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Divest McGill submits new proposal to Board of Governors for divestment from Shell, Enbridge

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On Feb. 2, Divest McGill submitted a new proposal to the McGill Board of Governors’ (BoG) Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR). The new proposal outlines financial and social reasons for McGill to divest from its top 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves. Divest McGill, a student group that was started in Fall 2012, aims to lobby the university to divest its endowment from its fossil fuel partners in the interests of mitigating climate change. In 2013, the BoG rejected a similar proposal from Divest McGill.

The new 150-page proposal cites oil companies Royal Dutch Shell and Enbridge as examples of companies that McGill should divest from.

“These corporations should be seen as illustrative of the fossil fuel industry as a whole,” the document reads. “A key factor in our selection of these examples is their involvement in the Canadian tar sands.”

Furthermore, the proposal calls for McGill to immediately suspend any new investments in fossil fuel companies. At the moment, the university holds shares in a number of these companies, as per the McGill Investment Committee’s mandate to ensure optimal returns from investing endowment funds for the purpose of university-related activities.

“We’re asking the university to immediately divest from any companies that are […] producing, transporting, or distributing products from tar sands,” said Divest McGill member Ella Belfer, U2 Arts. “Then, within three years, [for McGill to divest] from the top 200 fossil fuel corporations.”

According to the report from the CAMSR in May 2013, Divest McGill’s original proposal was rejected based on the lack of evidence regarding McGill’s fossil fuel investments’ connection with social injury.

“The committee determined that Divest McGill had failed to demonstrate that social injury (as defined in the terms of reference) had occurred due to the actions of a company involved in either oil sands or fossil fuels,” the decision states. “Since the committee is not satisfied that ‘social injury’ has occurred, no action was considered or is recommended.”

Divest McGill’s revised proposal comes after the CAMSR changed its terms of reference on May 22, 2014. The updated terms, which “expand the definition of social injury to include grave, injurious impact […] of a company [on the] natural environment,” served as a source of cautious optimism for Divest McGill, according to Belfer.

“CAMSR itself [changed],” Belfer said. “They’ve added grave environmental damage as one of the criteria for social injury. So we’re hoping that’s going to be part of the factor influencing their decision.”

One particular change from last year’s submission includes the omission of Plan Nord—an economic development strategy by Quebec to develop natural resources extraction in the province. Divestment from Plan Nord had been one of the submissions in the original proposal.

The new 150-page document lists a number of reasons for divestment, including human-induced climate change and social injury to First Nations Peoples. 

In the time since the 2013 proposal was rejected, Divest McGill has expanded in both scope and size. According to the letter Divest McGill submitted to the CAMSR, the main petition contains over 1,500 signatures, compared to over 750 signatures for the two petitions they submitted in 2013. In addition, the group has garnered support from different demographics within the McGill community, according to members of Divest McGill. 

“We have a faculty group, we have alumni support, we have so many more students who are a part of the process and a part of our core group,” said Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, Students’ Society of McGill University VP External Affairs and member of Divest McGill. “So there’s definitely pressure coming from a lot of different angles this time, which will help us a lot.”

Furthermore, Divest McGill is hoping that the CAMSR will be more willing to engage in discussion with the group. According to the cover letter submitted to the CAMSR, the board’s previous rejection of Divest McGill’s initial proposal did not allow for dialogue.

“We need a more constructive and serious engagement—with points of disagreement or instances of requirement for further evidence clearly and precisely stated,” the letter reads.

Chair of CAMSR Stuart Cobbett declined to comment for this story.

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