Despite a Hold on KPIRG’s Funding, the Lawsuit Against Its Founder May Still Go to Court

KPIRG organizers are still exploring the possibility of serving papers to Hossein

The KPIRG office at 7380 King George Blvd. in Surrey. The group has been renting out space off-campus since 2016. (Braden Klassen)

The KPIRG office at 7380 King George Blvd. in Surrey. The group has been renting out space off-campus since 2016. (Braden Klassen)

The Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group’s current legal dispute with founder Richard Hossein is currently on hold following the Kwantlen Student Association’s revocation of its autonomy agreement.

KPIRG Director-at-Large Simon Massey says that he and his team chose not to serve papers to Hossein to initiate a lawsuit against him as they had suspected that the revocation of the autonomy agreement—which, in part, dictates how KSA collects and remits KPIRG’s funding—was a possibility.

“You file a claim with [the B.C. Supreme Court] and then you have a year to serve the person you’re filing a claim against, and that’s a process,” says Massey. “We have not done that yet. We have chosen to hold off on serving the individual because we wanted to see what would happen with the autonomy agreement.”

As KPIRG filed the civil claim in March of this year, it has until March 2019 to take further action against Hossein.

In the past, KPIRG received around $250,000 annually from student fees. However, because the KSA voted to withhold its funding, the group has only the money in its reserves to sustain its operations. Given KPIRG’s typical expenses, this will likely run out in about a year.

Until then, Massey says that KPIRG will continue to pay its staff members and will keep holding events in fulfillment of its mandate.

“We’re trying to find if it’s a possibility to [continue the legal case], but looking at where the budget is, without funding, I don’t think it would be something we could do while also fulfilling the purpose of KPIRG,” he says.

KPIRG’s legal counsel has informed its staff that it is still possible to serve Hossein with papers despite his last reported location being Vietnam. However, the group has yet to decide whether or not it will pursue this option.

“Going after the money is tricky,” says Massey. “It’s not a guarantee that we recoup it or that we get it back. Even if we get default judgement, then we’ve won in court and we’re down the cost in legal fees.”

Elizabeth Edinger, an associate professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC, echoes KPIRG’s sentiment that attempting to recoup the allegedly lost fees might not be worth the cost.

“My assumption is that the defendant has fled to Vietnam without leaving any assets behind,” she says. “If the defendant has no assets in B.C., then in order to get the B.C. judgement enforced, [KPIRG] would have to find the defendant—now a judgement debtor—and get [the jurisdiction the defendant is in] to recognize and enforce the B.C. judgement. So it’s an expensive process.”

Edinger also clarifies that extradition wouldn’t be on the table, as the claim against Hossein is civil and not criminal.

Massey says that he understands the frustrations of KPU students who might view the civil claim as more evidence that their student societies can be embezzled without consequences.

“I’m not going to speak too freely […] but yes, I totally empathize with those feelings,” he says. “If we still had our funding agreement, we would still be [fully] pursuing this.”

As reported previously, KSA President Caitlin McCutchen believes that withholding KPIRG’s funding is the best way for KSA Council to address the situation between KPIRG and Hossein.

“We consulted with our legal counsel on this and I just think it’s important to make it clear that this isn’t terminating KPIRG,” McCutchen told The Runner last month. “We’re just [revoking KPIRG’s] fees until things get sorted out with them.”

Massey adds, “I think everyone is trying to do what they think is right for the students and for their society.”

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