Commentary  McGill tries to shut down divestment campaigns

Administration ignores student calls for consultation

On December 12 2017, McGill’s Board of Governors tried to take the ‘social responsibility’ out of its social responsibility committee, which would have effectively destroyed the potential for any divestment campaign in the next five years. The board did this without informing or consulting students.

The Board of Governors came close to passing an amendment to the mandate of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility, or CAMSR. The change would have CAMSR “refrain from using the University’s resources to advance social or political causes.” To repeat, the committee that oversees the ethics of McGill’s investments was told that it need not pressure the university to make investment decisions on the basis of morality.

The proposed amendment would have struck a serious blow to Divest McGill and the McGill Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on campus, as both campaigns call for the university to “refrain” from investing in corporations that advance the social or political causes of Climate Change and Israeli colonialism of Palestine.

The moral integrity of our University is at stake.

Divest McGill has demanded divestment from fossil fuel corporations in McGill’s endowment, and has twice requested that CAMSR support such a demand. CAMSR determines whether McGill’s investments cause “grave social injury”; it has claimed that fossil fuel corporations such as Enbridge and Petro-Canada do not. CAMSR is currently chaired by Cynthia Price-Verreault, who has held several senior management positions with Petro Canada, an oil corporation that has since merged with Suncor.

McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and the McGill BDS campaign have also critiqued McGill’s complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. One example is its $2 million investments in RE/MAX, a real estate firm that has financed the development of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In a 14-1 ruling in 2004, the International Court of Justice, the highest legal body in the world, ruled that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.

McGill has divested from corporations supporting violations of international law before, such as those complicit in apartheid in South Africa, but it refuses to divest from corporations committing similar crimes today.

The proposed amendment did not pass because representatives of Divest McGill and SPHR McGill disrupted the meeting to stop its passing. We argued that students had a right to know about the proposal, as it has clear political repercussions, and demanded that it be tabled until the issue was brought forward in a community consultation session. The Board of Governors refused to agree to do this, and instead postponed a final decision on the amendment until the next meeting on February 15 so that the rest of the board, most of whom seemed ignorant about the content of the amendment and its social and political repercussions, could review the report further before making a decision. When it became clear that the Board had no intention to consult the community about the proposal, we shut down the meeting in song with a rendition of “We Have Got the Power.”

The content of the proposed amendment was carefully calculated to end McGill divestment campaigns, as the pre-empting of social and politically responsible investment decisions would be irreversible for another five years. The manner in which the amendment was proposed was equally brazen: the index of the agenda explicitly stated that “the current review [of CAMSR] does not introduce major changes,” merely “clarification in language and updates that reflect current practices.” We at Divest McGill and SPHR McGill believe this is a major change; do you?

Help us stop the second attempt to pass the amendment at the next Board of Governors meeting on February 15. The moral integrity of our University is at stake.