National student organization sues U of Manitoba student union over $1M in membership fees

A national organization that represents post-secondary student unions is suing the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, alleging UMSU failed to pay a total of  more than $1 million in membership fees over three years.

In a statement of claim filed on Aug. 30 of this year with Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench (now Court of King’s Bench), the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Federation of Students-Services accuse UMSU of withholding the fees since the 2018-19 academic year.

CFS was founded in the early 1980s by a group of student unions to provide services to students and student associations. The organization’s funding mainly comes through fees from memberships it offers to university unions representing undergraduate students.

The Canadian Federation of Students-Services — also named as a plaintiff — is  a distinct legal entity that provides services to individual student members of local student associations, according to the suit.

UMSU became a member of CFS in 2005. 

In 2020, UMSU’s board voted to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students. However, according to the lawsuit, CFS bylaws require a referendum in order for students to leave the federation.

The federation’s bylaws also say a member organization has to settle up any outstanding fees with CFS no later than six weeks before a defederation vote.

CFS national chairperson Marie Dolcetti-Koros said UMSU’s outstanding fees are more than $1 million.

The student union hasn’t yet filed a statement of defence. CBC News sought comment from UMSU on Thursday morning but didn’t receive a response.

The lawsuit suggests the U of M union remains a CFS member and has benefited from programs and services offered through the national federation.

Dolcetti-Koros said in a statement that “the CFS has continued to promote the interests of University of Manitoba students,” despite the fact UMSU provided the Manitoban, the student newspaper at the university, with statements in February of this year suggesting that it no longer considered itself part of the national organization.

CFS claims the Manitoba student union hasn’t taken “any of the necessary steps to defederate” in accordance with federation bylaws, the lawsuit alleges.

“Regardless of its public announcement, by virtue of not initiating and completing the decertification process … UMSU remains a full member of the CFS and continues to be bound by the membership rights and responsibilities,” the lawsuit claims.

The Canadian Federation of Students maintains in the lawsuit that it has repeatedly tried to reach an amicable resolution with UMSU since 2018-19, but the student union has failed to remit outstanding fees or enter into discussions to do so.

Along with payment of the fees and court costs, the lawsuit seeks a declaration that UMSU is still a CFS member.