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UVic students win right to referendum

B.C. Supreme court ruling allows students to vote on Canadian Federation of Students membership

University of Victoria students have won the right to challenge their involvement with Canada’s largest student lobby group, which charges every student a fee each semester.

Earlier this month, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Macaulay ruled that a petition supporting a referendum on the students’ society’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students was valid. Another petition backing the CFS had caused the matter to be held up in court since 2009.

The original petition, signed by 11.4 per cent of the school’s population, included about 300 names that also signed the counter petition. Macaulay ruled that the students’ society had no way of predicting the double signatures, or verifying which petition they signed first. 

The UVSS joined the Canadian Confederation of Students in 1985. Every semester since, students automatically contribute a portion of their student fees to CFS membership. The funds add up to about $240,000 every year, paid in $8.07-per-student portions each semester.

“They signed up for CFS before I was even born, so when I came to university, I had no choice,” said UVSS director at large Jose Barrios, who canvassed in support of the referendum in 2009.

“I think it’s important for the accountability of our organization for students to check to see if students want to be participating in this organization or not.”

If the referendum goes forward, students will vote on whether to reallocate the fees that go to the CFS, or to stop paying them all together. 

The CFS did not return calls asking for comment.

UVic isn’t the only school attempting to leave Canada’s largest student lobby organization.

Students at Simon Fraser University voted 66 per cent in favour of leaving the group in 2008 and have been embroiled in a court battle ever since.

A petition on CFS membership was circulated at Carleton University last year, followed by a similar counter-petition. Carleton is still a member of the federation.