At its Nov. 17 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted to pass the Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy and the Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control Coverage. According to SSMU President Ben Ger, Council voted on motions that were originally supposed to be voted on by students at the General Assembly (GA), but could not be because it did not meet quorum.
“As some people might know, [the] GA did not meet quorum, so we’re running an online ratification for [the] two motions [Regarding Nomination of the SSMU Board of Directors and Regarding the Nomination of the Auditor for the Fiscal Year of 2017],” Ger said.
According to Ger, the Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy and the Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control were heard at SSMU Council by the request of the movers. However, the motions regarding the composition of the Board of Directors and the nomination of the auditor were ratified online by the student body on Nov. 18 by 86.7 per cent and 89.9 per cent, respectively. These motions were required to be passed by the student body, according to the SSMU Constitution
“Both [the Board of Directors and the auditor] are required to allow a company to function,” said Ger. “The Companies Act [of Quebec] states that in cases when the company must continue to function, legal reasoning must prevail over internal procedure. Thus, even though the GA didn't meet quorum, due to Quebec Law those two motions still went to ratification.”
Roughly a third of SSMU Legislative Council was absent from this meeting due to previously scheduled events outside of Montreal, and therefore did not participate in voting for motions.
Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control
Council also voted to pass the Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control Coverage, which proposes that SSMU works to expand cost-free birth control for non-Quebec resident students. This motion is intended to make changes to the SSMU Student Health and Dental Plan and McGill International Health Insurance Plan.
According to McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP McGill) Policy Director Julian Benollo-Stauch, NDP McGill moved this motion because birth control is currently completely covered for Quebec residents, but out-of-province and international students must pay to fill their prescriptions.
“Other countries, for example Australia, have birth control covered in health plans,” Benollo-Stauch said. “Unfortunately, Canada has not yet covered it. It is covered for Quebec residents, we want to expand that to non-Quebec Canadian residents. We also ask that McGill seek to do the same for international students.”
Senate Caucus Representative Joshua Chin asked if NDP McGill explored other areas that might be presenting problems.
“It seems that here in Quebec, the overwhelming barrier to access is not cost but the lack of access to a family physician in order to get a prescription for birth control,” Chin said. “Have you explored this route to look at the access?”
Representatives from NDP McGill responded that they are currently looking into this option.
Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy
Council voted to pass the Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy, which proposes that SSMU calls for McGill—a leading university for biotechnology patents—to help lower drug costs to increase accessibility for people around the world. The motion was moved by the McGill Chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM).
UAEM Co-President Sonia Labri-Aissa said that universities have leverage when working with pharmaceutical companies over prices and distribution. This allows the university to negotiate on terms of accessibility to medications in the event of a crisis.
“This motion is specifically dealing with patents that go through the university,” Labri-Aissa said. “Universities then send the patents to pharmaceuticals, who don’t really ask anything. We want to add a global accessibility framework [to McGill] that would say that in the event that this drug or this innovation is ever [needed] in an humanitarian crisis, it wouldn’t charge anything over the cost of using the drug. So if that’s a pill, that will usually be five to ten cents. If it is a vaccine, it is usually around $2.”
Council decided to only vote on the second part of the motion instead of voting to pass or reject it in its entirety. Arts Representative Igor Sadikov clarified that the second part of the motion contained the point of the mandate, whereas the first part was more on policy. This leaves SSMU with a mandate to begin advocating for the implementation of a global access licensing framework for health-related technology transfers to the private sector through the McGill Senate, even though the policy has not been passed yet.
“The first part of the motion on global access to medicines is a policy, and there had been no notice of motion, so we realized that it would violate the regulations to approve it right away […],” Sadikov said. “However, the second part of the motion is not part of the policy, so there is no need for a notice for that part, which is why we were able to divide the question and vote on the second part.”
At their next meeting on Dec. 1, Council will vote on the first section of the motion, which calls for SSMU to support increased access to medicines throughout the world as a public good and a human right.
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled UAEM Co-President Sonia Labri-Aissa's last name. The Tribune regrets this error.