The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Kwantlen Student Association Wednesday morning, putting an end to a two-year dispute over the Canadian Federation of Students-B.C. Component’s refusal to accept Derek Robertson, the student associations’s representative, on its board of directors.
Madame Justice Brown’s decision, stated that the CFS-BC board of directors was in violation of section 24 of the Society Act-BC and the CFS-BC’s own bylaws. The ruling set a precedent that bars societies in B.C. from applying provisions beyond those set in the Society Act-B.C. to determine qualification for appointment to a board of directors or membership of a society.
Brown awarded the KSA with Robertson’s appointment to the board of directors and legal costs associated with the court petition.
“We’re perplexed,” said Shamus Reid, chairperson for the CFS-BC. “The B.C. Society Act provides that directors of society are legally responsible for protecting the society from harm.”
Robertson, director of external affairs for the KSA and ex-officio representative for the CFS-BC, held office on the board of directors for the CFS-BC previous to a conflict of interest in February 2008, when he resigned to campaign to have the KSA leave the CFS.
Following a referendum, which reaffirmed Kwantlen students’ interest in remaining members of the CFS, Robertson’s nomination to rejoin the board of directors was not ratified by the CFS-BC.
“He intended to do damage to society in all comments. The only check against that is the ratification process,” said Reid.
Many other societies in B.C. have a dual ratification process, he added. “This ruling will have a profound negative consequence for societies all across B.C.”
Robertson said he is thrilled about the decision. “I’ve been quite discouraged by the fact that Kwantlen has been without a representative for almost two years. I have to keep in mind that I do now have obligations to both societies. I am there to represent the views of Kwantlen students and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
He admitted that he doubts Kwantlen students will notice any difference in benefits from their CFS membership. “A representative on the board of directors is simply a symbolic thing… The CFS will go on with business as usual.”
Reid is also concerned about whether Kwantlen students will see any improvement in the benefits they receive. He said Robertson has made it difficult for the CFS to be on campus but it will be a priority to ensure that members have access to services they are entitled to “regardless of whether the local leadership is being antagonistic.”
“I don’t like to speculate on the judge’s background and experience, but I certainly think that this ruling doesn’t show a familiarity with the societies system within B.C.,” he said. “Any court ruling that overturns the democratic rule of a majority ruling is not in the best interest of society so we don’t think that is an appropriate ruling to make.”
Robertson considered the court battle, which included screenshots of his membership in anti-CFS Facebook groups, “a hail Mary.” The KSA focused on the law in the Society Act regarding requirements for being a director of a society, he said.
“The CFS cannot prevent diverging views from the board of directors anymore, which I’m sure they’ve been doing.”
The CFS-BC is honouring the ruling but will be “evaluating our legal options,” said Reid, hinting at the possibility of an appeal.
“We accept that at this point Mr. Robertson is the director and we certainly expect that he will uphold his responsibilities, though I believe that he has shown inability to do that in the past,” he said.
Robertson’s current term as director of external affairs and ex-officio representative for the CFS-BC will end on March 31, 2010.
Kwantlen students will be waiting over two more months for CFS representation.
The KSA v. CFS-BC court petition, which will decide whether Kwantlenâ€™s elected ex-officio representative for the CFS-BC can join the executive committee, after the CFS-BC refused to ratify his nomination, has been bumped until January for administrative reasons.
The KSA has decided not to nominate another student to the CFS-BC executive committee.
The B.C. Supreme Court will resolve the issue in January on a date that is yet to be decided, while Kwantlen students, who voted to remain members of the CFS in 2008, continue to funnel $150,000 per year into the organization without receivingÂ representation.
For details on the lawsuit, see our original article.
Twelve of the 13 items on this Septemberâ€™s referendum ballot were approved, a result that the Kwantlen Student Association, who planned the referendum, never foresaw.
Student fees will increase $1.56 per credit for the spring, summer and fall 2010 semesters to fund the creation of student union buildings, the START volunteer program, the REBOOT computer service, intramurals and clubs and events. This means that full-time students registering for 15 credits should expect their spring semester bill to be $23.40 higher.
The KSA plans to begin START, REBOOT and intramural programs in January and is discussing holding a referendum asking students for permission to raise student fees more than 15 per cent per year to hasten the introduction of other items that were approved.
â€œThis is quite historic,â€ said Steven Lee, director of finance for the KSA. â€œThe KSA wasnâ€™t expecting all of [the referendum items] to pass. We wanted to see what students wanted us to do, so it was kind of a referendum slash opinion poll.â€
Fees collected for the student union fund will be put toward building planning and paying off the $1.6 million G-building mortgage from the 1990s, which was partially covered through the KSAâ€™s reserve funds last year. The clubs and events fee will be used to offset current clubs and events spending, which totaled over $150,000 last year.
Less than half of one per cent of Kwantlen students voted: 494 ballots were cast, surpassing the 250-minimum required to make referendum results binding.
The turnout was â€œquite good for a referendum,â€ said Lee.
The Canadian Federation of Students fee increase, the only item that failed, will not affect Kwantlenâ€™s CFS membership. The proposed increase was questioned by Shamus Reid, chairperson of the CFS-BC, as an amount he was not familiar with and something that would not normally appear on a referendum ballot.
â€œI donâ€™t know where that number came from,â€ he said.
Desmond Rodenbour, general manager of the KSA, said that the CFS adjusts membership fees for inflation every year and that the KSA reached the $1.78 fee increase by calculating the CFSâ€™ percentage increase.
After consulting the University Act and the College and Institute Act, the KSA determined that it has â€œno legal authority to increase student fees without a referendum,â€ said Rodenbour.
Lee believes the item failed because â€œthe students that voted are already familiar with the KSA, so they know how the CFS has been treating the KSA.â€ Everything else passed because â€œwe were able to get different people [campaigning] that were interested in different areas.â€
One-and-a-half years of bad blood between the Kwantlen Student Association and the Canadian Federation of Students, B.C. Component are about to culminate in a court battle set for Oct. 29 â€“ 30.
The KSA filed a court petition with B.C. Supreme Court in June to settle a dispute over the CFS-BCâ€™s refusal to ratify Kwantlenâ€™s elected CFS-BC representative in May 2008.
â€œNow we find ourselves going to court, but Iâ€™m not sure why,â€ said Shamus Reid, chairperson for the CFS-BC.
The CFS-BC did not ratify the nomination to appoint Derek Robertson, Kwantlenâ€™s elected director of external affairs and ex-officio representative for the CFS-BC, to the executive committee because of â€œactions that he took to deliberately undermine the CFS-BC,â€ said Reid.
â€œThat individual was unfit as a director. The executive committee felt he couldnâ€™t uphold his responsibilities as a director.â€
The CFS-BC suggested, prior to court proceedings, that the KSA nominate a different individual to the executive committee. â€œThe KSA has always had the opportunity to appoint another representative to the CFS,â€ said Reid.
Robertson said the KSA appealed to the courts for acknowledgement that the CFS-BC has no authority to disallow a member student bodyâ€™s elected representative from joining the executive committee. Doing so would set a precedent avoiding future ratification disputes and would place Robertson on the committee.
â€œIâ€™m not always just another CFS voice,â€ he said. â€œAt times I have been very critical of the organization, and I feel that the organization could be doing a much better job.â€
Robertson was a member of the CFS-BC executive committee until he resigned in February 2008 prior to a Kwantlen referendum on CFS membership. â€œI did not feel that I could be faithful to both organizations so I did the right thing and resigned,â€ he said.
After resigning, Robertson campaigned to convince students to vote against continued CFS membership. Reid said Robertson â€œwas not forthright about his participation in a campaign to undermine the federation.â€ Documents that show Robertson joining anti-CFS Facebook groups before his resignation are under consideration by the B.C. Supreme Court. Following the referendum, which reaffirmed Kwantlenâ€™s CFS membership, Robertson was re-elected and re-nominated as the CFS representative according to procedures guided by CFS bylaws but was not ratified by the executive committee, which is made up mostly by representatives from other B.C. post-secondary institutions.
The nomination and ratification processes are guided by provisions in the Societies Act and in CFS bylaws, which are being pitted against each other in the court case. While the Societies Act states that a director must act honestly and in a fitting manner, Desmond Rodenbour, general manager of the KSA, said this does not permit an organization to disqualify a person from a board of directors position if they believe someone does not have those qualities. A CFS bylaw states that the provincial executive representative shall be determined in a manner consistent with the bylaws of the local student association.
â€œThe problem is that the CFS is somewhat secretive and chooses not to publicly post many of their internal documents,â€ said Rodenbour, a sentiment that Robertson shares.
â€œFrankly, itâ€™s absurd for the CFS to climb in and say, â€˜Well yes, thereâ€™s a process, but thereâ€™s also another process which weâ€™re not gonna tell you about,â€™â€ said Robertson.
Rodenbour doesn’t want to elect another person to the position, calling it an issue of principle. â€œIf they honestly believe theyâ€™ll work best only with people that theyâ€™ll agree with, theyâ€™re missing the point of democracyâ€¦ If you only want one viewpoint, you can do that with one person.â€
The court petition, filed during the universityâ€™s summer session, has not been revealed to students through public announcements from either organization. But Kwantlen students will be paying legal fees for both sides of the battle.
Rodenbour said legal fees could range from $10,000 to $25,000, â€œa very reasonable cost to have the petition resolvedâ€ when compared to the $150,000 turned over to the CFS every year.
Robertson agreed, saying, â€œThe funny thing about this case is that Kwantlen students are being charged twice, because theyâ€™re getting charged once for legal fees with the KSA and theyâ€™re also being charged through membership dues to the CFS, which are going to this case.â€
CFS membership benefits during the period without representation are questionable, according to Rodenbour, who likened the fight to the United Statesâ€™ taxation without representation battle cry.
The CFS-BC is a liaison between B.C. post-secondary institutions and the government and lobbies for benefits including the reduction of tuition fees and student debt. â€œThe CFS continues to work on issues that Kwantlen has identified as priorities,â€ said Reid. â€œKwantlen students have given very clear direction that they want to work with other student unions all across Canadaâ€¦ Iâ€™m fairly mystified as to why the board of the KSA chose to [petition the court].â€
Meanwhile, signatures are being collected at Kwantlen campuses to call for another referendum giving students the option to defederate from the CFS this April, when the required two-year period following CFS membership referendums has ended.
Old issues between the Kwantlen Student Association and the Canadian Federation of Students have been brought back to the forefront in this weekâ€™s fee referendum.
The referendum, which runs from Sept. 21 to 24, concerns a number of proposed new fees to be paid each semester.
The KSA is supporting most of them, writing in its pamphlets, â€œThis is your chance to build Kwantlenâ€™s future.â€
Some of the fees are aimed at improving existing services offered by the association, such as a 65-cent-a-credit fee to provide funds for student clubs and KSA-hosted events.
Other programs suggested are 13 cents a credit for the creation of a volunteer-run online radio, Radio Free Kwantlen and a $2.50 fee per credit to aid in the creation of new student union spaces.
â€œWe want to help the university make the transition from a university-college, to a university,â€ said Richmond campus director for the KSA, Reena Bali.
â€œA lot of the questions that are proposed, we donâ€™t have the funding to do it without increasing the fees.â€
But the KSA is certain that these programs would be worth the added cost.
â€œThe event [proposal] is really good because it gives us a chance to work with the school, and throw correlated events,â€ said Bali. â€œIf students come in and say, â€˜We want this type of event,â€™ we have the funding to do so.â€
Bali also supports the Students Taking an Active Role Together, or START, program, which offers volunteer opportunities to students, as well as free or discounted job-related training, such as first aid or Food Safe.
However, one question on the referendum, question 11, doesnâ€™t deal with new programs, but rather an increase in the membership fee to belong to the Canadian Federation of Students.
The $1.78 increase doesnâ€™t sit well with the KSA, which says that it has been directed to up the cost by the CFSâ€™s â€œthree separate legal entities.â€
The issue is over why the increase is needed, and what it will be used for.
â€œIâ€™ve gone to two CFS meetings and theyâ€™ve never discussed it publicly in the meetings. When you do try to question them in budget, they do not answer your questions, or they say you do not have speaking rights,â€ said Bali.
Instead of approving the increase without student consultation, the KSA has decided to put it to vote.
â€œWe believe students should decide whether itâ€™s worth it to pay the Canadian Federation of Students more money than we do already,â€ said Bali.
Dave Molenhuis, the treasurer for the CFS, has a few criticisms of the referendum question.
â€œIn the past, students at Kwantlen voted and have voted since on continued membership to belong to the Canadian Federation of Students, and at that time voted on the basis that there would be a membership fee,â€ he said.
The membership fee is set at a national general meeting of all CFS members, including the KSA.
â€œThe premise of the question thatâ€™s being asked is that the CFS has directed the KSA to do â€˜X,â€™ when in fact the student unions resolved to do this at a federation meeting.â€
The 2009/2010 fee is $3.99 for CFS membership and services, as well as a $3.99 fee at the provincial level. This is then adjusted for inflation using the Canadian consumer price index.
Molenhuis said that this yearâ€™s fee is equal to last yearâ€™s, and the adjustment for inflation doesnâ€™t equal $1.78.
He doesnâ€™t see where the KSAâ€™s increase is coming from.
As to the stonewalling of KSA delegates looking for information on what the fees are used for, Molehuis is also skeptical.
â€œI havenâ€™t been asked by the director at the Richmond campus for any information. All the documents, by-laws, constitutions, are housed in the offices of the student associations,â€ he said.
He also explained how the money is used.
â€œThe fees are spent on anything from campaigns to the preparation and production of research, to travel for students to participate in lobbying sessions,â€ he said.
The animosity between the two organizations is not new. In 2008, the KSA held a referendum asking students if they wanted to leave the CFS: 56 per cent of Kwantlen students voted to stay.
These referendum questions could be foreshadowing another showdown.
â€œLast time it was pretty close,â€ said Bali. â€œWe do have a petition asking students if they want to defederate.â€
Regardless of association politics, Bali and the KSA hope that Kwantlen students take the time to cast their ballot.
â€œI would hope that all students would vote. The only way we can operate properly as a society is to come out and vote,â€ said Bali.