Case Comment – Tariq Khan v. Students’ Society of McGill University

June 2014

Arising out of an application for a provisional injunction, the Superior Court of Quebec was recently tasked with considering whether certain officers of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) sufficiently abided by the society’s internal elections process.

At the end of May, the SSMU found itself defending against an injunction application after the Judicial Board of the SSMU rendered its decision to disqualify the plaintiff, Tariq Khan, from Presidency of the SSMU shortly after his election.  The basis for the disqualifications were several alleged violations of the campaign process. Alleging that his rights to due process and provision of full defence were breached, the plaintiff sought to have suspended the original and appellate decisions of the elections officers and Judicial Board, respectively, as well as to be reinstated as President pending the final judgment on the hearing of the permanent injunction.

After satisfying itself that the urgency and irreparable harm criteria for the granting of an injunction had been met, the Court proceeded to consider whether the rights asserted by the plaintiff, were clear, doubtful,  nonexistent, or fell somewhere on the spectrum between the former and the latter.

Of particular importance to not-for-profit corporations is the extent to which the Court relied on SSMU’s by-law to determine whether it should suspend the decisions rendered first by the elections officers and subsequently by SSMU’s Judicial Board.  In response to the specific actions requested of the Court by the plaintiff, the Court cited several provisions of the SSMU by-law which led to the following conclusions:

  1. There was nothing in the by-law which restricted the elections officers from undertaking the investigation against the plaintiff;
  2. The written decisions rendered by the elections officers were objective and thorough;
  3. There were no procedural irregularities sufficient to support the suspension of the disqualification statement rendered by the elections officers;
  4. Because the by-law compels the Judicial Board to hear and adjudicate appeals within the semester in which they are launched, the Judicial Board did not act precipitously in rendering a decision on the same day of the hearing.

Because the elections officers and the Judicial Board adhered to the processes outlined in SSMU’s by-law, the Court rejected the argument that the plaintiff had a clear right to be reinstated as President.  Resultantly, after then proceeding to conclude that the balance of convenience in not issuing the provisional injunction favoured SSMU, the Court denied the plaintiff’s application.

Tariq Khan v. Students’ Society of McGill University serves as a reminder that an organization’s internal procedures are subject to judicial review and officers acting in an administrative capacity are bound to respect procedural fairness.

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