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CFS Referendum on, judge rules

Friday, March 26, 2010

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Written by Greg Beneteau

The Central Student Association has won the right to host a referendum on continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Justice John O’Connor handed down his decision late Wednesday night on a legal battle between the CSA and the CFS, ordering that a referendum campaign be held on campus during the final days of the semester. No reason for the decision was given.

The need for quick turnaround left both sides scrambling to set rules for campaigning and voting, mere days after they squared off in court.

“As we nearing the beginning of the campaign period, we will have to have a resolution soon [regarding rules] and we will be making sure those are publically available,” said Gavin Armstrong, Communication and Corporate Affairs Commissioner for the CSA.

O’Connor established some ground rules for the U of G referendum, including timelines and a complaints resolution process. Campaigning was set to start at 8:00 a.m. Monday, March 29 and run until Wednesday, April 6 at 8:00 p.m.

Polling stations will be open from April 6 to 8, on the following ballot question: “Are you in favour of continued membership in the Canadian Federation of Students?”

Justice O'Connor also directed a Referendum Oversight Committee, composed of two members from the CFS and two from the CSA, to work out specific details related to the campaig,n including possible spending limits and the location and number of polling stations.

Armstrong, who is also ROC representatives for the CSA, said the two sides have been working as quickly as possible to work out details of the campaigning process.

He declined to talk about negotiations, which were ongoing as of Friday afternoon.

“At the request of the CFS, all conversations on the ROC are confidential,” he said.

However, Armstrong hinted that the two sides were already having trouble finding common ground.

“Campaigning starts on Monday and we’re meeting on Friday afternoon to work out how we’re going to run this referendum,” he said. “Take from that what you will.”

In order to resolve deadocks, Justice O’Connor appointed former Ontario Supreme Court Justice James Chadwick as a third-party arbitrator.

Representatives for the CFS and CFS-O could not be reached for comment.

Guelph petition organizer Curtis Batuszkin said he was “ecstatic” by the outcome, but unhappy that the referendum was happening under court supervision.

"I'm disappointed we had to go this route because of the unreasonable requests from the CFS," Batuszkin said.

The CSA took the CFS and its Ontario branch to court on behalf of U of G students who submitted petition last October, requesting a referendum.

The CFS-O had originally declared that request invalid because the petition was submitted by process server rather than registered mail, as outlined in the federation’s by-laws

The CFS National Executive also claimed the CSA wasn't helping to verify signitures on the petition, despite the fact that U of G's Office of Registrarial Services had performed already done a count. 

Students at Carlton University and the University of Western Ontario have complained that the CFS used similar tactics to deny the validity of their petitions.

U of G students pay about $240,000 annually for CFS membership.

Legal wrangling continues

The ruling capped a week of legal maneouvring by the CFS, which is facing challenges across the country over is refusal to recognize membership votes

On Friday, students at Concordia University and the Graduate Students' Association (GSA) at the University of Calgary voted overwhelmingly in favour of terminating their memberships with the CFS.

At Concordia, 72 per cent of students voted to leave the CFS, as did nearly 82 per cent of students at the GSS.

The lopsided result was due in part to an absence of orginized opposition, as the CFS has refused to recognize the outcome of the two campaigns.

The Post Graduate Society of McGill was set to hold its own membership vote on Monday, also without the blessing of the CFS. According to the McGill Daily, five other student unions in Ontario and Quebec have planned similar votes for the spring or fall.

Out of 13 schools that began the petition process in September, only one, The Alberta College of Art and Design Students' Association, has been formally cleared by the CFS to hold a membership referendum.

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