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Student organizations collaborate on SSMU ‘Divest for Human Rights’ motion

Seven McGill student organizations have collectively drafted a motion titled the “Divest for Human Rights Policy” to advance at the upcoming Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) on Feb. 16. Divest McGill, Climate Justice Action McGill, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), McGill Students for a Free Tibet, McGill Stands with Hong Kong, Indigenous Student Alliance, and Students for Peace and Disarmament (SPD), collaborated to develop the policy which demands that McGill divest from companies that either aid or are complicit in human rights violations and environmental destruction.

With each group addressing different areas of McGill’s investment portfolio, the policy targets corporations and institutions complicit in a variety of human right abuses, such as Canada’s militarization of Wet’suwet’en territory, China’s forced labor camps for Uyghurs, and the state-sanctioned crimes against Palestinians.

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Maya Garfinkel, U3 Arts and SPD representative, and one of the founders of the campaign responsible for the policy, highlighted the main objectives of the motion.

“What we want from this motion is to basically set the foundation for mobilization in the future,” Garfinkel said. “In the motion, we break it down into specific bodies within SSMU, within the McGill administration, of what we are demanding from those institutions [….] We just [want] this policy to be a foundation for education for mobilization towards the ultimate goal of divesting from these harmful companies.”

An anonymous source representing SPHR elaborated on the importance of the policy in an email to the Tribune and explained how it serves to direct resources to areas that students are concerned about. 

I hope that this motion can be a conversation starter,” the source wrote in an email to the Tribune. “[It is] the kind of conversation that forces us to really think about what our tuition money is being invested into. [A conversation] that forces us to think of our positionality as settlers on stolen land and not think of injustices in Palestine, Yemen or East Turkestan as ‘far away.’ Instead, as McGill students, we must recognize the power and responsibility that we have to pressure institutions like McGill until they stop investing our tuition dollars in corporations which directly facilitate and profit from violent oppression and exploitation, in Turtle Island and abroad.” 

Brooklyn Frizzle, SSMU Vice-President (VP) University Affairs, believes that the motion’s implementation will require further work from SSMU’s executives.

“This campaign will be a multilateral effort from the Offices of the President, VP External Affairs, and VP University Affairs, alongside nearly a dozen politically-oriented student groups,” Frizzle wrote in an email to the Tribune. “In the weeks following the GA, if we are successful [in the policy’s implementation], we will start by mobilizing public support through outreach and education campaigns before setting up our action plan for […] advocacy.”

Garfinkel is confident that passing the policy will strengthen student sentiment that McGill’s divestment from human rights violations should no longer be delayed.

“Historically, the McGill administration has required a lot of pushing from the outside, from the student body, for things like this to really move,” Garfinkel said. “[…] I think that we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best when it comes to the McGill administration response.”

In a statement to the Tribune, McGill Media Relations officer Frédérique Mazarolle relayed a comment from the university administration on its investments and commitment to following recommendations from the McGill Board of Governor’s Committee to Advice on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR).

To better align the mandate of its investment committee with the CAMSR recommendations, the Board of Governors has approved in June 2020 changes to the Statement of Investment Policy of the Endowment Fund to include ESG, [environmental, social and governance], considerations and a socially responsible investment concrete action plan,” read the statement from McGill.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to McGill Students for a Free Tibet as Students for a Free Tibet. The Tribune regrets this error.

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