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This morning, Tuesday March 29, the group Divest McGill has occupied McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier's office reception area. The action is in response the decision last week of McGill's Board of Governors to stay invested in fossil fuel companies.
The group and its supporters have also set up a handful of tents in front of the administration building, with plans to camp out for the week.
"We're bringing our voices straight to their doorstep," says Antonina Scheer, a McGill student and member of Divest McGill, "because they have been refusing to listen to the community that overwhelmingly supports divestment; not only student unions but faculty and professors and staff at McGill."
The undergraduate and graduate student societies at McGill have voted in favour of divestment, as have the professor associations in the Faculties of Law and of Arts.
"So far [the Board of Governors has] been the only governing body to completely refuse a solution that's been approved with overwhelming majorities," says Scheer at the action.
The McGill Board of Governors decision last week ruled that the actions of fossil fuel companies do not cause a level of social harm worthy of considering divestment.
This has not sat well with students and faculty.
In a response letter from McGill Faculty for Divestment, philosophy and environment professor Greg Mikkelson states, "Does the Board really expect the McGill community to stomach the idea that killing 150,000 people per year, as global warming already does, fails to constitute grave injurious impact?"
Professor Darin Barney, Grierson Chair in Communication Studies at McGill adds, "It seems the Board of Governors wanted to rush through this approval with as little consultation and scrutiny as possible, and that all its talk about appreciating and respecting the students’ efforts was empty rhetoric. This is the sort of thing that leads people to lose faith in the integrity of the institution and its governance."
Several other divestment groups from Canadian universities have showed support and solidarity with the McGill action as well as McGill's BDS group.
Divest McGill has also extended its support to Black Lives Matter Toronto, whose members and allies have been camped out at Toronto police headquarters. Tonight, Divest McGill will join Black Montrealers and allies who have been gathering in support of the actio in Toronto.
On Friday, April 1, several prominent alumni are slated to join this protest by returning their diplomas to their alma matter. Director of the Quebec branch of the David Suzuki Foundation Karel Mayrand and Guardian columnist Martin Lukacs (who wrote of the action) have committed to returning their diplomas.
The occupation has three main demands (sub-demands can be viewed here):
1. Hold public hearings on the CAMSR report, as well as educational events such as panels and roundtables on divestment and climate change promoted by the university
2. Publicly disclose any and all expert testimony gathered throughout their investigation
3. Principal Fortier must make a statement acknowledging that the activities of fossil fuel corporations cause grave social harm, through the exacerbation of climate change and the devastating impacts on frontline communities.
According to The McGill Daily, the McGill administration has called these demands unrealistic.
Campus newspaper The McGill Daily has set up a live-update stream from inside the occupation.
The McGill administration was unable to provide comment on the action before publication time.
David Gray-Donald is a freelance journalist and community organizer in Toronto and Montreal.
Photos: David Gray-Donald