SSMU Council.
SSMU Council.

News | SSMU Council discusses children in care, birth control

Sustainability Projects Fund also discussed

On Thursday, November 17, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met to discuss two motions that were originally put forward at the Fall General Assembly (GA), and hear two presentations, one on what McGill can do to support “students from care” and one regarding the Sustainability Projects Fund. Councilors also heard committee and executive reports.

Presentation on kids in care

SSMU President Ben Ger and Arisha Khan, a researcher on “students from care” and SSMU Funding Commissioner, presented research regarding “children from care” (i.e. children who were taken into custody by the state or other government authorities because their parents could no longer provide for them) and how SSMU and McGill can better support them.

Ger and Khan went through a number of reasons why children enter care, noting that a disproportionate number of children in care are Black, Indigenous and/or people of colour (BIPOC). They elaborated on a number of common issues that arise when children are in care that overlap with each other, such as identity, racism, mental health, and lack of access to resources.

For example, Khan explained that “members of the LGBTQ community, they often aren’t able to voice or find themselves. […] When you’re in a situation when you get bounced around from house to house, you don’t really have a comforting environment to voice those things.”

In their presentation, Ger and Khan also gave statistics focusing on what happens to children in care when they age out of the system.

“When you’re in a situation when you get bounced around from house to house, you don’t really have a comforting environment to voice those things.”

“Less than 13 per cent enroll in any sort of post-secondary program, accompanied by less than two per cent actually graduating from those post-secondary institutions […] largely due to lack of support,” Ger said.

“When it comes to homelessness, half of the homeless young adult population is in care,” he added.

Khan explained that McGill and SSMU should take steps to advocate for students who come from care because “sticking to the status quo means that we’re perpetuating a cycle where thousands of young people aren’t given the opportunity to actually move on to adulthood.”

“Most, as you know, end up homeless and don’t have the opportunity to pursue secondary education,” she continued. “So, without obviously the educational supports as a component, but generally social supports as well, their […] ability to contribute to society […] is thwarted.”

Ger and Khan suggested McGill and SSMU should focus on diversity-inclusive enrollment strategies, active outreach, and improving support, specifically for racialized students.

“When it comes to homelessness, half of the homeless young adult population is in care.”

“We need to look into enhancing and implementing programs surrounding those […] areas and different resources we can implement,” Ger said.

He elaborated that “financial support is where we’ll start; so things like tuition waivers, room and board, designated scholarships and bursaries, living stipends, etc. There are programs that currently exist that could be expanded on, things like the access bursary fund that SSMU currently has.”

Ger and Khan further shared the different universities’ programs which address the areas of education, emotional, health, and finance, as a basis for McGill to build a future program.

Environment Representative Tuviere Okome asked if McGill’s current bursary program “[takes] into account the struggles of marginalized students and puts that into account when it decides who it gives the entry bursaries to?”

Khan responded that as far as she is aware, there are no designated supports.

So far the exact number of students this will impact is unknown, and Khan noted that they plan to do a survey to help determine the magnitude, as many students from care don’t disclose their background.

Motion Regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy

Councilors discussed a motion regarding global access to medicines policy, which was presented by Sonia Larbi-Aissa, co-president of the McGill chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM-McGill) and a former Daily editor.

“The club […] has a long term goal of seeing what’s called a ‘global access licensing framework’ implemented at McGill University in their research areas,” Larbi-Aissa explained.

An access licensing framework is “specific to the way that innovations that are invented at McGill are patented through McGill,” she added.

The motion calls for SSMU to adopt a policy regarding global access to medicines whereby “SSMU supports increased access to medicines throughout the world as a public good and a human right [and] calls for the implementation of a humanitarian or global access licensing framework for health-related technology transfers to the private sector at McGill University.”

“The club […] has a long term goal of seeing what’s called a ‘global access licensing framework’ implemented at McGill University in their research areas.”

It also called for SSMU to advocate for the implementation of such a global access licensing framework through the Senate and respective University committees.

A humanitarian clause would be added to the text of the patent agreement, which would say that if a humanitarian situation or crisis occurs, “this innovation that’s in this patent would be […] available either at cost, [meaning] the pharmaceutical company that’s producing it wouldn’t charge anything over the fixed cost of producing it […] or they would allow the intellectual property of the patent — so the way in which the medicine is made or sold — to be transferred to a generic distributor,” Larbi-Aissa explained.

This would mean developing countries should be able to produce and access the drugs at a much lower price than when a developed country produces it.
Senate Caucus Representative Joshua Chin asked if the McGill chapter of UAEM has approached the Post-Graduate Students’ Society with a similar proposal, to which Larbi-Aissa responded that they have not, but may do so in the future.

Senate Caucus Representative William Cleveland noted that Larbi-Aissa had talked about humanitarian crisis, “yet the term crisis does not appear any time in this motion, and the only time [I] really see ‘humanitarian’ used is in the third point of [the] very long whereas clause.”

This would mean developing countries should be able to produce and access the drugs at a much lower price than when a developed country produces it.

“I was wondering if a humanitarian basis could really be made for any time anyone has no access to essential medicines,” Cleveland stated. “Because I […] looked at the advocating for the implementation for a humanitarian global access licensing framework, and I went to your parent organization – the larger chapter of UAEM – and that also says nothing [about] humanitarian crises or humanitarian issues in general at all.”

“I was wondering because you’ve spoken about the humanitarian crises, in what way do you see this being incorporated to actually show that within this policy?” he asked.

“The whereas clause you’re referring to is basically the text of what’s called the SPS or the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the equitable dissemination of medical technologies that was adopted by Harvard, Brown, Oxford, and I believe 22 other institutions,” Larbi-Aissa responded, “and yes, it doesn’t specifically refer to humanitarian crises; [it] was actually put in as an example of what could be adopted by McGill.”

“Harvard, Oxford, Brown and others decided not to make it contingent on crises,” she added. “Yes, that means that a humanitarian basis could possibly apply to something a little less acute, but I ask why is that a bad thing?”

She further said that if the University needs specific reference to humanitarian crises to be in the motion for it to be implemented, UAEM was willing to add it.

The framework of the humanitarian clause will be up to the McGill Senate and those who will be making the decisions, she explained.
Arts Representative and former Daily editor Igor Sadikov noted a procedural issue with regards to this motion, in that the policy requires two readings by Council. As such, he proposed splitting the motion into two questions.

“Harvard, Oxford, Brown and others decided not to make it contingent on crises. Yes, that means that a humanitarian basis could possibly apply to something a little less acute, but I ask why is that a bad thing?”

The first part of the motion calling on SSMU to adopt a policy will be read again at another Council meeting, while the second part of the motion advocating for such a policy was voted on and passed.

Motion regarding free birth control

A motion regarding SSMU support for cost-free birth control coverage was also brought to Council.

The motion was presented by Julian Bonellostauch, the policy director for McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP-McGill).
Bonellostauch explained that many countries have birth control covered in their health plans, excluding Canada.

“However, it is covered for Quebec residents here at McGill and we want to expand that to non-Quebec Canadian residents and also ask McGill to see if they can do the same for international students,” he explained.

Currently the cost of birth control is only covered for 80 per cent of non-Quebec students. “So it would be a modest increase in the coverage but it would have great benefits because we feel that unfortunately cost is a giant barrier for health care,” Bonellostauch added.

“The main barrier to access to contraception is not cost but rather access to a family physician in order to get a prescription for hormonal birth control,” Chin said. “So my question is, have you explored this route in order to facilitate access to contraceptives?”

Bonellostauch responded that he has not personally done so, but other members of NDP-McGill are looking into it. The motion was then voted on and passed.


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