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AVEQ criticizes government consultation efforts on sexual violence

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Government consultation efforts

On Jan. 12, the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) released a statement in collaboration with the Association pour un Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ) in response to government consultations regarding sexual violence. Kristen Perry, AVEQ coordinator of Mobilization and Associative Development/English language media relations, said that AVEQ decided to release the statement after receiving an invitation to attend a discussion on sexual violence hosted by Minister Hélène David. Perry said that invitations much like the one received by AVEQ have been sent out to various groups including student associations and university administrations.

According to Perry, one vital component that was lacking is consultation with survivors of sexual violence.

“The thing [that is] very important when talking about sexual violence is that we’re listening to the people who have been most affected by [these assaults] and have the experience with which to advise how we can move forward with the processes that we have at our universities,” Perry said.

Possible affiliation with AVEQ

In the Winter 2016 referendum period, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) put forward a motion to affiliate with AVEQ. The motion, which proposed the creation of a $3.50 non-opt-outable per-student per-semester fee, passed council with 17 votes, five opposed and two abstentions, but the referendum question failed to be approved by the student body. SSMU has continued to sit-in at AVEQ meetings despite the motion’s failure and is still considering affiliation with AVEQ, according to Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat.

“AVEQ is a bottom-up federation that takes direction from its member associations, via regular members' assemblies,” Sobat said. “Decisions are largely based on consensus and SSMU is not bound by the positions of AVEQ.”

2015-2016 Arts and Science representative to SSMU Matthew Satterthwaite was opposed to joining AVEQ. Satterthwaite currently represents Graduate Neuroscience students in the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) and continues to speak out against AVEQ.

“AVEQ isn’t doing so well right now,” Satterthwaite said. “Members of SSMU decided against joining AVEQ last year and the same thing happened with PGSS [….] This has left AVEQ struggling both financially and with their influence. It’s hard to be taken seriously by the government or any other group you try to lobby when you represent so few students [and] schools.”

According to Satterthwaite, joining AVEQ would be costly for students and have little effect on SSMU members. However, Sobat believes that affiliating with AVEQ is still a worthwhile investment for SSMU members.

“While McGill students chose not to affiliate last year, AVEQ has matured extensively since that time and I think it is shaping up to be an extremely promising opportunity for provincial representation,” Sobat said.

Perry explained that AVEQ takes a more feminist approach to matters of sexual violence and strongly believes that this kind of perspective is needed, given the sexual assault policy implemented at McGill and other university campuses. Perry emphasized that including and empowering survivors is crucial.

“The point of this release […] was to make sure that we could push for the inclusion and the support for the inclusion of sexual violence survivors, so that their voices can be brought to the forefront,” Perry said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the SSMU motion regarding affiliation with AVEQ failed at its Feb. 11 2016 Council session. In fact the motion passed with 17 votes in favour, five opposed, and two abstentions, and so the question on affiliation proceeded to the Winter 2016 referendum period, where it failed to be approved by the student body. Further, the previous version included a quote that said that Concordia and the Université de Montréal had not affiliated in AVEQ. In fact, Concordia students voted to affiliate with AVEQ in its November 2015 by-election and the Université de Montréal has had no association with AVEQ. 

SSMU Council passes motion to oppose Bill 62

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(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

On Jan. 12 the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted to pass the Motion Regarding SSMU Opposition to Quebec Bill 62 and the Motion Regarding Interim Provision for Board of Directors Reporting. Furthermore, faculty committees and SSMU executives gave reports outlining key updates and plans for new projects.


Motion Regarding SSMU Opposition to Quebec Bill 62

Council voted to pass the Motion Regarding SSMU Opposition to Quebec Bill 62, which calls for SSMU to publicly denounce the introduction and passage of the law. Bill 62, introduced in June 2015 by Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallée, would ban face-covering religious symbols–such as niqabs–for public servants while they’re at work. The motion was moved by Vice-President (VP) External David Aird and President Ben Ger.

“Bill 62 is essentially a watered-down version of what we’ve seen previously under the Parti Québécois government with the Quebec Charter of Value, which called for [the removal] of all religious symbols from government officials,” Aird said. “We see it as a human rights issue [….] The Bill is essentially creating a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Councillors present at the meeting expressed support for the motion. Environment Representative Tuviere Okome provided her input on the necessity of the motion.

“Quebec has always had a strange view on the religion of Islam and this is what this Bill is, it’s perpetuating […] Islamphobia in Canada,” Okome said.

The motion passed with 95 per cent in favour and 5 per cent abstaining.


Motion Regarding Interim Provision for Board of Directors Reporting

Council also voted to pass the Motion Regarding Interim Provision for Board of Directors Reporting, which will introduce a new mandate for the interim SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) reports. The BoD will be required to provide regular and immediate updates to the Legislative Council by submitting a detailed report for each legislative meeting about the matters it has dealt with since the last report.

The Ad-Hoc Democratic Governance Review Committee, which was created in November 2016 to review the BoD and the General Assembly, will still provide a complete report on the BoD by the end of the academic year. Arts Representative Igor Sadikov summarized why the Interim Provision was necessary, despite the role of the Ad-Hoc Democratic Governance Review Committee.

“This is something we thought would be beneficial immediately, [rather than] having to wait for the committee to complete the rest of the report,” Sadikov said. “This interim division would [allow] for [the BoD] to submit a report to council for each council meeting.”

The motion was passed with 95 per cent in favour and 5 per cent abstaining.


Executive Reports

VP Operations Sacha Magder gave updates about the SSMU building, including recent successes with Gerts Bar.

“For the first time ever, we have Carnival, Science Games, and E-Week hosting events at Gerts, which is something I’ve been working on since last summer,” Magder said. “I’m so happy to see these events held at our student bar again.”

VP University Affairs Erin Sobat reported on progress that is being made with the McGill Policy against Sexual Violence, which was approved was approved by the McGill Senate in November 2016.

“[We’ve created] an advisory committee to oversee the implementation of everything in the Policy, [such as] setting up the new office, changing the referral procedures, and looking at educational and training initiatives that are mandated,” Sobat said. “But there is also something we asked for back in May [2016,…] called a Panel for Campus Study, that will specifically look at other policies and procedures that are outside of the scope of the new Policy, particularly disciplinary procedures […] and regulation of conflict of interest, which addresses things like student-professor relationships.”

SSMU executive midterm reviews

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This week, the McGill Tribune conducted midterm reviews of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives.

Daniel Lawrie: VP Internal

Lawrie’s led SSMU’s shift to playing a more administrative rather than programming role in Froshes. Events were successfully coordinated and executed with various vice-presidents of each faculty’s undergraduate society. A new initiative at Frosh this year was the consent video, which aimed to educate students and make Frosh experiences safer. Lawrie also launched B-Week in coordination with VP Finance Niall Carolan, which aimed to increase customers at Gerts through cheap drink deals. This succeeded in quadrupling Gerts’ sales during the week and attracting students back to the bar, which is an important source of revenue for SSMU.

This year 4Floors produced a slight profit despite having a higher budget than last year. This is a commendable improvement over 4Floors’ low sales and deficit in the 2015-2016 school year. Lawrie has since formed multiple sub-committees of the Students’ Society Programming Network (SSPN) in order to maximize the effectiveness of the team by delegating responsibility for planning upcoming events that don’t require participation from the whole network. Next semester, the SSPN will plan events such as Faculty Olympics and Week 101 welcome-back gathering, and aims to further improve Gerts’ turnout.

As part of rebranding Red and White Week, Life After Your Degree (LifeAYD) has been expanded and aims to help students prepare for careers and learn professional skills. The programming has been scheduled over the entire school year rather than being confined to a month of November. LifeAYD will take full effect next semester. The success of this change and SSMU’s ability to further collaborate with related groups and organizations in order to improve student preparation for life after McGill remains to be seen.

Although Discover McGill and Frosh made use of the McGill app, Lawrie has not yet integrated his listserv information in it. However, he plans on addressing this next semester. The SSMU website redesign has also been put on hold due to budgetary constraints.

Finally, Lawrie has reorganized the First Year Council to be more efficient in its budget, but the council only met twice during Fall 2016.  

Ben Ger: President

With SSMU being short on both staff and resources, Ger was able to work effectively with the other executives to keep costs under control across all portfolios. Despite following a deficit year, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) reported a surplus this semester for the first time in many years. Ger’s successful initiatives so far include the online ratification of the Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Fee after the Fall 2016 General Assembly (GA). The $0.90 fee will start in Winter 2017 and will go to the creation of the Health & Hygiene Products Fund to provide free menstrual hygiene products to students in restrooms across campus.

Ger has pursued research and discussion on reforming various governing bodies at McGill, from the SSMU Legislative Council to the McGill University Board of Governors (BoG). His goals include increasing diversity and equity internally at SSMU Council by including seats for indigenous and other minority student populations, and increasing transparency and student consultation by the BoG.

For Ger, this includes updating the SSMU Equitable Hiring Policy, creating an Ethical Expenditures Policy with Vice-President (VP) Finance Niall Carolan, and some political literacy-related initiatives.

Looking forward to the Winter semester, Ger hopes to improve on the low turnout at the Fall 2016 GA, which failed to meet quorum with fewer than 40 students in attendance. Having campaigned on increased student engagement with SSMU, Ger will continue to lobby the administration to provide academic accommodations during the assemblies to make it more accessible to students.

Sacha Magder: VP Operations

Sacha Madger has overseen a much-needed increase in revenue from Gerts and the Student-Run Cafe (SRC). Revenue from the entire SSMU building is up 40 per cent compared to last year, helping to cope with the current budget deficit. Considering that the SRC is limited to advertising within the SSMU building by contract with McGill, the SRC’s doubled revenue is an accomplishment. However, given that construction on campus has rerouted many pedestrians through the SSMU building, it is unclear how much of this increase can be credited solely to Madger’s management, and not just to the increase in foot traffic through the building. Additionally, a large portion of Madger’s campaign platform pertained to rebranding the SRC, which was presented as a project intended for completion in the Fall. Still, the new name has yet to be revealed and is now scheduled for launch in January.

Madger has worked closely with the administration on adapting the SSMU building to the ongoing construction, most notably by working with security and the staff of the Brown Student Services Building to keep the connecting doors between SSMU and Brown open until 10:30 p.m. This provides an entry to an accessible route up McTavish throughout the hours of operation of the SSMU building.

One of the main points in Madger’s campaign was establishing a Crash Pad for commuter students to stay overnight on campus. Madger was successful in coordinating the Crash Pad during Frosh, a project that was intended to be a trial run before setting up a more permanent program

However, the Crash Pad has since taken a backseat to other projects under his portfolio and received little attention. Additionally, enrolment in SSMU Minicourses has been very low this semester. Madger has plans to remedy this situation in Winter 2017, but the program has been largely neglected to date.

Elaine Patterson: VP Student Life

The restructuring of executive portfolios in the 2015-2016 year brought Mental Health under the Student Life portfolio, a change that is still being smoothed out practically. Mental Health Awareness Week has been moved from the Fall semester to Winter 2017 in order to ensure that adequate resources are devoted to its preparation.

Increasing Activities Night’s duration from two days to three while reducing its hours from four to three enabled more participation and reduced the burden on clubs participating. While there were challenges in building access owing to the McTavish construction, Patterson addressed these issues in a timely fashion in order to ensure that students were able to participate in the event.

Patterson worked to develop the free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy, which passed in the Fall 2016 Referendum. This policy will have a substantial long-term impact, which means that the coming months are essential in laying the groundwork and setting precedent for its execution.

Patterson is constrained by the ongoing Club Moratorium, which prevents new clubs from forming. The Moratorium came into effect at the end of last year as a result of SSMU’s budget issues. In the 2015-2016 year, clubs were moved out of their offices, which became bookable rooms. Despite this, there are still issues of clubs being able to find space in the building, even if they are a SSMU Club. However, some services, such as the Peer Support Centre, have now been given permanent spaces.Patterson is also behind on progress of the Services Review Committee.

Erin Sobat: VP University Affairs

In his role as VP University Affairs (UA), Erin Sobat has made an effort to improve SSMU’s relationship with the McGill administration and student groups on campus. By holding an equity roundtable with student organizations, Sobat hopes to hear student concerns and represent their interests more fully at the university level. In an additional effort to improve communication, Sobat has focused on using the UA website and Facebook page to share information with students. Although events at the beginning of the semester, such as the Academic Summit, allowed Sobat to interact with SSMU members face-to-face, this direct contact has dwindled throughout the semester. Sobat hopes to improve this again at the beginning of the winter semester through more events, such as the January Know Your Rights Campaign.

Sobat also had a hand in the development of the Policy against Sexual Violence that was approved at the Nov. 23 Senate meeting. SSMU organized consultation focus groups in order to ensure that the final policy accurately represents survivors. A working group has been created in order to develop plans for a Fall break, but it only met once.

Sobat also sought to create a SSMU policy on unpaid internships. Due to the resignation of the policy’s researcher, however, the policy has not been completed and will not be brought to SSMU Council for approval until Winter 2017. Sobat has also made efforts to review other important policies that affect students, such as the Code of Student Conduct and current procedures surrounding academic accommodation.

David Aird: VP External

Aird has been leading discussions with the Milton-Parc Community with the aim of improving relations. He has also campaigned to raise awareness among McGill students, who have an impact on residents who have been living in the neighbourhood for decades.

Aird has been vocal on issues regarding austerity and asked to be present at various faculty councils to have faculty members sign in support of anti-austerity measures. Preparation for an Anti-Austerity Week next semester is ongoing.

Aird has also worked with the Indigenous Affairs Committee in order to revisit the Indigenous Solidarity Policy. Aird wants to improve consultation with indigenous communities on issues such as the relocation of the Hochelaga rock, which was done hastily and lacked a wide-ranging discussion with different indigenous groups. He wants to rethink the way that the few indigenous students on campus are consulted in order to avoid overwhelming them with all of their communities’ issues .

Although students rejected a referendum question for SSMU to join AVEQ in WInter 2016, SSMU still participates in the federation’s meetings as an observer. However, it is unclear whether Aird has a specific plan to pitch AVEQ to students again.

Niall Carolan: VP Finance

Under Carolan’s portfolio, the SSMU operating budget has reached a surplus. According to his report to Council on Nov. 3, Carolan is optimistic that the SRC will break even and possibly become modestly profitable. Through activities that drive foot traffic into the SSMU building, such as B-Week— as well as the indirect consequences of construction—Carolan is seeking to ensure a balanced budget despite the constraints of significant budget cuts.

In a period of budgetary restraint, Carolan has met with various clubs and services, including the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students' Society (SACOMSS) and the Savoy Society, to ensure their financial relationship with the society. Carolan has also worked to streamline the application for student group funding through the SSMU Funding Committee. The new online platform will launch at the beginning of Winter 2017.

Following structural changes in the 2015-2016 year, human resources was moved into the VP Finance portfolio. However, it currently seems that a large portion of these responsibilities are still being handled by the President.

Communication with the study body has been notably absent thus far in Carolan’s tenure. While he promised to provide frequent updates on the budget, fees, and funding through the SSMU website and Facebook page, this has so far not come to fruition. Moreover, consultation with students on budget issues has been seemingly limited, as has communication with the media, particularly in regards to SSMU’s investment portfolio. It is currently unclear what progress has been made on the Socially Responsible Investment Fund, which he had aimed to create in Fall 2016.

Fall 2016 Referendum and General Assembly Online Ratification results

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(L-A Benoit / The McGill Tribune)

The results of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall 2016 Referendum and General Assembly (GA) online ratification were released on Nov. 18. All referendum questions passed and nominations were ratified online. Of the approximately 22,600 students eligible to vote, turnout was 18.1 per cent, exceeding the quorum of 15 per cent. Quorum for GA Online Ratification is slightly lower at 10 per cent and it was reached with a 12.6 per cent turnout rate.

Creation of a Musicians’ Collective Fee: “Yes”

This motion called for the creation of a $0.10 opt-outable fee that will fund the Musicians’ Collective (MC). Previously funded solely from the SSMU budget, MC provides student-musicians at McGill with affordable services such as educational workshops, practice room booking, performance opportunities, and instrument and equipment rental. This motion passed with a 72 per cent “yes” vote.

MC President Saul Zetler wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune that the MC executive team is excited about the creation of the fee and that the money will be put towards maintaining the Jam Room that is available for students to book online.

“We look forward to putting the money to good use improving the condition of the jam space,” Zetler wrote. “Much of the equipment in the jam space needs repairing or replacing, and the money collected from this fee will be instrumental in ensuring that the quality of the jam space is upheld.”

Midnight Kitchen Fee Renewal: “Yes”

This motion proposed a $0.10 increase to the current opt-outable Midnight Kitchen student fee. Approval of this motion increases the fee to $3.45 and money will be used to fund the non-profit, volunteer-run collective that provides free vegan lunch and breakfast meals on campus. The motion passed with a 78.6 per cent “yes” vote.

Midnight Kitchen Discretionary Projects: “Yes”

The approval of this motion allows Midnight Kitchen to allocate a portion of their student fee revenue to aspects of their mandate outside of providing free meals. Midnight Kitchen was founded with an anti-oppression mandate that opposes privatization and corporatization. A portion of their budget goes towards educating the community on topics that align with their mandate. This motion passed with a 73.9 per cent “yes” vote.

Midnight Kitchen Collective member and “Yes” Committee Chair Anastasie Dudley, U3 Arts, wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune that Midnight Kitchen is thankful for the support of SSMU members during the referendum period.

“The Midnight Kitchen Collective is relieved by the overwhelming support of both our existence fee and our discretionary funding in the past week,” Dudley wrote. “The maintenance of this fee will allow us to continue operations as usual, and as we have already been giving discretionary funding for years the explicit permission we have now been granted will further allow us to go on as usual.”

Dudley hopes that Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) members will be equally supportive during the upcoming PGSS Fall Referendum as Midnight Kitchen continues to be a well-used service on campus.

“Given the continued prioritization of corporate interests on campus by the administration, we don't see the need for our service dwindling any time soon and are dedicated to continuing to provide an affordable, healthy alternative,” Dudley said.

Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Fee and Health & Hygiene Products Fund: “Yes”

Brought forward by members of the SSMU Legislative Council, including SSMU President Ben Ger and Vice-President (VP) Student Life Elaine Patterson, approval of this motion will instate a non-opt-outable $0.90 fee in the Winter 2017 semester. The fee will finance a SSMU Health and Hygiene Products Fund that will go towards providing free menstrual hygiene products in restrooms on campus and educating the community on financial discrimination that affects those who experience menstruation. This motion passed with 80.7 per cent “yes” vote.

Ger said that feedback to the motion was mostly positive and that the motion passed by a large margin.

“[Free menstrual hygiene products are] something that [have] been wanted in the past,” Ger said. “People for Menstrual Solidarity, McGill Students for Feminism, both of those groups wanted to see something like this put in place for quite some time. They’ve been doing a lot of the groundwork so we really only came in with implementation phases, recognizing that we have that ability to make change at these high levels.”

According to Ger, SSMU would like to implement the program as soon as possible.

“Our plan in an ideal world would be to have a few [dispensaries] up and running by the time people get back [from winter break], obviously we can’t get every single washroom right off the bat,” Ger said. “It’s a pretty massive project to put all these things everywhere so it will be a bit of a delayed thing where we slowly put them in, I don’t imagine it will take more than a year [….]”

Nomination of the Auditor for the Fiscal Year of 2017: “Yes”

The accounting firm FL Fuller Landau LLP was approved in October by SSMU Council to prepare SSMU’s financial statement for the 2017 fiscal year. The choice of the auditor must be approved by SSMU members at-large on an annual basis. This nomination was ratified with a 89.9 per cent “yes” vote.

According to Ger, the appointment of the auditor is made public in order to maintain transparency.

“The auditor is to make sure that our finances are in check, but also that we’re spending our money appropriately,” Ger said. “It is student dollars that are coming through this space, so making sure that the student body is in approval of the auditing company that we’re using, that the process is transparent every step of the way, is something that we’ve deemed important.”

Ger said that SSMU has encountered financial issues in past years, necessitating the need for an outside firm to assess SSMU’s finances.

“There were issues […] in the past that kind of sprung [the annual nomination of the auditor],” Ger said. “The SSMU went belly up, essentially, and the university came in and took over, and ever since then we’ve hired a full time internal auditor […] to come in to make sure that we’re doing our job right.”

Nomination of the SSMU Board of Directors 2016-17: “Yes”

Also appointed annually, nominations for the Board of Directors are approved in Legislative Council before being approved by SSMU members at-large. This nomination was ratified with an 86.7 per cent “yes” vote.

Ger said that the Board of Directors is recognized as one of the highest decision-making bodies within SSMU and its decisions have a strong influence on services that impact student life.

“Their abilities are split between the Legislative Council and the Board of Directors, but the people that you ratify onto that body are dealing with all the legal, HR, operational–SRC and Gert’s, for example–and building-related matters,” Ger said. “So, it is a lot of stuff that directly impacts students. When people look at ratifying the Board of Directors […] it is still an important process of recognizing who is going to be representing you and choosing to support that.”

SSMU passes global access to medicines, cost-free birth control

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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.

SSMU Fall GA fails to meet quorum, becomes consultative forum

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(L-A Benoit / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 7, the Fall 2016 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) was unable to meet a quorum of 100 voting members. Due to a turnout of fewer than 40 students, no motions were voted on. Attendees were instead invited to participate in a consultative forum.

In the event that quorum is not met during the GA, all motions that are necessary for SSMU to continue to function go to online ratification. At this time, the motions that require online ratification are the Ramification of the 2016-2017 SSMU Board of Directors and the Nomination of the audtior for the 2017 fiscal year. The ratification period is open to all SSMU members and will close on Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. Polling booths will also be open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. in both Schulich and McLennan libraries.

The Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control and the Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy will come to the Nov. 17 SSMU Council meeting. 

Topics discussed included motions to support cost-free birth control coverage, global access to medicine, and nominating an auditor for the 2017 fiscal year. Upcoming SSMU executive projects and the tabling of the Motion Regarding Support for the Kahtihon'tia:kwenio (Women Titleholders of the Land) were also addressed.  

SSMU President Ben Ger stated that there is a clear challenge to getting students to attend the GA that extends beyond the amount of promotion. According to Ger, SSMU is consulting with the McGill administration in order to implement academic amnesty during the GA.

“People don’t see the GA maybe as the tool that it is and there are a lot of different reasons for why that happens,” Ger said. “In my opinion, one of the biggest problems is upper-level recognition by the university itself of the importance of student decision-making and the role that [the GA] plays. Not just in the McGill context, but in the Quebec context as a whole.”

Despite the fact that quorum was not met, Ger said that the GA is still an important decision-making body that more students should take advantage of. Ger encourages students to get in touch with SSMU executives if they need help turning an idea into action.

“The GA is an unbelievable opportunity to mobilize and move a multi-million dollar organization that is at your fingertips, it’s there to serve you,” Ger said. “When people talk about the usefulness of a student society and the ability of what it can do here, it’s pretty vast.”

Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control Coverage

Presented by the McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP McGill), the motion seeks for SSMU to support cost-free access to prescription birth control for all students. Currently, up to 100 per cent of prescription costs, including birth control, are covered for Quebec students under the SSMU health insurance plan. Out-of-province students, however, are only covered for up to 80 per cent under the same plan.

Policy Director of NDP McGill Julian Bonello-Stauch, U1 Arts, said that increasing coverage of prescription medication to 100 per cent for out-of-province students would have a large positive impact.

“This would affect approximately half of the [approximately] 7,000 students who are [undergraduates] from Canada, but [are from] outside of Quebec,” Bonello-Stauch said. “We feel that because birth control is the most effective form of contraceptive, we should increase access to this [….] We also want to clarify that while birth control is for female consumption, it is for the benefit of any individual in a relationship where pregnancy may result.”

Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy

This motion, moved by the Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM) McGill, aims for SSMU to endorse the implementation of a humanitarian licensing framework for health-related technology. If this motion is adopted, individuals in developing countries could purchase essential medication invented in McGill laboratories at generic-level prices.

President of UAEM Sonia Larbi-Aissa, U3 Arts, said that universities can have a voice in making medication more affordable in developing countries.

“The motion talks specifically of the HIV/AIDS drug [stavudine] that was invented by Yale University in the 90s,” Larbi-Aissa said. “Yale was able to ask the companies that ended up buying that patent to decrease the price, which made it more accessible in South Africa and saved thousands of lives.”

Opposition to the Motion Regarding Support for the Kahtihon'tia:kwenio (Women Titleholders of the Land)

The Motion Regarding Support for the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio asked that SSMU support a notice of seizure issued in Sept. 2015 to McGill University by indigenous activist Kahentinetha Horn and members of Demilitarize McGill who claimed to represent the Kahnawake Mohawk nation.

McGill Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Christian Quequish explained that the group did not consult members of the Mohawk community of Kahnawake before putting forward the motion on their behalf at the 2015 Winter GA. The movers, who acted independently, sought for SSMU to support indigenous activities through publicity, education, material and financial means.

Quequish clarified the reasoning behind the opposition to the motion and contextualized its removal from the agenda.

“This motion was brought to the Winter GA despite the former Indigenous Affairs Commissioner [Leslie Anne St. Amour] asking the movers not to pursue this motion without consulting more indigenous stakeholders,” Quequish said.

In the light of the movers’ disregard for the community’s viewpoint, Quequish appealed for students to respect indigenous individuals in their decisions to make public statements.

“Non-indigenous students need to realize that indigenous issues are complex and our perspectives are diverse and nuanced,” Quequish said. “When you interact with one indigenous person and no others, it becomes an issue of misrepresentation and tokenization. As students, we should hold ourselves to higher a standard with respect to engaging with indigenous individuals and communities and respect their decisions when they choose not to speak with us."

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the 2015 notice of seizure was brought forward by Kahentinetha Horn and indigenous students; in fact, it was brought forward by Kahentinetha Horn and members of Demilitarize McGill. In addition, the previous version stated that all motions from a GA that does not meet quorum go to online ratification when in fact this is only true for the motions that are essential to the functioning of SSMU. The Tribune regrets these errors. 

QPIRG-McGill runs Existence Referendum

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From Nov. 3 to Nov. 8, the McGill branch of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG-McGill) is running an existence referendum to determine whether students will continue to fund QPIRG-McGill through an opt-outable student fee of $5.00 per semester.

QPIRG was established at McGill as a student club in 1980 and became an Independent Student Group (ISG) through a referendum in 1988. The organization is  non-profit and student-run group with a focus on environmental and social justice issues that connect McGill to Montreal communities. 

According to Julie Skarha, chair of the “Yes” committee and member of the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors, existence referendums began for all ISGs in 2007. McGill mandated that all independent fee-levy groups must run a poll every five years asking the student body if the organization should continue to exist.  If the QPIRG-McGill referendum results in a majority “No” vote, the fee will be discontinued. 

“We have to have a majority ‘Yes’ vote, which is 51 per cent of all undergraduate and graduate students and the quorum has to be 10 per cent,” Skarha said. “The fee is necessary for all the programs and staff we fund and for us to continue all that we do.”

Coco Zhou, U4 Arts, and member of the “Yes” committee, said that QPIRG-McGill has played an important role in her political development. 

“I first interacted with QPIRG through their workshops, like Culture Shock,” Zhou said. “I found their workshops very useful and [they] spoke a lot to me as an immigrant. QPIRG has been key to a lot of student experiences at McGill, especially those who are marginalized. The group is the cornerstone for a lot of social justice work on campus.”

Some of the programming and projects QPIRG-McGill provides on campus include Rad Frosh–an alternative to faculty froshes that has a social justice and activism focus–and Social Justice Days, which is an annual week-long event of workshops and discussions about local and global issues held in the Winter semester. 

According Igor Sadikov, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Arts Representative and member of the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors, the ISG connects McGill to the wider Montreal community.

“In addition to the events [QPIRG-McGill] hosts and provides, the group also [creates] bridges between students and the Montreal community,” Sadikov said. “SSMU services doesn’t really have the ability to do this because SSMU is focused on providing service directly to its members, whereas QPIRG allows students to branch out and be involved in the Montreal community all while remaining a student-led organization.”

QPIRG-McGill offers a variety of programming, including the University Exchange Program, where students conduct research with community groups. Another project that brings McGill and Montreal communities together includes Convergence, a research journal that combines undergraduate research with community-based research. 

David Aird, SSMU Vice-President External Affairs, said that QPIRG-McGill is important beyond the programs and projects the group offers.

“QPIRG delivers a service that is not typically delivered by [SSMU] and they offer space to students that, unfortunately, we don’t,” Aird said. “Their existence is important to a lot of people. In my opinion, the safest place on campus to be yourself is the QPIRG office. I can’t emphasize enough how important QPIRG is in a university setting.”

SSMU officially endorsed a “Yes” vote for the QPIRG existence referendum at its council meeting on Nov 3. A “No” committee was not formed. 

SSMU Council creates democratic review committee

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(Noah Sutton/ The McGill Tribune)

At the Nov. 3 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted in favour of supporting the Quebec Public Research Group (QPIRG) existence referendum, restructuring Senator elections for the Faculty of Engineering, and creating a Democratic Review Committee.

Engineering Senator Elections

Council passed the Motion Regarding Electing Student Senators from the Faculty of Engineering, which proposes that the election period for engineering senator positions be moved. Formerly taking place during the SSMU election period, members of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) will now vote on their Senate representative during the general EUS election period in Winter 2017. Engineering Senators will now be elected annually alongside EUS executives and representatives to SSMU, instead of alongside SSMU executives. According to Tre Mansdoerfer, SSMU Engineering Representative, the motion is intended to increase participation and competition in the election of Engineering Senators.

“I'm aware that [the Faculty of Management] runs [their] senator elections under their own faculty elections [as well],” Mansdoerfer said. “I think it’s going to help with voter turnout. That’s the purpose of this motion [… and it] is going to help make the engineering senator position more appealing and not have it be uncontested like it usually is.”

Some councillors expressed concern that the by laws for all senator elections should be revisited instead of addressing problems at the faculty level. In response, SSMU Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat stated that this was something that could be looked into, but that he might not be comfortable changing all SSMU election regulations.  

“I think we're happy to look at that if other faculty associations are interested […],” Sobat said. “In terms of the election regulations themselves, we can revisit that, but SSMU is tasked by McGill for filling these seats [for Senate], and we do delegate them, to some extent, to the faculty associations [for] representation. But, [SSMU is] still responsible for putting forward the names, so there should be some sort of central mechanism still from SSMU […] to make sure that those seats are getting filled.”

Creation of an Ad Hoc Democratic Review Committee

Council also voted to create an Ad Hoc Democratic Governance Review Committee to review and produce recommendations for reform to SSMU’s highest governing bodies, including the Board of Directors (BoD) and the General Assembly (GA). According to Arts Representative Igor Sadikov, this motion was presented in response to changes in the role of the BoD last year.

“Basically the main purpose of this committee would be to review some of the procedures and limits on the power of the [BoD],” Sadikov said. “This is mostly just coming out of the changes that were made at the end of last year where the [BoD] got increased responsibilities [….] However, this was done, in my opinion, without the necessary oversight or transparency regulations for the Board [….] It’s expected that big governance changes will be reviewed once they’re implemented, so it’s good to have a committee even if there weren’t major issues [….]”

Sadikov clarified that the committee's purpose was not to eliminate the BoD.

“This motion is far from questioning the existence of the Board, I recognize that it's legally required,” Sadikov said.

According to SSMU President Ben Ger, this committee will help to define what issues the BoD should and should not take responsibility for.

“The division is not properly outlined to some extent. There are times when the Board ends up dealing with something that could be seen as a political matter because it is tangled with something that is legal, so there definitely is room to further define [its role…],” Ger said.

Ger emphasized that this committee will play a different role than the Equitable Governance Committee.

“At least my envisioning of this is that they're very different bodies,” Ger said. “Equitable governance reform is mainly focused on bringing more voices around the table, making sure this is an accessible space to those who maybe are [underrepresented…. The Democratic Review Committee] is more focused on making sure that there is consultative practices, that there is a strict outline for how [these bodies function] democratically.”

Fall 2016 SSMU General Assembly: What are SSMU members voting for?

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(Lauren Benson-Armer / McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 7, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) will hold the Fall 2016 General Assembly (GA), where the student body will have the opportunity to vote directly on proposed motions and referenda questions. The three motions presented this Fall must be approved by popular referendum in order to be adopted. 

Motion Regarding the Nomination of the Auditor for the Fiscal Year of 2017

This motion proposes that the firm FL Fuller Landau LLP conducts the 2017 audit of SSMU’s finances. Under section 17.3 of the SSMU Constitution, it is stated that the auditor must be approved by the GA annually. This motion was moved by SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes. 

An external auditor is hired every year to review SSMU’s financial records to ensure compliance with general accounting guidelines and correct inventory balances. 

FL Fuller Landau LLP was first contracted in the previous fiscal year when it was estimated that this appointment would reduce audit costs by approximately 15 per cent

SSMU executives did not respond to questions as to whether the savings were realized or whether other firms were considered for the job.

Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy 

The motion calls for SSMU to support access to medicine as a “public good and a human right  by asking McGill to adjust the patents they hold on essential medicines to increase access to medicine in developing nations. The motion was moved by the McGill Students’ Chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM). 

The proposal asks SSMU to advocate for McGill to change its patent policy through the University Senate and other appropriate committees. If McGill agreed to adjust its patents on essential medicines, it would allow generic drug manufacturers to produce essential medicines at a cheaper cost and sell them in developing nations. According to the motion, McGill would not be the first university to implement such a policy, joining a group of institutions that includes Yale University, the University of British Columbia (UBC), and Harvard University.

According to the Co-President of the McGill Students’ Chapter of UAME Christine Kim, other universities have not seen a fall in revenue after instituting similar policies. Large pharmaceutical companies don’t make the majority of their profits from drug sales in developing nations, but rather from sales in Canada and other developed economies.

“Seventy-nine research drug companies in Canada submitted reports showing their [research and development] expenditures [are] all paid for by domestic sales at Canadian prices,” Kim said. “[Similarly,] none of the 22 universities in North America, including Harvard, Yale, and even UBC in Canada, have reported loss of revenue from the signing of [a similar proposal].”

According to Kim, McGill could already contribute to the access of essential medicines, but their current policy inhibits them from doing so.

“McGill has already developed an anti-malaria drug, Cystamine, back in 2012,” said Kim. “We asked McGill to adopt [our resolution], because under its current [intellectual property] standards, the drug [is not] available to those in [developing nations], despite malaria having a very high prevalence in [developing nations].”

Motion Regarding SSMU Support for Cost-Free Birth Control Coverage 

The motion calls for SSMU to support cost-free access to birth control for all members of SSMU. If the motion passes, SSMU would negotiate with its health insurance provider, the Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company, to fully cover birth control prescriptions for non-Quebec students through the SSMU supplemental health insurance. The resolution was presented by McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP McGill). 

Under the current SSMU health insurance plan, Quebec residents are entitled to 100 per cent reimbursement for prescription drugs. Out-of-province students are only entitled to 80 per cent reimbursement.

Jacob Schweda, a member of NDP McGill, said the resolution is in support of an NDP motion that will be presented in the House of Commons.

“Women's equality has always been at the core of the NDP's values […,]” said Schweda. “More specifically, [NDP McGill was] inspired by the work of Irene Mathyssen, the NDP Member of Parliament for London-Fanshawe. She is currently working on a motion to be introduced in the House of Commons calling for free prescription birth control for all.”

Tribune Explains: GA and Referenda

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(May Lim / The McGill Tribune)

What is the General Assembly?

The General Assembly (GA) is a method of direct decision-making that takes place once a semester for members of Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The Fall GA will take place on Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. in the Shatner Building.

All SSMU members, which includes all undergraduate students at the Downtown Campus, are able to participate in the GA. Students can submit, directly vote on, and directly amend motions. SSMU has created a guide to help students draft their GA motions, which can be found on their website. The GA is an opportunity for direct democracy, according to SSMU President Ben Ger.

“It’s a place for political change,” Ger said. “You can bring forward motions [and] policies. It’s a great place for debate. Over the past few years, people have talked about what the point of the GA [is]. It provides a large forum for students to come together [and] for students to be part of the discussion, not just the decision.”

According to SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Cameron McKeich, motions have to pass two rounds of voting in order to be ratified at the GA.

“For the GA, there is an in-person meeting in which students vote by raising their hands [or] sometimes by a secret ballot,” McKeich said. “Motions that are approved by more than 50 per cent of voters [50 members], those questions will be put through an online ratification […] to ensure that a greater number of students have the ability to participate in the GA process that were not able to attend in person.”

Ger believes administrative support would help the attendance and success of the GA, as some students are forced to miss the GA due to academic commitments. The University of Ottawa, for example, has adopted different academic initiatives, such as permitting students to miss class on the day of the GA.

“I think our institution [the administration] hasn’t in the past recognized the importance of student-led initiatives, student debates, [and] student democracy,” Ger said. “Some people in the [administration] are very disconnected from the campus and don’t see how central SSMU governance is. Students in the past have been graded during times of the [GA], while at other universities that is not the case.”

What is the referendum?

The other form of direct democracy for SSMU members is the referendum. Similar to the GA, referenda periods are held once a semester. This semester, the referendum campaigning period starts on Nov. 7, the same day as the General Assembly, and ends on Nov. 8. Voting itself lasts a week, and will take place from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18.

All SSMU members are able to place a question on the ballot, according to McKeich. First, the wording of the question needs to be approved by the CEO. Next, the author of the referendum goes through a signature collecting process. SSMU has created a guide to help students prepare questions, which can be found on their website.

“To get a question on the referenda someone needs to collect 100 signatures from SSMU members from a minimum of four faculties, and a maximum of 30 per cent of signatures can be from one faculty,” McKeich said. “[For] questions that are asking for a fee levy or a specific allocation of money, the CEO will consult with the [Vice-President] of Finance.”

The period for students to submit questions for review and collect signatures was from Oct. 14 to 31 this semester.

Ger said that the Referenda is important because it allows members of SSMU to have a voice in their funding.

“Students want to use student money for student services, like menstrual products, but the university redirects the money,” Ger said. “[A pro of] the Referenda is that it’s a […] place for a direct democracy and a great place to influence change.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Concordia University allows its students to miss class in order to attend General Assemblies. The Tribune regrets this error. 

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