Five members of Divest McGill gathered on April 17 outside of the Metro grocery store located in the De Lorimier neighbourhood to encourage Montrealers to boycott Metro Inc. Despite the cold and windy conditions, the Divest members connected with passersby for almost an hour to try to convince Metro shoppers to buy their food elsewhere and to spread awareness about their campaign.
Divest McGill launched their Metro Inc. boycott in August 2020 in an effort to pressure the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) to divest from its multi-million investment in the fossil fuel industry. Divest McGill is targeting Metro in order to pressure Maryse Bertrand—the BoG’s vice-chair and a member of Metro Inc.’s Board of Directors—to support McGill’s divestment.
On April 14, Divest McGill published an open letter calling for the boycott of Metro grocery stores to supplement their campaign. Prior to its publication, Divest McGill sent the letter to environmental groups across Canada in order to gather signatories. Among the organizations who have signed the letter are Extinction Rebellion Quebec, Climate Justice Montreal, and the Milton Parc Citizen’s Committee. Samuel Helguero, U2 Law and Divest McGill organizer, discussed why it is important to Divest McGill to have these organizations as sponsors.
“Their support shows Metro that the Divest McGill campaign is a building threat to Metro’s profits and brand,” Helguero said. “The support [also] helps [the movement] gain more public credibility and attention.”
The open letter outlines four demands that Metro Inc. must accommodate in order to end the boycott. Demands one and two call on Metro Inc. to publicly condemn McGill for not divesting from fossil fuels, and to aid in conversations about divestment between Divest McGill, Climate Justice Montreal and Bertrand. The third demand is for Maryse Bertrand to advance a motion for divestment at a BoG meeting, and the fourth demand is for Metro Inc. to lobby the provincial and federal governments against investment in the fossil fuel industry. Alexia Wildhaber-Riley, U2 Science and Divest McGill organizer, said she believes Metro could play an important role in the divestment campaign.
“Metro would act as a third party that facilitates and moderates the conversation between Divest McGill and McGill,” Wildhaber-Riley said. “Metro [would approach] McGill and say ‘hey, McGill, we want your students to stop boycotting us, so you need to answer their demands.’”
David Summerhays, B.A. ‘05 and original member of Divest McGill, acknowledged that divestment may not easy to achieve.
“When we started [Divest McGill,] we had the idea that, if students, faculty, and staff unanimously [supported divestment], [McGill] would feel pressured to do it,” Summerhays said. “I think we have learned that [this is not the case], and that is why we are here today. We have learned that at the highest level, McGill is not accountable to students, faculty, and staff, but rather to the rich people that [are] brought onto the [BoG] as donors.”
Divest McGill’s next initiative is to publish a zine—a short, self-published magazine-style booklet—that will be titled Divestopia. Laine McCrory, U1 Arts and part of the creative team behind the zine, explained that the zine will combine artwork by McGill artists and information about the Metro Boycott campaign to inform the public about McGill’s fossil fuel investments. Divest McGill’s goal is to publish the zine on their website and social media platforms by the end of April. McCrory explained why Divest McGill chose a zine as their next initiative.
“A while ago, we decided we are not reaching everyone we could in Montreal through [our] protests,” McCrory said. “[After] reading our open letter, people might want to learn more [about Divest McGill] and learn in different ways, so we are making a zine to hopefully reach out to people in a better way.”