University of Victoria Students’ Society v. Canadian Federation of Students (2011 referendum)

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The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) and José Barrios, a student at the University of Victoria (“UVIC”), petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia (hereinafter Supreme Court) in January 2011 after the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) national executive rejected a petition (the “UVSS petition“) (which contained the signatures of at least 10% of the UVSS membership) calling for a referendum on continued membership in the CFS. It latter became clear that the reason why the petition had been rejected was because the CFS national executive had received a second petition (the “counter-petition“) which had been signed by some students who claimed they were misled into signing the UVSS petition and thus wished to have their name removed from it. The judge declared that the CFS national executive had breached its own bylaws by declaring the UVSS petition out of order and declared the petition valid. However, when the CFS national executive refused to move forward with the referendum until the UVSS paid alleged outstanding membership fees in the amount of $129,058, the UVSS and José Barrios returned to the Supreme Court seeking an order scheduling a referendum on March 29, 30 and 31, 2011. Justice Macaulay granted this relief because the CFS hadn’t brought up the outstanding fees before (except for in an affidavit by Lucy Watson which was not admitted into evidence).

The results of the referendum were as follows: 3255 members of the UVSS voted in favour of severing ties with the CFS while 1361 members voted to retain membership. The CFS national eventually recognized the referendum results and set the UVSS free.

However, the CFS-British Columbia continued to claim that the UVSS remained a member of the CFS-BC as it hadn’t received a petition to initiate a referendum on continued membership from the UVSS. The CFS-BC pursued the issue all the way to the BC Supreme Court and, in August 2012, Madame Justice Adair ruled that the UVSS was in fact still a member of the CFS-BC.

Earlier this year, just weeks before a scheduled referendum on continued membership, the CFS-BC provincial executive voted to expel the UVSS due to alleged outstanding membership fees (~$160,000). The UVSS board maintained throughout the dispute that there were no outstanding membership fees.

The UVSS became fully independent from the CFS, CFS-Services and CFS-BC at the end of the winter 2013 semester, just over two years after the March 2011 referendum.