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The divestment movement grows in Canadian universities, USSU hesitant to show support

By in News
Vapour escapes the U of S Heating Plant as vehicles drive past on the morning of Nov. 4, 2019. | Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor

Scrutiny of universities’ investment in fossil fuel-related companies is gaining steam in Canada, but how this will affect the University of Saskatchewan remains to be seen.

In October, the U of S Students’ Union received an email from the Students’ Society of McGill University asking them for a letter of support for the divestment movement at their university. The USSU executive decided not to send a letter of support at this time, after a “discussion around the University of Saskatchewan’s investment portfolio occurred,” according to the minutes of their meeting.

McGill is part of the growing group of Canadian universities to receive pressure to sell-off their investments in companies whose primary business is the extraction, distribution and/or sale of fossil fuels. The student group Divest McGill is reaching out for support within their university and beyond as they near the date when McGill’s administration will make a decision. 

Laura Mackey, an organizer with Divest McGill, says that mobilizing students was an area of focus for the group after their request for divestment was first denied in 2016.

“We’ve been planning lots of events to galvanize student support and make sure they know that if they vote no on divestment again that students aren’t going to just let that happen, that people will be really angry about it,” Mackey said. “If it doesn’t go our way, we have more push now.”

The organizations that decided to support Divest McGill represent more than 400,000 students. The supporters include the Associated Students of Stanford University, the University of Oxford Student’s Union and from Canada, a student union from Université de Québec à Montréal. 

Mackey says that Canadian universities are behind on the global divestment movement.

“In the States and in the UK, there’s been a lot of success with university divestment campaigns. It’s something that hasn’t gained as much momentum as it has in other places in the world, mostly because a huge part of Canada’s companies are in oil and gas,” Mackey said. “We’re definitely behind.” 

However, it seems like change is coming. In 2017, Laval University became the first Canadian university to fully divest from fossil fuels and the Université du Québec à Montréal sold off its fossil fuel assets in 2018. The most recent development is Concordia University’s commitment to fully divesting by 2025, announced earlier this month. 

The U of S did not respond to the Sheaf’s request for comment about their investment portfolio in time for publication. As for the USSU, President Regan Ratt-Misponas says that despite their current decision not to send a letter of support to Divest McGill, the executive is still considering the situation.

“At the moment, we are doing some more research on the topic and will discuss it once we receive more information,” Ratt-Misponas wrote in an email to the Sheaf.

McGill will announce their stance on fossil fuel divestment on Dec. 18, and Divest McGill is looking forward to a possible conclusion to their years of activism. Mackey highlights that student support within their own university and in connection with other student unions has been crucial for their activist efforts.

“The groups that have power on campus, like the student union — for the divestment campaign at McGill, that has been a huge game changer,” Mackey said. “Industries change all the time and we are trying to change this industry. People want to make change; it’s hard to start a movement but the best way to start is to find allies.” 

Ana Cristina Camacho/ News Editor

Photo: Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor

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