UPDATED: CBUSU suffers major blow in legal defeat against CFS

The Ontario Superior Court rendered a decision in a case pitting the Cape Breton University Students’ Union (CBUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). This long-standing legal battle stems from a dispute of the legitimacy of a March 2008 referendum on continued membership. Out of the 366 students who casted a ballot, 92% voted against continued membership in the Federation. In summary, the CBUSU remains a member of the Federation and is on the hook for 6 years worth of unpaid membership fees, worth $293,159.13. The CFS was asked to submit its costs submission within 30 days of the release of the decision. This will likely add another significant financial burden facing the CBUSU. 

In Mr. Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s Analysis and Conclusion, he writes: “I am satisfied on all of the evidence before me that the referendum held by the CBUSU was invalid in that it did not comply with the then prevailing Bylaws and that the vote on defederation cannot be recognized on any other basis.”

This charge is based on the fact that, in September 2007, it was in fact the members of the CBUSU executive that initiated the petition that would trigger a referendum. During the trial, it was admitted that members of the executive collected the signature during the first week of classes, September 10-15, 2007. This is where the CBUSU diverged from the CFS Bylaws. According to Bylaw 1, Article 3(a)(iii) of the Federation’s most recently available Bylaws, only “the students collectively belonging to a local student association” (i.e.: the individual students who make up the CBUSU membership) can initiate a petition, not the “voting member” (i.e.: the CBUSU executive is considered a voting member of the CFS).

The consequences stemming from this decision could mean the end of the CBUSU. The student union was ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in damages to the CFS as well as the Federation’s legal fees which could amount to another $100,000. Speaking with CTV News Atlantic, Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, admitted that all options are on the table including laying off some of the student union’s 80 employees or even bankruptcy.

Further reactions to the decision

Students Nova Scotia expressed its concern in a statement regarding the results of the trial.

Paul Wells, political editor at Maclean’s Magazine, weighed in on Twitter leading us to believe he has some knowledge of the Federation’s rocky history:

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner also took to Twitter to say he is “proud” of StudentNS for its stance on the CBU issue:

Finally, to get further historical context, you can go back and listen to an interview from June 2014 which included Brandon Ellis, President of the CBUSU, and Brent Farrington, CFS Internal Co-ordinator. They both spoke with CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton’s host Steve Sutherland.

UPDATED: Saturday August 8, 2015

On Friday, we initially posted an article on our Facebook page which indicated that the CBUSU had filed for bankruptcy. However, this was an erroneous report. Later in the afternoon, another article was published in The Chronicle Herald stating that the CBUSU would in fact appeal Justice Robert N. Beaudoin’s decision. Brandon Ellis told the Herald that Toronto-based law firm Borden Ladner Gervais is representing the student union. This is the same firm that represented the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union last year in its legal case against the Federation.