Student Associations Protected in Quebec Ruling

Monopoly of Representation by Accredited Groups Maintained

Two students from Université de Laval in Quebec City lost their court battle against the law governing student associations on Thursday.

Laurent Proulx and Miguael Bergeron were fighting to leave the alliance of CEGEPs, the Fédération Étudiante Collégiale du Québec (FECQ), as well as their own university student associations.

Proulx, who is now a Quebec City councillor, announced that the possibility of an appeal is “certainly not excluded.” He says he is not surprised by the decision, and maintains that students are being forced into associations, which violates their freedom.

The students were claiming that parts of the law overseeing the rights of accredited student associations infringed on their constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

According to the judge, associations and assemblies preserve pluralism and ensure student representation in political debates. The ruling also says there are steps that can be taken to leave accredited associations or form new ones.

“Dissidence is a huge part of democracy,” said Jonathan Bouchard, President of the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). “One of the main tools [Proulx and Bergeron] had is to be heard at assemblies.

“If you can opt out of these representative bodies, then who is to say that logic doesn’t extend further and people can opt out of the federal government.” — Benjamin Prunty, CSU President

“Associations have their place and their financing because they have a political role and also their academic role is crucial,” Bouchard said.

If the ruling had moved in Proulx’s favour, students would have the choice to opt out of student associations.

“If you can opt out of these representative bodies, then who is to say that logic doesn’t extend further and people can opt out of the federal government,” said Benjamin Prunty, president of the Concordia Student Union. “All the ruling did is maintain the status quo.”

Proulx and Bergeron, part of the green square or pro-hike movement during the Maple Spring, brought their case to the Superior Court two years ago.

Despite the judge’s statement that opt-out measures do exist, right now there is no way for individuals to leave accredited student associations like the CSU and faculty associations like the Arts and Science Federation of Associations. The only possibility is to gather a vocal majority and hold a collective vote.

The rights of accredited associations and their financing is enshrined in a law adopted by Claude Ryan in the 1980s. Accreditation is a legal process that gives students the right to form and be represented by student associations.

Being accredited means receiving a kind of company status that must be recognized by the school. It also means the right to an office and furniture, as well as access to a list of all student members’ contact info and the right to collect fees.

Right now a number of department associations at Concordia are in the process of accrediting.

Groups representing students from different schools, like the FEUQ or FECQ, can’t be accredited. The FEUQ runs as a not-for-profit organization.