Following its inaugural year, on September 19 Divest McGill kicked off the academic year with a workshop and meet-and-greet for newcomers. Divest is a student-run environmental group whose mission is to have McGill divest its holdings from institutions that participate in the production of fossil fuels or are involved with ‘The North for All’ (the resource plan formerly known as Plan Nord) or the Alberta tar sands. Attended by over 40 participants in the SSMU ballroom, Divest McGill leaders led a group discussion which explored divestment as protest strategy, the progress the group made last year, and plans for the future.
Divest McGill is one of 13 major university divestment groups in Canada, and soon will be joined by a new branch at Concordia. On a global level, it is one of more than 300 campus groups of its kind, largely stationed in North America.
McGill invests in 645 publicly-traded companies in total, of which 35 are involved in some form of fossil fuel pollution and 14 extract crude oil from tar sands. The stocks and bonds from these companies comprise about 2.5 per cent of McGill’s over $1 billion endowment, according to organizers.
Emily, a U1 student and first-time Divest attendee, told The Daily, “As much I’m totally against corporations who profit off fossil fuels, on a much deeper level I’m just surprised no one tell us where our money is going.”
Divest McGill argues that divesting from environmentally harmful companies would be akin to the divestment process from apartheid South Africa – a movement that encompassed divestment from states, companies, and universities, and had a profound impact on the economic health of the apartheid state.
After receiving over 1300 signatures, according to organizers, from the McGill community members last year, Divest made its case in front of the McGill Board of Governors last May. They were rejected following the advice of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility, citing the reason that the investments exhibited no “social injury.”
When asked about the future plans for the organization, Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, Divest McGill’s media contact, explained, “We would love to really connect with other groups on campus, to really build up and unite the Green community.”
“One thing we want to do is have a SSMU referendum in the winter, but it’s something we have to discuss further. It’s still a big goal though,” she said.
Another meeting will be held in the coming week to discuss more concrete objectives, goals, and ideas for the group in the coming school year.