another referendum to leave the federation. A CFS representative acknowledged receiving  the petition on Oct. 29.

According to its bylaws, the CFS had 90 days to determine whether the petition was in order. When he did not receive a response in that timeframe, Sa filed court proceedings with the Quebec Superior Court to ensure that PGSS could schedule a referendum to leave the organization.

PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney explained that although there is no verdict currently, the trial in August is encouraging and leaves the possibility of a Fall referendum question.

“The judge offered dates for a trial to make a final decision over this summer,” Mooney said. “So the trial was fast-tracked—we’ll have a decision faster than it would be otherwise.”

This trial is part of a seven-year dispute between PGSS and the federation. Sa explained that PGSS cannot afford to wait for the final verdict on the previous case to disaffiliate, as the membership fees for the federation continue to accumulate by approximately $50,000 per semester.

“The [2010] litigation is ongoing, and will likely drag on for several more years,” Sa said. “Until that gets resolved, we have to set aside a certain amount every year as contingency funding. What I’m trying to do is to have a referendum without prejudice to the previous litigation, just to determine from this point onwards, whether PGSS is still a member of CFS through this referendum.”

In addition to the two court cases, PGSS is also working to lobby the government to expand the Act Respecting The Accreditation and Financing of Students’ Associations (ARAFSA) to include regulation of leaving student organizations. They have met with Quebec Higher Education Minister Pierre Duschesne, who has expressed interest in the case, as well as Liberal higher education critic Pierre Arcand, who recently sent a letter to Duschesne in their support.

“Right now [ARAFSA] gives student organizations the right to be recognized by universities, and the right to assemble and be recognized by universities,” PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Erik Larson said. “But it doesn’t provide any way to disaffiliate from federal organizations.”

According to Sa, the PGSS’ multiple approaches to disaffiliation mean there should be some movement regarding membership this year.

“No matter what the outcomes of the previous litigation may be, we’ll have a referendum to see if we will continue to be a member of the CFS in the Fall semester,” Sa said. “On the other hand, we will push to lobby the government to devise more appropriate and fair approaches to the ways that student organizations should be.”

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