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CSU forces referendum as a last resort

by admin March 2, 2010

Concordia University students will finally have the chance to vote on their continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students. The opportunity comes after Concordia Student Union president Amine Dabchy decided to use the presidential decree to have the question, “Are you in favour of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students?” added to the March referendum.
Whatever the result of the election 8212; whether Concordia undergrads decide to stay with or leave the federation 8212; the whole process might be for show.
“Our rules are very clear,” said Dave Molenhuis, treasurer for CFS National, the country’s largest lobby group to which Concordia students pay over $300,000 annually. “And the rules of the federation have to be adhered to for a referendum.”

Among the rules for holding a referendum of this nature, member universities must submit a petition signed by at least 10 per cent of students. Concordia completed a petition with 5,357 students’ signatures (roughly 16.7 per cent of undergrads) and had it delivered by bailiff to the CFS National office Oct. 19.
Another rule stipulates that the question must read, “Are you in favour of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students?” This rule will be respected, according to Dabchy.
A third rule Molenhuis mentioned will be more difficult for the CSU to observe. In accordance with CFS bylaws, referendums must be administered by a four-person oversight committee that includes two members appointed by the federation.
“A member very obviously has to meet with CFS bylaws,” Molenhuis said. “Anything outside the process is considered outside of the bylaws.”
And because there is no provision in the CFS rules for presidential decrees, Molenhuis said the CSU’s attempt at a referendum is already “outside the bylaws.” So the question of whether the oversight committee will come into existence is a hypothetical one at this point, he said.

Dabchy said he is neither surprised at Molenhuis’ reaction, nor is he confident those two bodies will be provided for the oversight committee.
“If they don’t appoint the two members, we’ll use two from the CSU,” he said. “We’re following the rules. We’re trying, inviting them to help us follow the bylaws. But it’s going to be a fight. Like always.”
Dabchy said he and the other students lobbying for the referendum are accustomed to CFS’s tendency to put up a fight, recalling other student unions’ plights that have seen CFS and those unions involved in a large handful of court dates.
Dabchy said the recent communications between lawyers for the CSU and lawyers for CFS prove his point.
When trying, again, to set a referendum date, CFS lawyers said the referendum would have to wait until fall 2010. The reasoning behind the delay was based on a bylaw adopted at the CFS Annual General Meeting held in November 2009, more than a month after the CSU’s petition had been delivered.

Though the federation stated publicly that the motion would not be retroactive, the reasoning is hinged on a line in the new bylaw that states that “no more than two referendums on continued membership” can be held within a three-month period. With dates already awarded to Alberta College of Arts and Design Students’ Association and to the McGill University Post-Graduate Students’ Society, it looks like there’s no more room for the CSU or the 10 other student unions who have been running defederation campaigns.
But Dabchy said he is ready to fight as hard and as long as is necessary.
“They’re trying to hold us prisoner,” he said. “They can’t keep us locked in. Students have expressed the will to get out. If [CFS] won’t let them, we will.”
Without hesitation, Dabchy said he would take any further roadblocks to a judge.
“Getting out of the federation is my priority number one.”

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