Content Warning: Physical violence, sexual violence
Investigating McGill’s investments in extractives
For years, campus environmental activist groups, such as Divest McGill and Climate Justice Action McGill , have been vocal about their demands: McGill must stop coddling the extractive industries, namely fossil fuel and mining companies. From gold mining tycoon and heavy fossil fuel investor Seymour Schulich’s $20 million donation to McGill in 2005, to McGill’s own asbestos industry propagandist, Professor J. C. McDonald, to whom the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association gave one million dollars to produce phony research in 1997, the baggage of McGill’s dubious business dealings weighs heavily on students’ consciences and futures. There’s a reason that an environmental ethics professor resigned from his post at McGill over McGill’s embarrassing failure to divest three times in a row—the ethics of investing in industries that perpetuate environmental colonialism only advance the looming climate crisis, outweighing any argument, financial or other, in their favour.
McGill’s connection to extractive industries is both obvious and strategically covert. In McGill’s Office of Investments, only three files are publicly accessible: McGill’s Canadian, American, and Non-North American equity holdings as of Jun. 2020. Although one can view McGill’s quarterly and annual endowment reports dating back to the early 2000s, investment data from recent years is absent from formal channels. Information about McGill’s investments and mingling with extractive industries is available, however, one must go digging for it.
There is a wealth of data on McGill’s extractive investment portfolio that has been made available by public initiatives, circumventing bureaucratic hoops that would otherwise bury such information. McGilliLeaked and mcgillinvests.in provide the public with everything they need to know about McGill’s investment portfolios without having to submit an Access to Information Request (ATI). Christopher Bangs, B.A. '12 uploaded most of the documents, obtained through ATIs, to the original McGilliLeaked website, which was created in 2012.
Launched in May 2018 by Igor Sadikov, B.A. ‘17, and David Summerhays, B.A. ‘05, mcgillinvests.in compiles and categorizes McGill’s endowment investment data. The tool was created in conjunction between Sadikov, Summerhays, and several other groups across campus.
As of Mar. 31, 2019, McGill invests $49,126,925.34 in oil and gas industries and $18,382,415.67 in the mining and extractive industries, representing 7.6 per cent and 2.6 per cent of the endowment, respectively.
Every year, the Carbon Underground 200 (CU200) ranks the top 100 coal and top 100 oil and gas reserve holders globally by the estimated carbon emissions of their reported reserves in gigatons.
CU200 listed British Petroleum (BP) as the sixth-highest oil and gas reserve holder, with an estimated 7.472 gigatons in their current oil and gas reserves. In June 2019 McGill held $1,586,149 in BP stock. Allowing these companies to burn through their reserves would be disastrous: 565 gigatons represents the maximum amount that can be released into the atmosphere by the middle of the century to still have reasonable hope of staying below two degrees and avoiding serious climate disaster. It is shameful that McGill turns its back to the gravity of this situation, investing not only in the burning of fossil fuels today, but also of tomorrow.
Although CU200 prohibits disclosing the emissions and groups beyond the top 10 companies, McGill had investments in several other companies on the oil and gas top 100 list and in the top 100 company’s proven coal reserves list. In each of these companies, McGill has been a consistent, seven-figure investor.
Protests against Enbridge’s multiple pipelines snaking through Canada have been ongoing for years . In 2015—when McGill held $2,991,380 in Enbridge equities—three demonstrators, including one Anishinaabe woman, manually sealed a valve along the Line 9 pipeline running from Sarnia to Montreal and chained themselves to the operating site in protest. In the infamous Chemical Valley, located just outside Sarnia, Enbridge operates within 15 minutes of 62 other oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Nearby, oil giants Suncor and Shell—both McGill investments—surround the Amjiwnaang First Nation reserve, spewing chemical leaks and releasing toxins into the air. As a consistent investor in these industries, McGill is complicit in ongoing environmental colonialism and continues to pledge support to an industry slowly destabilizing and poisoning communities across Canada.
When protests continued in 2016, McGill’s winter equities in Enbridge stood at $5,401,400. In 2017, Enbridge was responsible for 763 spills, totaling 93,852 barrels of both light, heavy, and even tar sands crude from 2005 to 2017, when McGill’s Enbridge holdings increased to $6,728,097 in the spring. In 2018, land defenders set up a prayer camp, Spirit of Buffalo, near the Canada-US border, protesting Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. McGill held $4,657,551 in equities in December 2018. As protests against Line 3 endured into 2019, so too did McGill investment into Enbridge, holding $6,190,118 in March 2019. While activists and land defenders chained themselves to posts and put their livelihoods at stake, McGill strode at the side of an oppressor. As of June 2020, McGill holds $1,193,735 in Enbridge Inc.
Formerly known as TransCanada Energy, TC Energy is the company behind vast networks of pipelines stretching across Canada. Recently, protests erupted over the proposed construction of TC energy’s $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink Pipeline (CGL) that would snake through 190 kilometers of unceded Wetʼsuwetʼen territory in British Columbia. Following the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) raids and clearing of peaceful checkpoints on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory on Jan. 7, 2019, and Feb. 6, 2020, blockades and demonstrations swept across the country in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people. The protests immediately made their way onto McGill’s campus: On Feb. 18, 2020, members of Divest McGill, Climate Justice Action McGill, and Greenpeace McGill blocked off the entrances of the James McGill building, demanding that McGill divest from TC energy.
However, McGill was undeterred by the uproar, and currently holds $5,050,176 in TC Energy.
On Oct. 26, 2020, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) released a statement condeming the proposed Quebec-Gazoduq Énergie Saguenay Project. If approved, Gazoduq would build a 782 kilometre-long liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline from Alberta to a liquefaction plant in Saguenay, Quebec. The Gazoduq would connect to TC’s existing pipeline framework running from Western Canada to Northern Ontario, and would flow 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Saguenay.
Elara Neath Thomin, U2 Arts and member of Divest McGill, said that Divest McGill had recently submitted a consultation to the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment on Oct. 22 in opposition to the LNG project in its entirety.
“Divest McGill is [...] deeply concerned about the impacts [that] the project could have on Indigenous populations living near the construction site(s), particularly women, girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are especially vulnerable to violence and discrimination,” Thomin wrote to the Tribune . “Furthermore, we see the LNG project as being antithetical to the fight against climate change to which we are committed.”
As of June 2020, McGill holds equities valuing $2,352,178 in Pembina, a Calgary-based pipeline company. Pembina has been funnelling company money into the specific unit of the Coos County Sheriff’s Office tasked with managing pushback against the Jordan Cove project—Pembina’s LNG pipeline and facility projects in Coos County, Oregon. Between 2016 and 2020, Pembina funelled over two million dollars into the sheriff’s department. The office hosted law enforcement training, purchased riot gear, monitored environmentalists’ activity, and even conspired with Pembina’s private security companies to gather information about potential protests—all in a collusive attempt to stymie opposition to the project.
In addition to the proposed pipeline’s environmental risk to Rogue River and surrounding communities in Oregon, Pembina’s connections with law enforcement are insidious. McGill’s investment has helped a fossil fuel company fund the suppression of environmental activism for years.
Canadian mining companies
McGill’s investment in Canadian mining companies is also worth examining and questioning. A 2016 Justice and Corporate Accountability Project (JCAP) report “The Canada Brand,” investigated Canadian mining companies in 13 different countries across Latin America. The investigation found that over 44 deaths, 403 injuries, and 733 arrests or warrants occurred at the hands of 28 Canadian mining companies, several of which McGill has invested in over the past few years. Leah Gardner, McGill BCL ’16, one of the report’s co-authors, was struck by the extent and frequency of the violence.
“A lot of times you hear from the industry and government [that] ‘Oh, it’s just a few bad apples, [there are] just a few human rights violations at these mines,’ but the data clearly reflects a different problem, which is that it’s a systemic problem,” Gardner said.
Barrick Gold Corp
As of Jun. 30, 2020, McGill’s largest equity share in the extractive industry is with Barrick Gold Corp., at $6,630,926. Over the last decade, various actors have sued Barrick Corp for publishing company disclosures that misrepresented the environmental damage of their mining operations.
Samuel Helguero, L2 Law and member of Divest McGill and McGill Corporate Accountability Project, explained his opposition to Canadian mining companies like Barrick Gold in an email to The McGill Tribune.
“On the human rights front, there are incredibly disturbing stories that have emerged out of countries like Papua New Guinea, where 137 women received compensation for being raped around a Barrick Gold mine,” Helguero said. “Barrick Gold, in which McGill invests substantially, had its founder go on record saying ‘gang rape is a cultural habit’ in Papua New Guinea.”
Gardner interned with Social Justice Connection Montreal during her undergraduate degree at McGill, travelled to Colombia twice as a human rights accompanist, and now volunteers with JCAP. She urged universities to think more critically about the impact of their investments.
“I think Canadian universities, when investing in the mining industry, should [...] be doing due diligence in terms of what they invest in,” Gardner said. “If they are continuing to invest in a company that doesn’t respect the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people or violates human rights or causes environmental damage [...], they need to divest. Otherwise, they are complicit.”
McGill’s donations and research grants from companies in the extractive industry
Although McGill helps finance these industries through it's investments, these companies reciprocally send money to the university as well. An ATI request revealed all donations received by the office of University Advancement from extractive and fossil fuel companies from April 2008 to January 2015.
Over the course of seven years, McGill accepted $3,650 from Cenovus Energy Inc., $1,600 from Gaz Metro, $735,000 from Shell Canada Limited, $400,000 from Suncor Energy Inc, $482,000 from the Imperial Oil Foundation, $170,000 from Total E&P Canada, and an additional $6,204.10 from four other companies. The total donations received between 2008 and 2015 totalled $1,137,954.10.
Another ATI document showed that between 2008 and 2015, Imperial Oil Ltd. donated $425,750 and Shell donated $225,000 in grants to students primarily in the Faculties of Engineering. In total, Imperial Oil and Shell donated $702,775 to fund research grants over a span of seven years.
In 2008, Imperial Oil Foundation donated $800,000 over five years to fund a lab at McGill called Winners of Wonderment.
The Faculty of Engineering’s website’s current list of corporate sponsors includes two mining companies, Rio Tinto and ArcelorMittal Mining Canada G.P., and one fossil fuel company, Suncor.
This generous funding is nothing more than an open invitation to join an industry that desperately needs to be phased out—any industry slowly dragging the world towards a collective climate disaster is everything but generous.
Sophie Leblanc, Chief Investment Officer and Treasurer at McGill’s Office of Investments, said that McGill is working to decarbonize its endowment portfolio and also hopes to increase its “impact investments”—low-carbon investments like renewable energy, clean technologies, energy efficiency, green building, and pollution prevention—over the coming years.
“Since the last few months, it has already reduced carbon emissions of its endowment public equity portfolio, relative to the MIP public equity benchmark, by about 20 per cent,” Leblanc said. “This puts the University well on the way to reaching the CAMSR target of a 33 per cent reduction by 2025, with the majority of those gains being made in the first two years.”
McGill’s continued investment in fossil fuel and mining companies is a trespass of a serious ethical faultline. The implications of these investments are exhausting on many levels: They exhaust the communities and livelihoods who are directly impacted by these industries; they exhaust land defenders and environmentalists who put their lives at risk to stop the unabated encroachment of these toxic industries; they exhaust student groups and campus watchdogs who are continually let down by McGill’s apathy; they exhaust the earth; and they are rapidly exhausting our chance of mitigating the towering climate crisis. The fight for climate justice necessarily extends far beyond one university divesting from fossil fuels. But until then, every injustice and dollar invested only makes our chance at a sustainable future feel more and more like a pipe dream.