By David Dyck
After three years of conflict, and over $450,000 in legal fees, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has officially left the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The issue goes back to 2008, when 67 per cent of SFU students voted to leave the CFS. The CFS, which is the largest student organization in Canada, contested the referendum’s legitimacy, and a series of legal disputes has financially mired the SFSS ever since.
Although a court date had been set for February 12, 2012, for a lengthy and expensive trial that was expected to last approximately six weeks, the dispute was settled out of court in late December. Both parties released a short statement that described the settlement as “amicable”. It further stated that neither party would make any public statements regarding the settlement. There was no mention made of the amount of the settlement.
B.C. Supreme Court judge Richard Blair, in an official court document released in August 2010, explained that he was unable to reach a conclusion about the case at that time, citing an overwhelming amount of evidence. Blair advised that either a second referendum be conducted, or that the dispute should be settled out of court, as either option would be more financially feasible than going to trial in February.
Late last year, the SFSS board argued that the society was running a projected deficit as a result of the pending lawsuit, for which funds had to be set aside in the event the case was lost. The loss of the trial could have resulted in a payout of approximately $1.5 million in unpaid membership fees to the CFS, not including legal fees.
The dispute began as a result of a 2008 referendum question, which the CFS claimed was not done in accordance with CFS bylaws, since it was performed by an SFSS-appointed Independent Electoral Commission, and not the CFS-mandated electoral commission. The referendum, therefore, was not considered by the CFS to be legally binding, and for the SFSS to accept it breached their contract.
J.J. McCullough, chief electoral officer for the Independent Electoral Commission that was appointed by the SFSS, oversaw the 2008 referendum. In an interview with The Peak, he stated that he was still unsure if legal separation was the best route for the union to take, financially. “If you hate the CFS to a really intense degree, you still have to be able to look at these things from [the perspective of] a cost/benefit analysis,” said McCullough. “The question is: how much more than half a million have we paid on this whole battle? . . . I think you can only really judge student politics in terms of the short term, and on the terms of how much student fees are being extracted from students right now to pay for some myopic political feud. That’s the kind of thing that concerns me.” McCullough did admit that, were the numbers in favour of the SFSS, settling would probably be the right choice.
Although the amount of the settlement has not been disclosed, the total amount spent by the SFSS on legal fees from the beginning of the dispute until November 2011 was $454,149.
“I’m glad that it’s over,” said former SFSS president Ali Godson. Godson’s term was from 2010 to 2011, but she served in other capacities in the SFSS for several years prior. Godson ran for, and won, the position of university relations officer in 2008, with a pro-CFS platform. She told The Peak that there was no mention of a settlement during her time on the board. She pointed out that most of the current board, with the exception of Internal Relations Officer Jordan Kohn, were not a part of the original CFS dispute in 2008.
The CFS has been engaged in several other lawsuits with student unions across Canada, including the University of Victoria Students’ Society.
Correction: This article originally stated that the CFS would have been owed approximately $430,000 if the case had been lost. That amount is actually closer to $1.5 million. Furthermore, the CFS has resolved their dispute with the University of Victoria Students’ Society. The Peak apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.