On October 25, around 30 students gathered outside the James Administration Building for a “book blockade” organized by Divest McGill. The group set up book stands in front of the entrance to promote awareness of fossil fuel’s role in climate change. The demonstration was planned strategically to precede the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility’s (CAMSR) first meeting of the academic year.
Divest McGill is a student-run group on campus that demands the University divest from fossil fuel companies. The campaign at McGill has been running for the past five years.
Morgen Bertheussen, a member of Divest McGill, told The Daily that “[we’re] here today, because CAMSR […] decided to reject our [last] demand [to divest] because they had said the worst effects aren’t being felt today and there was no social injury to McGill’s investment into fossil fuels.”
According to the terms of reference for CAMSR by the Board of Governors, “the term ‘social injury’ means the grave injurious impact which the activities of a company is found to have on consumers, employees, or other persons, or on the natural environment. Such activities include those which violate, or frustrate the enforcement of rules of domestic or international law intended to protect individuals against deprivation of health, safety, or basic freedoms, or to protect the natural environment.”
“There’s so much evidence that proves […] that social injury is happening. We’re meeting them today with books on the fossil fuel industry impact and [on] climate change,” said Bertheussen. “In a few steps, they have all this information to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The new chair worked for Petro-Canada for 18 years.”
The new chair is Cynthia Price Verreault, who will serve on the Board until June 30, 2020. An alumna of McGill, Price Verreault also worked as the Director of Retail Services at Petro-Canada from 1982 to 2000.
Another member of Divest McGill, Annabelle Couture-Guillet, expressed, “We wanted something educational; it doesn’t always work to be confrontational. For me divestment is about talking about climate change, yes there’s the political side of it, but it’s really just bringing attention.” Couture-Guillet expanded on this, saying, “Our goal is to interact with the community at McGill. [Climate change] is what many of us study every day in class. That’s maybe the most ironic part of the whole thing.”
“We wanted something educational; it doesn’t always work to be confrontational. For me divestment is about talking about climate change, yes there’s the political side of it, but it’s really just bringing attention.”
“The McGill administration is willing to set up meetings with us. Whether these meetings are effective is another question. They recommended a test fund for fossil free investment, and this fund has been implemented but it is very small, starting with five million,” noted Hala Fakhroo, a member of Divest McGill at the event. Comparably, McGill’s endowment is $1.6 billion.
“It’s nice to see faces of friends who support this cause, and building a community of caring [about] this really relevant issue. We’re really dependent on our people power, we try to have an event once a semester but we meet often to engage. Small projects based on committee work are usually implemented,” Bertheussen later added.
As members entered into the James Administration Building, many seemed surprised by the demonstration. Ram Panda, chair of the McGill Board of Governors, and Price Verreault shook hands, smiled, and made some stifled small talk with Divest McGill members. Couture-Guillet commented, “It’s important we establish a relationship, rather than have a contrarian discourse. Obviously, it’s still very frustrating, but more progress can be done if we’re on good terms with each other.”