‘ This is a major headache’
CBU students union ordered to pay nearly $300,000 to national student body
An Ontario Superior Court justice has ordered the students union at Cape Breton University to pay nearly $ 300,000 to the Canadian Federation of Students after ruling a 2008 referendum vote to leave the national group was flawed.
“I am satisfied on all of the evidence before me that the referendum held by (CBU students union) was invalid in that it did not comply with the then prevailing bylaws and that the vote on defederation cannot be recognized on any other basis,” ruled Justice Robert Beaudoin.
“Only the individual members of the (CBU students union) could initiate the process of defederation by way of petition. In this case, it is clear that the process was initiated by the voting member, the executive of the (CBU students union),” Beaudoin said in a decision released Friday.
As a result of the ruling, current students union president Brandon Ellis said Monday the executive now must consider a host of options, including bankruptcy, in a bid to pay the ordered amount.
He admits that some services offered by the students union could be reduced or eliminated, and there is still a decision whether to appeal the ruling within the next 30 days.
“We certainly have some serious governance and budgeting decisions to make. This is a major headache and major disappointment,” said Ellis.
The students union offers a host of services through a student fee each student pays for each enrolled course. Among the services offered include a convenience store, lounge, tutoring services, a women’s centre and Capers Helping Capers, a community charity.
“This decision is going to hurt everyone from students to the community,” said Ellis, noting the union offers employment through such services for some 80 people.
The court ordered the CBU students union to pay $293,000 in back dues to the national federation and that because the 2008 vote was invalid, the CBU students union continues to be a full member of the federation.
Beaudoin heard arguments in the case in January in Ottawa. He heard from several CBU witnesses, including Ian Lindsay, who in 2008 was students union president.
“In this case, if there is any bad faith, it is one the part of the (CBU students union)’s executive that had a positive responsibility, as a voting member, to support the objectives of the federation and to abide by all the provisions of the bylaws,” wrote the judge.
He noted that at no time did Lindsay tell the student council that the Canadian Federation of Students was contesting the validity of the referendum. As well, Beaudoin said that from a review of meeting minutes there was no time Lindsay informed council members that the federation would recognize a referendum vote if it took place in September 2008 without triggering any additional student fees for CBU.
“This was all part of a plan by the executive to defederate from the (Canadian Federation of Students) during its term of office. There was no evidence that this executive was elected on a platform to defederate from (the Canadian Federation of Students) nor was there any evidence of prejudice to the students if the vote were delayed to September except for a possible loss of publicity for Mr. Lindsay. This costly litigation could have been avoided by delaying a vote by a few months.”
The federation claimed the March 2008 vote was invalid because it failed to comply with federation bylaws.
The referendum was held at CBU March 11-13, 2008, with 366 votes cast. The result was 92 per cent voting to withdraw from the national body.
The federation advised the CBU union in January of that year that a March vote would not be valid given the bylaw demand for six-month notice. It said that such a vote could be held in September. According to Beaudoin’s decision, Lindsay testified there were three reasons the CBU wanted to withdraw from the national body: ideologically, he believed the federation’s tactics were out of date; other and smaller Nova Scotia universities were not members; and services offered by the federation could be provided locally and cheaper.