Free menstrual products coming to on-reserve schools: Indigenous Services minister

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Free menstrual products will be available in on-reserve schools "very soon," the federal Indigenous Services minister said on Friday.

"Period poverty should never be a barrier to going to school. End of story," Patty Hajdu said in a Twitter post. "Menstrual products are a basic need, and very soon they will be freely available in all on-reserve schools."

Hajdu's office did not immediately respond to a request for more specifics about the timing of the plan and which products would be included.

Her announcement came amid criticism that First Nations schools were excluded from an Ontario government partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to provide menstrual products to school boards. British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have similar programs.

Under Ontario's plan, six million free menstrual products are to go to Ontario school boards each year. The boards will then decide how to distribute them to local schools.

NDP member Sol Mamakwa, who represents a riding covering northern Ontario First Nations, raised the issue last month of First Nations schools being left out of the Ontario plan.

During a legislative question period, he pointed out that the products are more expensive in the north and said people can be forced to choose between tampons and food.

"Young people attending First Nations schools have high needs for these products but they are being excluded," Mamakwa told the legislature.

"It is unfortunate that the public-private sector agreement did not see the need to address the issue for all students in Ontario, but only for those who attend provincial schools."

A spokeswoman for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at the time that questions about support for on-reserve schools should go to the federal government because it funds and regulates them.

In a written statement, Lecce said Friday that Ontario is "pleased that the federal government has agreed to match Ontario's initiative to provide free menstrual products to their students."

"We advocated for the federal government to adopt this program, which will now extend to all federally-run schools across the country," he said.

At another news conference last month, Lecce was asked why the province was providing take-home COVID-19 tests to First Nations schools under a provincial initiative, but not including on-reserve schools in the menstrual products plan. He said the province wanted to protect more settings from transmission of the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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