The Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), a governance body mandated to make recommendations to the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) on socially-responsible investing, announced on Nov. 1 that it would be compiling a second investigation into divestment from fossil fuels. CAMSR decided to reconsider their stance in light of the current context and recent developments regarding climate change. The decision follows the McGill Senate endorsing divestment at their Sept. 12 meeting. Divestment would entail retracting investments from any company that profits from fossil fuels. The act of divestment has been successful against other social ills in the past, notably against companies profiting from cigarette sales and the South African apartheid.
Although the BoG has repeatedly expressed opposition to divestment, some members have spoken out in favour of it. At the Board’s Oct. 4 meeting, Ehab Lotayef, an administrative and support staff representative to the BoG, suggested that a motion for divestment should be put directly to the Board instead of waiting for CAMSR to further investigate.
“I did not see a reason for sending [this] question to CAMSR,” Lotayef wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “The Senate motion is clear, and [divestment] enjoys wide support within the McGill community. I had hoped […] that the Board would vote in support of divestment [….] It is not a question of bypassing CAMSR, but a question of urgency. Time is not [on] humanity’s side, and I feel a personal and collective responsibility toward future generations.”
Annabelle Couture-Guillet, U3 Arts and Science and member of Divest McGill, believes that students have the power to pressure their universities to change.
“We have the IPCC report that was released a month ago […and] it’s so clear that we need changes,” Couture-Guillet said. “As students, we have individual capacities for change, but, as students at McGill, we have this potential to use institutional power, to have our big, well-reputed university take a stand and send a strong political message.”
Couture-Guillet points out that CAMSR’s last report took testimonials from six individuals with expertise primarily in green chemistry and sustainability but not in ethical investing. The names of the individuals were kept private, so the BoG did not know whose testimonials CAMSR’s report was based on when voting on divestment.
“This time, the testimonials should be transparent,” Couture-Guillet said. “This time, the testimonials should be backed up by basic academic rigour. [The last report contained only] opinion claims [….] It was quite embarrassing.”
Lotayef believes that McGill should make the decision quickly to set an example for other institutions.
“I would like to see a […] fast and transparent process as CAMSR and the Board deal with this question,” Lotayef said. “I have high hopes that both the Board and CAMSR understand the importance of the issue and the advantage of McGill being at the forefront of the environmental movement [and that the university will set] an example for others.”
Couture-Guillet expressed concerns over potential conflicts of interest within CAMSR, stating that the Committee needs to rebuild trust with the McGill community.
“[CAMSR’s] new chair, Cynthia Price Verreault, has worked for Petro-Canada for 18 years,” Couture-Guillet said. “We hope […] that they will disclose any conflicts of interest and that they will come up with the best decision […] for McGill.
Associate Director of the Secretariat Kevin Dobie, speaking on behalf of the BoG’s Secretary General, asserted that CAMSR has provisions in place to ensure transparency and community input.
“The Board has developed […] practices that aim to promote transparency and accountability when it comes to Board […] business,” Dobie wrote in an email to the Tribune. “For several years, the Board has been holding annual forums with student associations.”
Students can submit their questions to the BoG at their next community consultation, which is scheduled for Feb. 14, 2019. CAMSR members expect to submit their report during the next academic year.