The Canadian Federation of Students and the Simon Fraser Student Society have reached an out-of-court settlement to the CFS lawsuit against students at Simon Fraser University. The settlement, the terms of which are not disclosed, allows an overwhelming vote by SFU students to leave the CFS to stand and prevents a court trial hearing scheduled for six weeks beginning February 13, 2012.
Settling, and allowing SFU students independence, is a wise move by the CFS. It prevents a potentially substantial legal precedent against and ends a public relations disaster for the CFS.
The following statement was posted on the SFSS website:
posted on January 4, 2012
December 23, 2011
The Canadian Federation of Students and Simon Fraser Student Society Reach Out of Court Resolution
The Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Federation of Students‐ Services, Canadian Federation of Students‐British Columbia Component (collectively, the “CFS Entities”) and the Simon Fraser Student Society (“SFSS”) have come to an amicable, out of court resolution of their dispute regarding the SFSS voting membership in the CFS Entities. As part of this resolution it is agreed that the membership has ended. The agreement was motivated by a desire on the part of all parties to resolve all outstanding issues. The parties have agreed to this common statement and have agreed to make no further public statements regarding this matter.
The legal case and risk of precedent
The Federation is wisely cutting their losses by settling out-of-court and not risking the BC Supreme Court making a ruling against the CFS. The Federation is on a losing streak in front of the BC Supreme Court and the only matter of contention they, in my opinion, could win on will not change the outcome of the referendum – the votes of SFU graduate students are less than the margin of victory.
SFU graduate students formed their own student association in fall after the spring 2008 CFS membership referendum during which 2/3rds of student voters choose to leave the Federation. They were SFSS members during spring 2008, but would not be affected by the referendum decision – the new graduate student society would not be a local of the CFS regardless of the SFSS referendum outcome.
The graduate students represented the core of the pro-independent movement at SFSS, having begun the revolt against the CFS during the summer of 2006.
The other matter, as is often the case with CFS referendums, was the conflict between the local election bylaws of the SFSS and the referendum bylaws of the CFS.
In Saskatchewan, a 2006 ruling (Mowat v. University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union) the court recognized the students’ union’s bylaws as taking precedence over those of an external organization that the USSU wasn’t a member of. The CFS appealed the ruling and lost at the provincial court of appeal. The precedent only applies in Saskatchewan. However, the appeal decision influences courts outside the province and would guide the BC Supreme Court in making a decision.
Thus far, BC courts have only decided on rules for CFS referendums involving votes occurring by court order. The CFS vs SFSS case could’ve resulted in a ruling unfavourable to CFS bylaws when in conflict with local bylaws.
Recently argued cases between the Canadian Federation of Students and student societies in BC courts have not been decided in favour of the CFS . Students at the University of Victoria voted the court ordered the CFS to conduct the referendum following a student petition. (An Ontario court issued a similar order against the CFS in 2010.)
An attempt by the CFS to prevent a critic elected by Kwantlen students from sitting on their BC Board failed when the courts ordered his placement on the Board.
The judge, the Honourable Mr. Justice Grauer, hearing the CFS lawsuit against the SFSS noted in December 2010:
[quote_box author=”Honourable Mr. Justice Grauer, ” profession=”BC Supreme Court in para 5,
Canadian Federation of Students v. Simon Fraser Student Society, 2010 BCSC 1816“]
Similar disputes, I am given to understand, are being litigated in several other provinces against other local student societies. Those students headed for careers in the law should be able to find plenty to do.
Justice Grauer also emphasised a 2009 statement by the Honourable Mr. Justice Blair regarding the legal dispute between the two parties:
[quote_box author=” Honourable Mr. Justice Blair, ” profession=”BC Supreme Court in para 42,
Simon Fraser Student Society v. Canadian Federation of Students, 2009 BCSC 1081“]
The cost of this litigation, no matter which party or parties are successful, will be borne by post-secondary students enrolled at SFU, as well as by students at those institutions which are members of the CFS. Tuition, books, accommodation and meals already impose a significant burden on post-secondary students without requiring them to contribute further to the costs of resolving the parties’ dispute. I would anticipate that the student fees paid to the SFSS and the CFS can be used more productively for programs directly benefiting those students rather than being consumed in more litigation.
The courts have not been a favourable arena for The Federation recently. They are wise to retreat.
Closing a chapter in SFSS history and opening a new one for student unions in British Columbia
This closes a volume in SFSS history that started just over five years ago in the summer of 2006 when a CFS-loyalist executive fired a long-time student union employee soon after the graduate students of the student association choose a non-CFS health plan. Students revolted against the action, impeached the CFS-loyalist executives, and started themselves on the long path to independence from the CFS.
British Columbia’s largest student societies are now all independent of the Federation and so are the largest graduate student societies. While there have been attempts to form a provincial lobbying organization between the student societies at University of Victoria, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, these efforts have yet to come to fruition.
What will independent student unionism hold for BC’s biggest student societies?