On Monday, November 7, around 25 students gathered for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall 2016 General Assembly (GA). For the results of a GA to be binding, a minimum of a hundred students must attend. Since the meeting failed to meet quorum, it became a “consultative forum,” meaning that, while students still voted on motions, these votes were not binding.
SSMU statement regarding ‘Women titleholders of the land’
SSMU Indigenous Affairs Coordinator Christian Quequish discussed SSMU’s recent statement in favour of striking the “Motion Regarding Support for the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio (‘Women titleholders of the land’)” from the agenda. SSMU had previously released a statement regarding the motion, the latter having originally been brought to the Winter 2016 GA.
According to SSMU’s statement, the motion “called for the SSMU to support a Notice of Seizure delivered to McGill University on September 12, 2015, by a group presenting themselves as representatives of the Kahnawá:ke Mohawk community.” The notice called on the University to “immediately stop trespassing on traditional Indigenous territory.” However, the motion was tabled at the Winter GA because of inadequate Indigenous consultation.
The land seizure was delivered without any consultation of Indigenous students or members of the Kahnawá:ke community, Quequish explained.
According to the statement, “the motion presented at the Winter General Assembly is misrepresentative of local Indigenous perspectives and stems from selective consultation with activists operating in isolation from traditional governance systems. […] The ‘Women Titleholders’ are not official representatives of Kahnawá:ke, nor do they have the support of the Kahnawá:ke Longhouses or many Indigenous students on-campus.” In fact, according to Quequish, the movers only consulted with one Indigenous student after the motion was tabled.
The Indigenous student, after providing their personal contact information to the movers, was “subsequently harassed […] with repeated emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls,” said Quequish.
“Non-Indigenous students need to realize that Indigenous issues are complex, and our perspectives are diverse and nuanced,” Quequish continued. “To only interact with one Indigenous person and no others [is] a misrepresentation.”
“Non-Indigenous students need to realize that Indigenous issues are complex, and our perspectives are diverse and nuanced.”
“As students, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard with respect to engaging with Indigenous individuals and communities, and respect their decisions when they choose not to speak with us,” Queqish concluded.
A motion ratifying SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) appointments passed with no discussion. SSMU President Ben Ger explained that SSMU’s constitution requires BoD appointments to be ratified by the GA, but it’s mostly procedural.
A “Motion regarding Global Access to Medicines Policy” was next on the agenda. It was moved by the McGill Students’ Chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM).
One member of UAEM-McGill gave a brief explanation of the motion, saying that UAEM “is trying to get McGill University to adopt a patent policy which will allow different innovations or drugs […] tested at the University [to be] more accessible to people in developing countries.” According to the motion, 65 other universities have adopted a similar policy.
“This motion is asking SSMU to help [our] club get McGill University to adopt this motion in its policies,” the mover clarified.
SSMU VP University Affairs Erin Sobat asked how the movers planned to move forward and if they would join him in meeting with the Vice Principal (Research and Innovation)’s office. The movers clarified they would ask SSMU senators to put the motion in front of their constituencies and are also following up on other options. The motion then passed.
“This motion is asking SSMU to help [our] club get McGill University to adopt this motion in its policies.”
The next item on the agenda was the motion regarding SSMU support for cost-free birth control coverage, moved by McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP-McGill). According to the motion, “non-Quebec McGill students currently do not receive full reimbursement for prescription birth control under the SSMU’s group health insurance.”
The motion called for SSMU to support cost-free access to prescription birth control and for the SSMU Health and Dental Review Committee to review SSMU’s health insurance plan and negotiate with the insurance provider to ensure free prescription birth control to SSMU members.
U1 student and member of NDP McGill, Julian Bonellostauch, presented the motion. “We feel that because birth control is the most effective form of contraception we should increase access to this,” he said.
Sobat proposed a friendly amendment to “add another clause that would also mandate the SSMU to advocate changes to the international plan,” as the international student health plan is separate from the SSMU health plan. Since the amendment was friendly, it was automatically added to the motion, which passed.
Finally, students passed a motion regarding the appointment of the auditor for the fiscal year of 2016-2017. This ensures that the same auditor for the 2015-2016 year is hired for this academic year.
After the motions were heard, the SSMU executive team reported on their work so far this semester.
Because the GA did not reach quorum, the motions ratifying the BoD and appointing the auditor will go to online ratification, while other motions will go to the SSMU Legislative Council.