Both organizations told The Concordian that allegations in the petition questions are unwarranted
Disclaimer: The Concordian is a fee-levy organization and Hadassah Alencar also works for the CJLO news team.
Petition questions calling to defund student-run publication The Link and campus radio station CJLO were presented by councillor Tzvi Hersh Filler to the Concordia Student Union (CSU) during a regular council meeting last week on Oct.14.
Added to the agenda the night before the CSU meeting, allegations against the two fee-levy organizations caused alarm among the organizations, other fee-levies, and some CSU members.
The first question claims, “The Link has run smear campaigns against those who tried bringing the opt-out system online.” The second asks, “CJLO is attempting to sue the CSU to prevent online opt out, do you support removing CJLO‘s fee levy?”
The petition lacks clarification and proof of the claims, with both organizations telling The Concordian the statements are unwarranted.
The Link’s Editor-in-Chief Marcus Bankuti provided a statement to The Concordian, saying, “Councillor Filler’s claims of smear campaigns are baseless. We stand by the integrity of our reporting.”
Filler would not provide a comment on his claim against The Link “due to ongoing litigation.”
When asked how he will collect signatures if he cannot elaborate on the reasoning behind his question, Filler said, “I would expect that well before next semester, the relevant processes would have been resolved, and I would be able to answer those types of questions.”
He expects the litigation will be resolved before the Winter 2021 semester, and said he would “likely” speak on the allegations in the near future.
Filler said the intention of presenting the petition questions was to validate them so that he may collect signatures at a later date. He does not have any “hard deadlines” for when he would begin collecting signatures.
According to the CSU by-laws, a petition is only valid to be added to the referendum if it is first presented to the CSU before collecting signatures. Members are allowed to voice their opinion and give advice on the questions, but the petitioner is not required to take their advice.
The petitioner must then collect 750 signatures and submit them to the CSU before the deadline to add the question to the referendum. Students would then vote on whether or not they support the question.
As for CJLO, Filler plans “on seeing what [CJLO does] before I start collecting signatures, because I really don’t want to collect 750 signatures without a good reason.”
The petition question claimed CJLO was suing the CSU “to prevent online opt-out.”
CJLO Station Manager Francella Fiallos said the legal letter was a “challenge” to the online opt-out process, rather than an attempt to put a stop to it. The letter “was to challenge the way in which the CSU had decided to implement the referendum question, and how the consultation process was insufficient.”
Back in May, CJLO sent the CSU a legal letter to challenge the online opt-out process, given how the CSU was handling the process at the time.
Internal emails obtained anonymously through a request for information showed former General Coordinator Christopher Kalafitidis was working on the online opt-out system with the Concordia administration before he consulted with the fee-levy groups.
In the referendum questions, students voted to have an online opt-out system created “in consultation with all fee-levy organizations.” Kalafitidis said a survey sent to fee-levy groups was a sufficient consultation process, and said that the document he created with the fee-levy’s answers was adequately discussed with the administration.
Several groups, including CJLO, felt that the consultation process under Kalafiditis was not enough.
But this has changed with the current executive team, who began their mandate in June.
“Now we have a very strong relationship with the CSU,” said Fiallos.“We basically felt that the new administration…seem[s] to have an interest to make sure that fee-levy groups are adequately represented in this online opt-out process.”
“Once they came in, we basically said that the injunction was not going to be a relevant factor anymore.”
Filler said he did not speak to anyone from CJLO or the CSU recently about CJLO’s legal injunction against the student union.
Filler speculated on a legal argument against CJLO’s legal letter, speaking on his interpretation of the limitations of the letter: “It strikes me as grasping for straws and unlikely that a reasonable judge would accept it.”
“But in the event that a judge will accept it, how do I remove that obstacle? And the simple answer to that is remove CJLO’s fee[-levy] entirely,” said Filler.
Should CJLO’s position ever change, he plans on collecting signatures with his currently validated petition question.
“In the event that they do, I want to have the right at that point to collect signatures without having to go to present to council. So I’m trying to remove barriers, so the back up steps are ready to be done, in the events that an actual injunction is filed with the Court of Quebec.”
He believes that “The basis of the potential lawsuit is that online opt out affects the CJLO fee, and if the fee doesn’t exist, then online opt-out can’t affect it.”
Fiallos said, “[Filler’s petition] is not going to impact our judgement.”
“It just felt like he was just trying to intimidate us, but the fact is we’re not going to be intimidated,” said Fiallos.
She said that the decision to back down from the suit was based on how Eduardo Malorni, CSU student life coordinator, is handling the online opt-out process.
“He’s talked directly to us several times about this, he’s advocated for the recommendations that we made to the administration … I genuinely feel like it’s a much better relationship.”
The difference is, Malorni has continually directly consulted with the fee-levy groups since starting his mandate as CSU executive. He has dealt with the online opt-out process by discussing and negotiating the process between the administration, the CSU, and the fee-levy association.
Malorni told The Concordian, “We de-escalated the situation because basically they felt that they weren’t being listened to.”
On the night the petition questions came in, Malorni stayed up late answering questions and speaking with several fee-levy members about their concerns.
Malorni is also in charge of the Fee-Levy Review Committee, which reviews all applications regarding fee-levy groups, and said Filler must “give a clear reasoning as to why he is defunding [fee-levy groups], or he believes that they need defunding.”
Chairperson of the CSU Caitlin Robinson referred to the CSU’s Standing Regulation 259, which explains the manner in which a fee-levy is removed. One must simply provide a reason for the petition: “An explanation of the reasoning underlying the request.”
“That being said, although under the CSU’s regulations a petition can be circulated, the person circulating it needs to be very cautious about what they are writing and disseminating because they could encounter legal issues if they are circulating libellous claims,” said Robinson.