At the December 2017 meeting of the Executive Committee, and after much discussion across several meetings, the decision was made to recommend that the members at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) be expelled from the Federation. This situation is unique and as such deserves an explanation.
Members at Kwantlen are represented in the structure of the Federation by their own local students’ union. The relationship between the elected leadership of Local 9–Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) and other students’ unions in the province (and country) through the Federation has been fraught with tension and legal battles for more than a decade. KSA was a founding member of CFS, and as such were key in the transformation of the BC Students’ Federation into Canadian Federation of Students-BC at the same time. Kwantlen members stopped participating in the Federation in the early 1990s after their students’ union refused to recognize its membership. Following a negotiation with the Federation a resolution was reached in 1999 that resulted in Kwantlen members once again participating in the organization.
Since their return to participation in 1999, but particularly since approximately 2005, the relationship has rarely been amicable, as the leadership from the Kwantlen Student Association has actively lobbied against the Federation, both internally within their organization, and at meetings of the Federation. In 2008 the Federation held a referendum among the members at KPU (then Kwantlen University-College) to determine whether students wanted to continue their membership in the Canadian Federation of Students and the BC Federation of Students (then the CFS-BC). Admittedly, the referendum was called due to a petition organized by the leadership of the KSA, whose goal was to cease membership in the CFS and CFS-BC; however, the Federation undertook the referendum in good faith to determine the will of members at Kwantlen, and was committed to respecting the outcome of the referendum. The referendum produced a clear result: members voted to continue to be part of the national and provincial students’ organizations by a near 2:1 margin.
Unfortunately, the results of the referendum did not deter the KSA leadership from its desire to end membership. The KSA immediately attempted to insert key campaigners from their efforts to decertify into Federation structures, which ultimately resulted in a legal battle. In 2010, KSA ceased remitting Federation fees for reasons that were not explained to the Federation, and refused to pay amounts owing for handbooks produced by the Federation for the KSA, another conflict that required legal intervention to resolve. The resolution of outstanding fees failed to include a range of interest and other costs that prolonged the dispute between the parties. Though each of these legal battles were funded by Kwantlen students (legal costs were less than the value of Federation fees collected from Kwantlen members), they took a toll on the organization’s reputation and distracted from the organization’s core purposes.
In September 2013 the Federation received a petition from members at KPU seeking a referendum on membership in the Federation, again organized by the KSA. The Federation, acting in good faith, pursued assistance from the KSA in having the petition verified. In December 2013, the Federation received correspondence from the KSA asserting that the petition had been verified by KPU’s Registrar’s office and that it met the Federation’s threshold to initiate the referendum process. In response, the Federation continued to pursue obtaining a proper list of members from Kwantlen because the number of students in the letter did not match the numbers publicly available on KPU’s website, and because the Federation’s Executive Committee had a fiduciary duty to ensure the petition was valid under the Federation’s bylaws and rules. After much communication with the Registrar’s office the Federation was provided list of membership numbers against which it could validate the petition. Based on the list provided to the Federation directly by the KPU Registrar, the petition did not meet the necessary threshold of 10% of members. The Federation informed the KSA of the results of its evaluation, at which point the KSA could have sought to collect additional signatures or began the process over again.
Rather that pursuing their agenda of decertification from the Federation under the bylaws, the KSA instead chose to serve the Federation with a civil claim. The KSA’s lawsuit focused mainly on a supposed breach of contract because the Federation allegedly did not adhere to democratic principles, and the Federation having allegedly acted in bad faith by not simply accepting the Kwantlen Registrar’s uninformed evaluation of the petition. It is important to note that when served, the KSA lawsuit did not assert that the 2013 petition was valid, but rather relied on a selective history of KSA relations with the Federation and CFS dating back to the 1990s to allege a pattern of bad faith on the Federation’s part.
Not wishing to waste student funds, the Federation pursued a number of legal strategies to attempt to resolve the matter through summary judgements and other processes that would be cost-effective and fair. After nearly one year of seeking to resolve that matter without a full-blown trial that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Federation was unsuccessful. The several attempts to seek summary judgement were successfully blocked by the KSA’s legal counsel, whose copious (and in our view, largely irrelevant) evidence persuaded the Court that the issues between the parties could only be resolved with a full trial. The Federation’s final attempt to move the matter towards resolution outside of a full trial was an appeal hearing held in September 2017. While we have yet to receive a decision on the appeal, the tenor of the hearing was not positive.
It should be noted that settlement with the KSA was always among the options the Federation was considering. The Federation initially considered making an offer of settlement that would allow a referendum to proceed at Kwantlen. Through the process of seeking summary trial, the KSA amended their case to include an assertion that the petition was valid. Over the course of negotiations, it became clear to the Federation that even if the Federation were to allow a referendum to proceed and if Kwantlen members elected to remain in the Federation, there would nevertheless be a significant risk the KSA would take further legal steps to try to leave the Federation.
In considering how the case might be resolved, the Executive Committee was faced with the stark reality that regardless of the results of the full trial, or any future membership referendum amongst members at KPU, the elected leadership of the KSA will continue to seek legal means to extract itself and its members from the Federation. At any number of points in the past four years, the KSA could have simply gathered signatures on a petition to secure a referendum just as many Federation member locals have done to instigate referenda on CFS membership. Given that past referenda at Kwantlen have been favourable to the Federation, it appears to the Federation that the KSA has chosen its current path to specifically avoid seeking its own members’ input, and there is no reason to believe this strategy will change in the foreseeable future. Given this reality, to settle the case, we have determined that it is in the best interests of the Federation to expel the KSA.
The Federation’s primary priorities are and should remain providing successful campaigns to make post-secondary education more accessible and offering meaningful services to benefit members. For too long Federation resources have been diverted from these priorities to deal with a conflict generated by the KSA, who are seemingly unwilling to represent Federation members at KPU and are thus unable to act reasonably and appropriately as a Federation member local union.
The Federation’s structure requires that the local students’ union act in good faith under the Federation’s bylaws to represent the members at their campus, and time and again the KSA has proven unwilling or unable to do so. The Executive Committee is recommending that members at KPU be expelled because any resolution to the existing lawsuit that does not involve removal of the KSA from the Federation would only prolong counterproductive conflict, and only result in more of the Federation’s funds (and ultimately Kwantlen students’ money) wasted on lawsuits and legal fees. The Executive Committee remains hopeful that one day Kwantlen students will again be Federation members, and that a better relationship can be forged with the KSA in the future.
It is the view of the Executive Committee and this is the best outcome for the future of this organization.
The Executive Committee