The SSMU BoD’s ratification of the Divest for Human Rights Policy is long overdue

On July 22, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors ratified the “Divest for Human Rights Policy” with five votes in favour and two votes against. Back in February, SSMU’s democratic bodies—the General Assembly and the Legislative Council—overwhelmingly voted to approve the policy. However, the Board of Directors chose to delay the policy’s final ratification for five months while subjecting it to absurd bureaucratic obstacles, including a Judicial Board hearing and an expensive legal review by SSMU lawyers. Even after the policy cleared all these hurdles, some directors still resorted to the same old scare tactics that students have come to expect from the Board, claiming that ratifying this policy would provoke financial disaster for the student union due to reprisals from the McGill administration. Thankfully, most directors did not fall for these cynical arguments in the final vote, and instead abided by the student body’s democratic decision. 

This means that SSMU will now be throwing its full support behind the Divest for Human Rights campaign, demanding that McGill University cease all its investments and financial relationships with several corporations complicit in colonial land theft, environmental destruction, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, both in Turtle Island (North America) and abroad. This campaign will thus complement and reinforce the existing campaign against McGill University’s investments in fossil fuels and colonial pipelines. Such solidarity work is essential, because the destruction of our planet goes hand in hand with the violent oppression and dispossession of colonized peoples, from Wet’suwet’en, to Palestine, to East Turkestan.

The corporations named in the policy are the following: 

TC (TransCanada) Energy Corporation, which is responsible for the ongoing invasion, colonization and destruction of the lands of the Wet’suwet’en and other Indigenous Nations across the continent; 

Lockheed Martin, the developer of weapons used in violent warfare, including the Saudi bombing of Yemeni civilians

Re/Max, which sells real estate in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land, thereby contributing to violent attacks on indigenous Palestinians by Israeli settlers and soldiers; 

Oshkosh Corporation, an industrial truck company which provided vehicles to the U.S. military for its invasion of Iraq, to the Saudi military for its war in Yemen, and to the Israeli military for its apartheid regime and other atrocities in Palestine; 

Puma, Foot Locker, Nordstrom, and Kohl’s, all four of which are complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labour by the Chinese government, within the context of a genocidal campaign of cultural erasure against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities throughout East Turkestan (Xinjiang).

In the past half-year, opponents of the policy frequently resorted to the argument that SSMU should not take a strong stance on “geo-political issues.” However, the inescapable reality is that McGill’s investment decisions make it complicit in climate catastrophe, settler-colonialism, imperialism, militarism, racism, and crimes against humanity. The fact that the university funds these investments with tuition money makes students complicit as well. This divestment campaign must therefore be understood as an attempt to end the unwitting complicity of students in these global injustices, in addition to the deliberate complicity of the university itself.

McGill and other universities are increasingly governed like for-profit corporations, where the voices of students are too often trumped by the desires of powerful alumni and corporate donors. Yet our student body and student union have a proud history of championing social justice, environmental protection, and anti-colonial liberation worldwide, including the anti-apartheid struggle at McGill in the 1980s. 

Now that it has finally been fully adopted by SSMU, the Divest for Human Rights campaign must show the McGill administration that students will not accept its violent investment policies. McGill needs to start acting like an educational institution which listens to its students, rather than a greedy corporation engaged in immoral and destructive business for easy profit. Divestment will happen if we continue to struggle together, in the spirit of decolonization, international solidarity, and indivisible justice.

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