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Arts, Science Undergraduate Societies endorse MNPH letter to divestment and democratization

The McGill Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) and the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) have voted to endorse a call to action letter penned by the McGill Nurses for Planetary Health (MNPH). The document demands that the university divest from fossil fuels and democratize its Board of Governors (BoG). MNPH sent the letter to the BoG on Dec. 12, 2022, and AUS and SUS voted to formally support it on March 15 and March 22, respectively.

The letter highlights the links between planetary and human health and outlines a number of concerns regarding McGill’s investment in fossil fuels. It emphasizes McGill’s connection to companies such as the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Canada’s largest fossil fuel funder, and TC Energy—the company behind the Coastal Gas Link pipeline going through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. McGill had invested $11,982,749 in RBC and $2,610,419 in TC Energy as of Dec. 31, 2022.

“We wanted to come at divestment from a different angle,” Naomi Pastrana Mankovitz, U2 Nursing and the co-chair of MNPH, told The McGill Tribune. “Climate change is intimately tied to health [….] With the increase in temperatures, there’s an increase in communicable diseases [….] As nurses, we have a duty to advocate for public health. So it falls within our mandate to advocate for climate justice.”

MNPH’s decision to write the letter came on the heels of a 2022 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that identified the urgent need to protect public health from the worsening effects of global warming, a call health-care professionals have been making for years

AUS hopes their vote of solidarity will continue to raise awareness about McGill’s connection to the fossil fuel industry. 

“[The letter is] aligned with the views and beliefs of the AUS and the constituents we represent,” AUS President Ghania Javed wrote to the Tribune. “We hope to incorporate and follow sustainable event planning at AUS and will be also looking into ways we can stop supporting companies that have investments in fossil fuels and instead support companies and initiatives that are actively fighting climate change.” 

The university’s refusal to divest despite widespread student support has led to calls for the democratization of the BoG—which is primarily made up of unelected members. The BoG has repeatedly rejected divestment motions passed by the Senate, McGill’s highest-ranking elected governing body. The Students’ Society of McGill (SSMU) has also called for divestment and pressured the BoG to accelerate its review processes. 

“At this point, it falls into the hands of a few people that are not reflecting the majority interest of the university,” Pastrana Mankovitz said. “Democratization is to make sure that the voices of the university are heard.” 

The letter has garnered support from staff members across McGill. With over 80 professors, assistant professors, and faculty lecturers signing on, MNPH believes the movement to divest and democratize will continue to gain traction across faculties. Natalie Stake-Doucet, a faculty lecturer at the Ingram School of Nursing, signed the letter as she believes the BoG’s continued investment in fossil fuels contradicts the body’s mission statement. 

“By refusing to divest, the [BoG] is making a political statement, one that appears to put profits before students. Divesting from fossil fuels should no more be a debate in the academic community than discussing whether the earth is flat. It is frankly shocking that we would need a petition to convince the [BoG] to divest, but here we are.”

– Natalie Stake-Doucet via email to The tribune

MNPH also consulted Divest McGill throughout the letter-writing process. DivestThey supports the call to action and believes it is well- timed as, with the BoG set to reconsider divestment on April 20.

[The call to action] shows that we’re great in numbers,” Emily Hardie, U1 Arts and a member of Divest McGill, told the Tribune. “It’s very contradictory when McGill itself as the university produces so much climate research when they’re actively profiting and funding from the top emitters of the climate crisis and, therefore, threatening our futures as students, faculty, and staff.” 

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