PGSS votes to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (again)

On January 15 and 16, 2015, members of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS) had the opportunity to vote in a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

According to the PGSS website, preliminary results indicate that graduate students voted overwhelmingly in favour of cutting ties with the Federation:

Referendum question: Are you in favor of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)?

Number of votes: 2129* (26.3% voter turnout)
Yes votes: 56* (2.7%)
No votes: 2014* (97.3%)

*All results are preliminary, subject to change pending University verification and receipt of mail-in ballots. The CRO will post the official results in due time. The referendum and formal request to leave the Federation will need to be ratified at the next General Assembly of the CFS.

Readers were reminded in an article published in the McGill Daily that the PGSS continues to be involved in litigation with the Federation stemming from a March 2010 referendum during which members of the PGSS voted to leave the CFS. The CFS would prefer to acknowledge this month’s vote as this would imply that the PGSS has continued to be a member of the Federation since March 2010. This, in turn, would mean that the PGSS owes 5 years worth of membership dues (between March 2010-June 2015). Before the CFS agreed to hold this month’s referendum, the PGSS was forced to pay over $300.000 in outstanding dues as per the CFS Bylaws. The PGSS will continue to pursue the litigation emanating from the 2010 referendum and will now seek to recover that money. Court hearings in that case won’t begin until 2017.

A McGill Tribune article quotes CFS chairperson Jessica McCormick who appears to show that the Federation would likely recognize the results at the Federation’s General meeting in May/June 2015. A statement (http://aboutcfs.ca has already been rendered inaccessible) by the Ms. McCormick was released just before this month’s referendum and deserves to be quoted:

Unlike other votes on membership, the Canadian Federation of Students will not be engaging in a traditional campaign on campus in order to highlight the importance of working together. The reality is that over the past five years, the graduate student members at McGill have been so misled and misinformed by portions of the elected leadership of the PGSS about the work of the Canadian Federation of Students and the formerly positive, supportive relationship with the other members of the organization that it would be virtually impossible to set the record straight in a short campaign period. As an example, there has been so much disinformation that the average McGill graduate student incorrectly thinks that the Canadian Federation of Students has been suing the McGill PGSS. In fact, the PGSS has engaged in a sustained campaign of legal attacks against the other member local unions that comprise the Federation in order to achieve a specific outcome-to isolate graduate students at McGill from students across the country.

While the Federation made it seem like no traditional campaigning would occur, many people were brought in by the CFS to act as poll clerks (May not be an exhaustive list): 

Carole Blank – Kaileigh Macrae  – Munib Sajjad – Carolyn Hibbs – Emma Campbell – Alena Peters – Jasmine Parent – Glenn Burley – Adam Awad – 
Sarah McCue – Alyssa Blank – Nadia Fentiman – Lauren Montgomery – Nick Stark – Brent Farrington – Laurel Walsh – Anna Dubynski

I do hope that as many graduate students will read the entire statement (also available in French) to see how condescending it really is. McCormick’s attempts to speak down to students seem to suggest that graduate students are unable to think critically about the information they have received from the “elected leadership of the PGSS” and judge the organization on its merits. While the PGSS has in fact brought the CFS to court, to characterize the litigation as a “sustained campaign of legal attacks” is exaggerated rhetoric that is often used by the Federation to describe anybody who dares to disagree with and/or criticize the organization. Let this CFS statement be seen for what it really is: a sophisticated, camouflaged admittance of defeat, a throwing in of the towel.

Canadian Federation of Students CRO overstepped authority: Quebec Superior Court Justice

A Quebec Superior Court Justice has ruled that Stephen Littley, Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) chief electoral returning officer (CRO), overstepped his authority by including certain regulations in the referendum rules that are currently governing the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) of McGill University referendum on continued membership in the CFS.

VISIT THE CFS CRO WEBSITE FOR THE PGSS REFERENDUM

In Justice Gérard Dugré written reasons of his January 7, 2015 judgment, he ruled that Stephen Littley exceeded his authority, as outlined in article 4.b of the CFS Bylaws, by including the following regulations within the PGSS referendum rules

Materials
d. The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that are defamatory, misleading or false, that refer to legal or quasi legal action/s before the courts that relate the Referendum, or to other legal or quasi legal actions, that may undermine the Referendum

Campaigning
f. There shall be no campaigning at any time in a business or service owned or operated by the Students’ Union… in areas or events where alcohol is served…

Justice Dugré also ruled that the above cited rules violate article 3 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom which states that “Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.”

Campaigning in the PGSS referendum on continued membership in the CFS at McGill University began on January 5 while voting will take place January 15 and 16, 2015.

Campaigning in PGSS referendum on continued membership in the CFS begins today

Campaigning in the Post-Graduate Students’ Society’s (PGSS) referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) began today, January 5, 2015. Members of the PGSS will have the opportunity to vote from January 15 to 16, 2015. 

Consult the PGSS’s CFS referendum rules here

This referendum is the result of a lengthy court battle between the national Federation and Sa Ge, a McGill University philosophy engineering doctoral candidate and individual member of the PGSS. Legal proceedings continue to this very day stemming from the referendum rules put in place by CFS chief returning officer, Stephen Littley. Building upon the rules he drafted for the Capilano Students’ Union’s March 2014 referendum on continued membership in the federation which included an outright ban on referencing any media publications, Mr. Littley has taken his information control to further extremes: 

d. The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that are defamatory, misleading or false, that refer to legal or quasi legal action/s before the courts that relate the Referendum, or to other legal or quasi legal actions, that may undermine the Referendum (emphasis added).

While he essentially empowers himself to be the judge of whether the content of campaign material is defamatory, misleading or false (which is obviously prone to be abuse), Littley is now of the opinion that referencing any legal or quasi legal actions involving the Canadian Federation of Students “may undermine the Referendum”. The outright ban on anything referencing the CFS in the media continues to remain in place: 

e. The Chief Returning Officer or his designate will not approve materials that contain links to 3rd party media, opinion, dialogue, report, blog, or any other source that can not be governed and sanctioned by these by-laws (emphasis added).

The soundness of such rules have never been contested in court until now. Mr. Jonathan Mooney, a former member of the PGSS executive and chairperson of the No Committee, submitted a contestation to the CFS Appeals Committee(Bilan Arte, James Bowen and Amy Hammett). Mooney is contesting 3 rules established by the CRO:

1.   “The restrictions on references to legal or quasi legal action/s before the courts that relate to the Referendum, or to other legal or quasi legal actions, that may undermine the Referendum are null and void as ultra vires the jurisdiction of the CRO and as a violation of the fundamental rights of the members of PGSS”;

2. “The restrictions on campaigning in a business or service owned or operated by PGSS are null and void as ultra vires the jurisdiction of the CRO and as a violation of the fundamental rights of the members of PGSS”;

3. “The restrictions on campaigning in areas or events where alcohol is served are null and void as ultra vires the jurisdiction of the CRO and as a violation of the fundamental rights of the members of PGSS”

According to court documents obtained by Studentunion.ca, at the time of publication the Appeals Committee has yet to respond to Mr. Mooney’s December 27th 3-page contestation. The Quebec Superior Court of Justice will rule on Mooney’s motion, which contests a number of aspects of the referendum administration including allegations of negligence and bad faith, on Wednesday, January 7, 2015.

Voting in the PGSS referendum on continued membership will take place over 2 days, January 15 and 16, 2015.

1. As per CFS By-Law 1, section 6 i, the Appeals Committee is composed of: “i. one National executive member or a designate appointed by the Federation’s National Executive; and ii. two individual members elected at a Federation general meeting who are not members of the Federation’s National Executive”.

Canadian Federation of Students suing UTGSU: NO Campaign Committee

According to a group of students who ran the Vote NO campaign in the recent University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), the Federations have filed a notice of application against the UTGSU. The group also claims that the documents were delivered to the UTGSU on Tuesday, 2 December 2014, only 2 days after the CFS chief returning officer (CRO) Stephen Littley announced that the quorum had not been reached. This leads them to believe that the application was well underway even before the results of the referendum were released.

When asked (by email) whether the UTGSU had in fact received the notice of application, the UTGSU’s Civics and Environment Commissioner Susanne Waldorf wrote “We have no comment on this. Sorry.” At the time of publication, neither the CFS nor the CFS-O had responded to email inquiry. 

NOTE: For clarity, “Canadian Federation of Students” refers to the Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Federation of Students-Services (CFS-S) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario in the title of this post.