Joey Coleman: Student lobby group sues students’ unions

Student lobby group sues students’ unions

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations(CASA)has filed lawsuits against two students’ unions, a move that some student leaders are calling hypocritical. The suits claim that the unions owe membership fees from 2005, the year the unions terminated membership in CASA.

CASA—which is the second largest student lobby group in Canada after the Canadian Federation of Students(CFS)—is suing the University of Manitoba Students’ Union(UMSU)and the Student Society of McGill University(SSMU)for the outstanding fees. Both unions left CASA in 2005 to pursue membership in a rival lobby organization, the CFS. The suit is asking for approximately $28,000 plus late charges per student union.

The suit has at least one student leader calling the group hypocritical. "We think that it is rather ludicrous that CASA, who spends a lot of time criticizing CFS for suing students is doing so themselves," said Max Silverman, SSMU vice-president external.

Silverman believes that CASA will lose credibility over the lawsuits. "They regularly, and I think rightfully, criticize the fact that the CFS, while claiming to represent students, sue students associations. I think that’s absolutely a legitimate criticism of CFS. However, now that CASA is engaging in it, they lose all creditability in terms of the ability to have moral high ground."

However, CASA maintains that there was no choice other than to go ahead with the lawsuits. "Our hand was forced," said Zach Churchill, national director of CASA. "We have an obligation to our members to get the owed funds."

Both UMSU and SSMU are disputing the claims of CASA that they owe money to the organization.

Eric van Eyken, a former vice president of SSMU noted in an email that La Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec—Canada’s third largest lobby group—has also considered a lawsuit over unpaid fees. "If all three major student societies in the country have at least one lawsuit against members, it stops being an issue […] and simply establishes a norm that contractual obligations should be respected."

Churchill stated that CASA is currently negotiating with both organizations in the hopes of settling the case.