Remains to be seen if Canadian Federation of Students will accept referendum
Preliminary results of McGill’s referendum shows the “No” side has won an overwhelming 97.3 per cent of the vote, thus reaffirming the will of McGill’s Post Graduate Students Society (PGSS) and its 8,000 members to sever all ties with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
So far, results shows that just over 26 per cent of McGill post-graduate students voted in the referendum, and won’t be official until the university can verify all ballots. The PGSS website states it will be up to their next general assembly to ratify the referendum and its formal request to leave CFS.
This is the latest update in a long-fought legal battle taking place in various universities all around Canada since 2009 when 16 student associations tried to separate from the CFS.
The PGSS and Concordia Student Union (CSU) both held prior referendums to separate from the CFS in 2010, but no official action came from that since the CFS does not recognize these votes as valid.
In September the courts gave a nod to the CSU when it sided with the Rassemblement des Associations Etudiantes, the new iteration of the CFS-Quebec before it broke away from CFS, of which the CSU is part of. It ruled in a case by saying the RAE’s predecessor was a legitimate provincial CFS chapter, and that the RAE was therefore entitled to all provincial membership fees and one sixth of national fees from Quebec members during CFS-Q’s lifespan of 2007-2010.
At the moment, over a dozen universities and student organizations are attempting to break away from CFS. Cape Breton University is set for a court date in January stemming from a successful 2008 referendum that was not recognized by the CFS.
In 2011, Simon Fraser University successfully settled out-of-court with the CFS after a similar legal battle.
When contacted to talk about the referendum and PGSS’ “No” movement, Nikki Meadows, PGSS Financial Affairs Officer and one of the association’s leaders, described the overwhelming victory as one of the most important steps towards separating from CFS, but said that the fight was not yet finished. A formal request to defederate still needs to be sent so it gets ratified at the next CFS General Meeting.
This last part has been the subject of tensions and court battles between the CFS and a number of student associations. In the past, the CFS continuously denied and contested members’ right to defederate. Meadows said that she hoped the overwhelming majority of post-graduates students voting for a break will help to finally help end the issue.
Questions and grievances over rises of students fees seems to be the major topic of disagreement between the CFS and its Quebec-based member organizations. There are other concerns. For Meadows, her own personal problem with CFS is also that for an association greatly advocating for relevant causes such as equality, social-justice and human rights, CFS often contradicts itself when looking at their relationship with members student associations.
“I have trouble supporting an organization that then supports and imposes rules that limit freedom of associations and freedom of speech,” said Meadows.
She also acted as the official liaison between the CFS Chief Returning Officer and PGSS during the referendum campaign and, after the vote, as PGSS’ representative in the counting and verifying of the ballots.