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Deputy judge dismisses request for 93-dollar repayment of incidental fees

Photo by Mico Mazza

A student who sued the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) to have his incidental fees reimbursed because of a disagreement with its operations had his case dismissed in court Jan. 16.

Fifth-year chemistry student Edward Inch filed suit against the SFUO for the amount of $92.60, the portion of his tuition for the winter 2012 term that went toward the student federation and its extended and individually levied services.

Inch decided to take the SFUO to small claims court in October after repeated requests to be removed from the federation’s email list went ignored. He then attempted to resign from membership of the SFUO.

Inch views the federation as a “political organization” that takes stances he does not agree with and felt the federation exercised negligence in dealing with his removal from the mailing list and subsequent attempt at resignation.

Membership in the SFUO applies to all full- and part-time undergraduate students at the U of O. Inch felt his resignation from the federation would warrant the reimbursement of incidental fees.

“My resignation was accepted, so I feel that the fees and bylaws should not apply to me,” Inch said in court last week.

However, Ontario Small Claims Court Deputy Judge Lyon Gilbert determined  Amalia Savva, then-president of the SFUO, did not have the proper authority to accept a resignation, according to SFUO bylaws.

Gilbert ruled against reimbursement at the end of the six-hour trial.

“As a student, Mr. Inch is bound to the terms and conditions of enrollment,” said Gilbert.

The SFUO’s constitution does not formally state whether its fees may be reimbursed.

Inch’s argument—which namely cited the Government of Ontario’s Corporations Act and Consumer Protection Act—was that the services provided by the SFUO were unsolicited and this would exempt him from the mandatory fees. However, by paying his tuition (including all applicable fees) and by accepting the terms and conditions required to register for courses using Rabaska, Inch entered into a standard form contract with the university and, by extension, the SFUO.

The federation reserves the ability to set its own membership bylaws, one of which is that resignations are in fact not permitted.

“It’s contract 101. He accepted the terms,” said the defendant’s lawyer Jean-François Lalonde.

“It went as planned; we were pretty confident in our position,” SFUO president Ethan Plato said in an interview after the trial.

This is the first case in recent memory of a student who has sued for reimbursement of incidental student fees, though there was a similar group of lawsuits filed in 2011 over the newly introduced U-Pass. Nine U of O students took the SFUO to court for a sum of about $6,000, which included the $145 cost per semester, plus legal and other fees.

After the verdict, Inch made out a cheque for $50 to the Children’s Miracle Network in exchange for the SFUO opting not to seek costs from the case.

“Obviously, we don’t want anyone to be spending more money as a student than they have to be,” said Plato.

Deputy Judge Gilbert made it clear the case was not an issue of vindictiveness and said he believed Inch acted in good faith.

“The arguments were interesting, and I know there was a reason to bring it forward,” Gilbert said in court.

“I still feel what I did was right,” Inch said in an interview following the trial. “I disagree with the analysis of it, but that’s the way the legal system works.”

Inch will graduate from the university this year but feels certain that students will eventually see changes in the way their student federation is run.

“Voluntary student unionism will come one way or another, whether it be this case or legislation from the provincial government,” he said. “Eventually, it’ll happen.”