Concordia Student Union News

A week long celebration of gender health

The CSU introduced their new Gender Health Hub with a week of workshops and events.

Last week, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) kicked off their new Gender Health Hub initiative with a Health Hub fair.

The Gender Health Hub is a network of Concordia groups and services that “connects students to holistic, feminist and trans-inclusive health and wellness services.”  It provides all students with free and easy-to-access gender related healthcare. 

The fair last week was a way for students to discover the services offered by the Hub. The week- long festivities took a community focus with workshops that were discussion and storytelling based. 

Some of the services offered include free menstrual and sexual health products, trans-patient support and advocacy, an abortion support hotline, as well as workshops and clinics on a variety of topics planned throughout the year.

The first workshop, conducted on Oct. 23, was on hormone literacy and discussed the role of hormones in menstruation, menopause, as well as hormonal replacement therapy. The CSU also provided goodie bags with menstrual products for those who stopped by. 

The second workshop on the following day focused on surviving the healthcare system as a transgender patient. Jacob Williams, a member of the Trans Patient Union at McGill, discussed his experiences in the system while opening the floor up to others to share as well.

Anthony, a student at Concordia, was happy to learn from these workshops and collect resources.

“I came here to help understand how to support my friend during his transition,” he said, “and after sitting through [the workshop] and hearing everyone’s experiences and how they had to do their own research and, in some cases, educate the doctors and fight for their health that intensely—it’s mind-blowing.” 

The Hub also showcased some of the other services the students have access to. They offered two more workshops that focused on mental health: an art therapy session that included coping techniques such as a body scan, and a mentoring workshop to create a safe space where students could share their experiences. 

For students who missed the workshops, the Hub presented its network at a health services table fair. Some of the groups participating in the event included the Centre for Gender Advocacy, Sex and Self Concordia, Woman on Web and a few others. 

To wrap up the week, students were invited to a party at Studio 414 on Saturday night, in celebration of this new project 

Hannah Jackson, external affairs and mobilization coordinator at the CSU, explained that this is just the beginning for the Gender Health Hub. More events will be held throughout the semester—like workshops on massages for scarwork, and other programs to help trans-patients navigate the bureaucracy of the healthcare system.


Women’s rights advocacy group deems women’s access to health services in Quebec inadequate

Feminist groups have identified various barriers to health services for women in the province

On Oct. 19, the Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec hosted an event in front of the Quebec Premier’s office in Montreal to give visibility to their demands for improved women’s health services.

The demonstration is part of the Réseau’s campaign to raise awareness about the obstacles to women’s rights to health in Quebec. The campaign, which took place over the past year, called on the Quebec government to work on making universal and quality public health services accessible to women throughout the province.

Audrey Gosselin Pellerin, a feminist political organizer and member of the Réseau, explained that the group aims to defend women’s rights by advocating for regional women’s groups on the national level. Gosselin Pellerin said that the issues health services face often affect women primarily.

“After decades of neoliberal attacks on the health care system with a pandemic that continues to drag on, we feel that there are real problems of accessibility to healthcare,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “At the end of the day, it is often the women who pay the price.”

Gosselin Pellerin said that the regional tables have identified various barriers that women across Quebec face when trying to access health services. According to the Réseau, in addition to the privatization and pricing of services that affect many Quebecers, women also face difficulties related to the centralization of health services. 

“Centralization is an issue that we see in many of the regions far from the big centers,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “Many women have to travel hours to be treated and have access to specialized care and this has a big impact on their lives.” 

Rebecca Chankowski, an international student at Concordia, has access to an insurance plan by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) but explained that she is still having a hard time accessing healthcare in Quebec and often has to wait to be back home in Europe to get treated for health problems. 

“My biggest problem has been trying to get appointments and being told that it would take six weeks, even for something very urgent,” explained Chankowski.

Chankowski explained that she sees herself as very privileged for having access to RAMQ services, but even accessing it was a long and complicated process.

Gosselin Pellerin explained that, on top of long waiting periods, women often have to face unequal distributions of services.

“What we noticed is that, when hospital administrations have to make choices, when they have to cut somewhere, oftentimes it’s obstetrical and gynecological care that gets cut and that leads to longer wait times for women,” said Gosselin Pellerin.

The Réseau has also identified institutional issues that can lead to women getting the wrong treatment or, in worst-case scenarios, directly mistreated. 

“These attitudes whether it be bias or prejudice really impact women, especially women at the crossroads of oppressions,” Gosselin Pellerin explained.

Mathilde Benignus, who has been living in Quebec for four years, explained that she found the search for a gynecologist or any specialists for that matter in Quebec difficult. Benignus says that most of the generalist doctors she has seen have run into some misunderstandings when it came to treating her. 

“With women or trans people, the doctors I ran into at walk-in clinics didn’t know what to do,” Benignus explained. “If you want to get an HPV vaccine, for example, they just assume right away that you’re a straight woman in a relationship with a cis man or, if not, then they don’t think you need it.”

According to her, conventional medicine for women is not adequate because of a lack of informed doctors and feminist approaches to healthcare. In order to receive the healthcare she needs, Benignus relies on alternative methods of care at feminist healthcare centers. 

“These alternative methods are really present and thank god for it, because they replace what most doctors don’t know,” Benignus said. “Not only is it cheaper but the people there are kind, informed and treat you as a whole person.” 

For the Réseau, the solutions are to reinvest in the public health system, raise the working conditions of health professionals and ensure quality of care without discrimination. 

“We want healthcare to be completely free, public and universal and to extend the coverage to migrants in precarious situations,” said Gosselin Pellerin. “We want women to have a say in how care is organized.”

Photo by: Nelly Dennene/Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec


Legault Government to invest $1 billion incentive into the nursing industry

In an attempt to attract more nurses to stay in Quebec, new incentives are being created by the provincial government.

On Sept. 23, Premier François Legault promised a $1 billion investment into Quebec’s nursing system, as part of a plan to make up for the province’s nurse shortage.

Quebec is currently in dire need of medical staff, facing a shortage of over 4000 nurses. As part of the incentives promised by the Legault administration, nurses would receive bonuses of up to $18,000.

Despite these promises, the The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which represents 76,000 nurses, disagreed with the plan because it failed to improve on the mandatory overtime laws currently in place for Quebec nurses.

The law requires nurses to stay longer than their mandated shifts if deemed necessary. However, the long hours have proven to be difficult for many amid the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen over 600 daily cases throughout most of September.

The plan comes not only as an attempt to prevent current nursing staff from leaving the public health sector, but also to secure the interest of new graduates in joining the field.

In the Sept. 18 press conference introducing the bill, Health Minister Christian Dubé said his mission was to make workers in the medical sector proud of Quebec’s health network, and to help them “want to stay in it, or come back to it.”

That same week, both Legault and Dubé were intentional about highlighting the benefits of the new plan for  both retired nurses returning to the field, as well as nurses choosing to work in the private, rather than the public, sector for economic reasons.

According to Statistics Canada, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour force are still evident in many of Quebec’s industries. The health care and social assistance industry reported 119,500 more jobs than it did compared to August 2020, showing a clear demand for more workers in the healthcare system.

Despite this slight increase, many students considering joining the medical field are still hesitant about establishing a future in Quebec.

Temkhuleko Mthethwa, an international student from Eswatini, is completing her major in biology. Although she hopes to pursue further studies in medicine she does not see a future in Quebec.

Mthethwa believes that language, not finances, is the biggest obstacle for international students looking to join the healthcare workforce in Quebec.

“It’s just so much easier to connect with your patients when you can understand and communicate with them,” said Mathethwa.

“It’s not like I know French — the language barrier is about more than just the finances, it’s about feeling like you belong.”

Canadian students coming to Quebec from other provinces seem to have a similar perspective; 22-year-old Université de Montréal student Braxton Phillips has been completing his masters in neuroscience. He believes the incentives from the government won’t really have a deep impact on who chooses to stay in the province.

“I think the people who would want to stay here in Quebec to pursue medicine would have done so with or without the incentives,” he said.

Phillips thinks that the Legault government would have better results through the creation of more bilingual laws for Quebec’s healthcare system.


Graphics courtesy of Madeline Schmidt


What about the amputees?

On the east end of my not-so-prosperous neighbourhood, and, on occasion the green line, I notice an increasing number of amputees — usually with one or both legs removed at or below the knee.

Curious as to why they all were wheelchair-bound, I did some research and discovered that they probably can’t afford anything better.

In some Canadian provinces, Ontario being one of them, about 70 per cent of healthcare funding comes from our taxes and the remaining 30 percent is paid for by you and I directly — or through private medical insurance. If there’s no free lunch there’s no free healthcare, either. The 30 per cent that we passy for ourselves includes most dental, hearing and vision care, prescription medication, certain vaccinations, or a ride in an ambulance. While these holes in the system are known to most Canadians, they’d probably assume that a prosthetic limb required after an amputation would be covered. Sadly, they’d assume wrongly. Fact is, the Canada Health Act doesn’t cover prosthetic limbs.

Provincial programs to fund prosthetic limbs are complex to navigate and may even be deceptive. According to CBC, Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP) claims to cover 75 per cent of the cost of artificial limbs but the coverage is capped. ADP’s approved prices were last reviewed in 2012; advocacy groups claim that even back then, prices were severely out of date.

Nineteen-year-old Emilio Dutra-Lidington lost his right leg to the propeller of a boat on Lac Pemichangan two hours north of Ottawa. Following multiple surgeries, the time came for a prosthetic leg – the quoted price was $91,577. Emilio’s family learned that the leg had to be replaced every three to five years for common technology and every six to seven for higher technology. The life-time cost of the prosthetic leg might run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. How much would Ontario contribute? A sum of $6,792. Help for Emilio came from a crowd-funding campaign launched by his parents in June 2019; within four months it amassed $130,000.

Ontarian Patty De Guia lost her leg to cancer a few years ago. Global News reported that while in hospital, her chemotherapy meds were covered; but once home, her lower-dose chemo pens ($4,000 each) were only partially covered by her private insurance. With her finances already depleted by out of pocket expenses for at home chemo, she couldn’t afford the $50,000 prosthetic leg her doctor recommended. She opted for a $10,000 “loaner,” $2,500 up front and a promise to return the leg once she got something better. After nine years, De Guia’s neighbours set up a GoFundMe page to help her buy a suitable prosthetic which cost almost $90,000.

In Quebec, the Régime d’Assurance Maladie du Québec (RAMQ) decided that Hugues Leblanc’s two hand prostheses, a complete bio-mechanical hand valued at about $35,000 and a forceps worth about $25,000, would be 100 per cent covered – a  wonderful outcome that might not have happened if the Journal de Montreal hadn’t covered Leblanc’s tragic story and if his deputy, Pascal Berubé, and heavy hitter Danielle McCann, Minister of Health, hadn’t intervened.

A study published in 2017, based on 2012-16 data shows that 6,000 Canadians underwent lower limb amputations each year. In addition, there were perhaps 1,500 upper limb amputations in the same period. Unfortunately, some of these amputees might stumble into a Kafkaesque perfect storm that begins with an illness or accident followed by amputation, then expensive prescription meds – not covered – and a hugely expensive prosthetic limb – not covered – loss of earnings, perhaps even loss of one’s employment during months of rehabilitation. The amputee may end up bankrupt or deeply in debt and perhaps severely depressed with limited access and horrendous wait times to psychological services.

Surely in Canada we can do better? I mean, how can Canada make amputee Terry Fox a national hero while nickel-and-diming its everyday amputees? It just seems so un-Canadian, hypocritical even. What to do? Canada could revise its Health Care Act to include prosthetic limbs and other assistive devices, and provinces could cap costs rather than coverage. The provinces could get together to create a national purchasing agency for prosthetics, or prescription meds like the one in the UK, to bulk buy and drive down costs. A “Canadians with Disabilities Act” similar to the United States’ “Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA) might help.

Learning more about this risk that might come knocking at your door is important. We all need to know and make some noise about it, which is what I’m trying to do. 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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