Members of Divest McGill celebrated the second anniversary of the submission of their first petition for divestment from fossil fuels on February 2. In the early afternoon, members met with Board of Governors (BoG) Chair Stuart “Kip” Cobbett to submit a new petition and a 150-page research brief, and, later in the day, attended the BoG meeting to offer the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) a celebratory card and cake.
“Exactly two years ago, we submitted for the first time to the [BoG], so this is a new way of celebrating the anniversary of our long relationship with CAMSR,” explained Divest McGill member Ella Belfer in an interview with The Daily.
Following a recommendation from CAMSR, which is tasked with advising the BoG regarding socially responsible investments, the BoG rejected Divest McGill’s original petition in May 2013. Since then, following a community consultation, CAMSR has updated its terms of reference to include grave environmental damage in its definition of social injury.
“Exactly two years ago, we submitted for the first time to the [BoG], so this is a new way of celebrating the anniversary of our long relationship with CAMSR.”
Divest McGill member Natasha Wey explained that CAMSR’s reasons for rejecting the first petition could have easily been addressed by Divest. In order to avoid a similar situation this time, the new petition is accompanied by a much more comprehensive research brief, and Divest McGill has also requested a follow-up question period to address CAMSR members’ concerns.
“Two years ago, our brief was a little over thirty pages,” Wey told The Daily. “The response we received asked a lot of questions that we felt were completely answerable. […] So this time we submitted a much more comprehensive brief that answered a lot of those questions and went into far more detail about specific injury of the industry […] and explained what each of those companies has done to harm, not only the environment, but also the people.”
CAMSR has recently applied for funding to the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) to conduct a study of responsible investment practices in other universities, which could delay the consideration of Divest McGill’s petition.
“Whether CAMSR will decide to go ahead with this petition before we’ve actually gone through the study, or whether they’ll think it’s more useful to wait until we’ve done the study – I just don’t know,” Cobbett said at the meeting with Divest.
“I think that would be a great excuse for them to delay reviewing this petition […] but I think it’s their responsibility as they’re undergoing this process to be transparent and accountable.”
For Belfer, using the study as a pretext for a delay would be unacceptable. “Given that the SPF hasn’t even approved the project yet, I think it would be ridiculous for them to delay the review of this petition,” she said. “I think that would be a great excuse for them to delay reviewing this petition […] but I think it’s their responsibility as they’re undergoing this process to be transparent and accountable.”
“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to at least present to them before the end of the school year,” added Wey.
As for the card and the cake, Belfer explained that they are intended to remind the BoG that Divest McGill is determined to hold the body accountable.
“This showing today is a reminder to the board that we’re really invested in this process – we’re not going away,” said Belfer. “We’re not willing to let them lead us along and play games with us for the next several months.”
Governors acknowledged Divest McGill members’ presence at the BoG meeting, and CAMSR Chair Gerald Butts accepted the cake on behalf of the committee.
“We’ve been met with somewhat friendly response so far; a cautiously friendly response, I would say,” said Belfer. “It’s been a long road between us and the Board, so I think this is a humourous reminder of that, but also a more serious reminder that we’re still around after two years.”