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.”
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.”
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.”
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.