Divest McGill Ends Demonstrations with a Surprise Announcement

Alums Return Their Degrees, Alleged $2 Million Donation Is Withheld from the School

  • From March 29 to April 1, students from Divest McGill sat in Principal Suzanne Fortier’s office. The sit-in was in response to a report from the university’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibilities released on March 17, where they said that they would not divest from fossil fuels. Photo Vince Morello

  • As part of this ceremony, Naghmeh Sabet-Rasekh, a McGill alum and portfolio manager at Scotia Wealth Management, announced that one of her bank’s clients was poised to donate $2 million to the school, but backed out after the announcement. Photo Vince Morello

  • Camil Bouchard is one the McGill alum to return his diploma to the school following their decision. Photo Vince Morello

In protest of McGill choosing not to divest from fossil fuels, student groups and alumni decided to hit the school where it really hurts—its wallet.

Approximately 15 members of McGill alumni returned their degrees to the school on Friday morning as a symbolic protest against the university’s decision.

As part of this ceremony, Naghmeh Sabet-Rasekh, a McGill alum and portfolio manager at Scotia Wealth Management, announced that one of her bank’s clients was poised to donate $2 million to the school, but backed out after the announcement.

She would continue to advise against donating to the school, Sabet-Rasekh said.

“[McGill] kind of only understands the language of money,” said Antonina Scheer, a member of the student group Divest McGill. “We’re fairly certain this is going to hit them as the strongest argument so far.”

This ceremony ended fours days of protests that included occupying an administration building and camping out in front of the school.

From March 29 to April 1, students from Divest McGill sat in Principal Suzanne Fortier’s office.

The sit-in was in response to a report from the university’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibilities released on March 17, where they said that they would not divest from fossil fuels.

According to Chloé Laflamme, the spokesperson for Divest McGill, the process was a cause for concern because of the lack of transparency from school administration on the issue.

“There was never any opportunity for members of the community to voice their opinions or concerns about divestment to the board,” said Laflamme. “[McGill] used a lot of expert testimonies [in their report] that were kept confidential.”

As the sit-in in front of the James Administration building came to a close, the nine students who occupied inside the principle’s office, stepped outside and were met by a large group of students.

The diplomas were returned to express their displeasure with the way the CAMSR responded on the issue of divestment.

Before handing in the diplomas, each present alumnus had prepared a message for the school. Most were disappointed in the way the school has acted on divestment. In the report, CAMSR says “There is not the degree or extent of injurious impact at this time that results from the activities of fossil fuel companies that would warrant a finding of grave injurious impact.”

The alumni that could not make the trip to the city sent in their diplomas by mail.

“[The ceremony] is showing that it’s just not on campus,” said Laflamme. “[The alum] also don’t agree with the direction that the university is going.”

Media and History professor Darin Barney, who is a part of the McGill Faculty and Librarians for Divestment, was present. After the diplomas were returned, on behalf of the faculty, he recognized the gravity of the gesture the alum had just made.

“We pledge that we will not give up until we create the conditions in which they can proudly reclaim their diplomas because McGill had divested from fossil fuels,” said Barney.

The ceremony came to a close with the chant, “I believe we will win.”

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