McGill rejects fossil fuel divestment for second time

| March 24, 2016
Screenshot: Divest McGill twitter

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McGill University announced on Wednesday that while fossil fuel investments represent social injury, the injury is not grave enough for McGill to consider divestment -- selling off its investments in fossil fuel corporations -- at any level.

McGill's Board of Governors made a similar decision against fossil fuel divestment in spring 2013.

A report from McGill's Board of Governors Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) was presented and quickly approved at a closed meeting and announced in an open meeting immediately after.

Divest McGill, a campaign calling on McGill university to divest, quickly responded by taking to social media to express frustration and anger, issuing a press release and attending a meeting they were only informed of that morning.

Fossil fuel companies break some laws; do not affect climate policy

"There is not the degree or extent of injurious impact at this time that results from the activities of fossil fuel companies that would warrant a finding of grave injurious impact," reads the CAMSR report.

However, the committee does acknowledge that "fossil fuel companies and companies that use fossil fuels, engage in activities that to some degree have an injurious impact. Indeed, in the industrial age and society in which we find ourselves, much human activity may be said to have an injurious impact on the natural environment."

CAMSR also noted it failed "to see the logic or virtue in singling out the activities of fossil fuel companies for special attention, when concerted efforts are needed on a mass scale to change the behaviour of many companies and individuals."

Divest McGill's claims that fossil fuel companies cause social injury by preventing real action on climate change and failing to obtain consent from Indigenous communities, to name only a couple, are noted by the committee but not specifically refuted.

The committee does respond to Divest McGill's claims that fossil fuel companies break "domestic and international laws" justifying its by stating: "This tends to show that these companies operate within the law, although they, like commercial ventures in other areas of activity, sometimes breach specific laws or regulations."

It seems, according to McGill University, while these companies break the law and try to change the rules to their favour, their actions do not stand in the way of sound climate policy.

The document approved by the school's Board of Governors reads, "The Committee is persuaded that the beneficial impact of fossil fuel companies offsets or outweighs injurious impact at this time."

Board acted against voices of divestment

Divest McGill responded immediately on Wednesday with a statement denouncing the decision not to divest and the "lack of public forum for community consultation on divestment or on the report itself."

The Divest McGill campaign has received enormous support in the community with over 33,000 students, 150 faculty and 230 alumni endorsing divestment as well as McGill's Faculty of Arts, School of Environment, Faculty of Law, according to the press release. 

"The Board acted against these voices for divestment," stated the press release.

"The Board's vote today, declaring that fossil fuel companies are not responsible for social injury, is not only myopic, but shameful," said Divest McGill member Victor Frankel, a PhD Candidate in the press release. "Is the board waiting for the world's life support systems to totally collapse before divesting from fossil fuels? By that point, it won't make a difference. Divestment can make a difference today."

The McGill committee report also indicates that even if the social injury from fossil fuel investments was grave enough, they would not consider divestment at this time because they are unconvinced it is the most effective course of action.

Divest McGill appears to be moving forward with their planned reaction to this decision: next Friday, April 1, alumni will be returning their diplomas to express shame McGill remains complicit in the climate crisis. 

Divest McGill has also pledged to remain committed to the campaign and continue action and stated it will meet to discuss next steps.


David Gray-Donald is a freelance journalist and community organizer in Toronto and Montreal.

Screenshot: Divest McGill twitter



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