On October 22, members of Divest McGill gave a presentation to McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR). In its presentation, Divest McGill reminded the committee of its demand that McGill put an immediate freeze on its investments in the fossil fuel industry.
In an email to The Daily, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications Doug Sweet explained that CAMSR meetings are not normally open to the public because “confidentiality of deliberations is essential to the presentation of diverse points of view, full and frank discussion, and arriving at a consensus [and] decision.”
However, members of Divest McGill were able to convince CAMSR to let observers and members of the press into this meeting. As such, in addition to the 15 members of Divest McGill who were officially recognized by CAMSR, around 17 observers were present at the meeting.
Speaking to CAMSR, Chloé Laflamme, an organizer with Divest McGill, explained that freezing the investments now would allow CAMSR to demonstrate that it is taking deliberations on divesting on the grounds of social injury seriously.
“CAMSR would also be protecting the university from additional reputational and financial risk, while taking the time to come to a meaningful decision on this very important ethical question.”
“A freeze is a show of good faith and also follows a precautionary principle in that we stop further investment [in] the fossil fuel industry during the deliberations,” Laflamme said. “In doing so, CAMSR would also be protecting the university from additional reputational and financial risk, while taking the time to come to a meaningful decision on this very important ethical question.”
“I do want to highlight that we do understand that […] there is a certain time frame needed when making a decision as important as this one – and we have been patient for nearly three years,” Laflamme continued.
In their presentation, members of Divest McGill talked about the global divestment movement and gave updates on recent examples of campus activism with regards to divestment.
One of the most recent examples was Fossil Free Week, organized by Divest McGill from September 21 to 25. Julianna Duholke, a recent McGill graduate and another organizer with Divest McGill, recalled that members of the administration failed to attend the many events.
Duholke addressed CAMSR, “our administration was notably absent from [Fossil Free Week]. You’ve repeatedly said that you need more information to make a decision, and we had this week right outside of your door and none of you came.” Duholke directed her comments at Principal Suzanne Fortier in particular, who, according to Duholke, had said that she looked at her window and “saw nothing going on.”
“Our administration was notably absent from [Fossil Free Week]. You’ve repeatedly said that you need more information to make a decision, and we had this week right outside of your door and none of you came.”
Fortier responded to Duholke, saying “I was told there was an event, and so I did look to see when the event was occurring. […] I checked several times and did not see. So, maybe it was postponed or it was before, or maybe I misunderstood. But I did check several times.”
“Right outside your windows, outside your doors, we had frontline speakers, Indigenous organizers, who’ve been really on the frontline of this movement. Their communities have felt the effects of fossil fuel industries the most,” Duholke responded. “We had the privilege of getting these stories first-hand outside of your building and not seeing anyone there was hard to swallow, frankly.”
Ellen Gillies, another member of Divest McGill at the presentation, talked about McGill Alumni for Divestment, some members of which have pledged not to donate to the university until McGill divests from the fossil fuel industry. In addition, some alumni have pledged to return their diplomas if McGill does not commit to divestment by March 30, 2016.
Following the presentation, members of Divest McGill asked CAMSR what specific steps it has taken to determine whether or not there is social injury in investing in the fossil fuel industry and what CAMSR’s timeline would be in reaching a decision.
CAMSR Chair Stuart “Kip” Cobbett said that the committee was “working hard at it.”
“We have had four meetings, five meetings, six meetings, to discuss, to reflect on the petition. […] We have consulted a number of well-respected and leading scholars in environmental, […] engineering, and social sciences fields to get additional information,” Cobbett added.
Speaking to The Daily after the meeting, Dave Clark, a McGill alumnus, said that he was not convinced that the issue is being considered seriously enough.
“I was concerned by one or two of the responses by [CAMSR]. For example, they mentioned that they were going to some other sources to get information about whether, in fact, investment [in the] fossil fuel industry constitutes social injury,” Clark said. “They mentioned […] other sources, but they were very reticent to actually say what these other sources are or if in fact they would be willing to share that information afterwards.”
Cobbett expressed that there is no definite timeline. “I would expect, however, I would certainly hope – and I hope I can move that hope to an expectation – we will have a decision by early next year. Certainly by the March 30 deadline. […] This is not a drop-dead deadline, because stuff happens.”
Joey Broda, a U4 Chemical Engineering student and a member of Divest McGill, said, “The thing that’s kind of been disappointing for us for the last while has been that we have these discussions – we had a discussion in February, and again in May, and now we’re having one in October. It’s been taking a long time.”