“Divest the rest”: Divest UVic rally calls for university to drop remaining fossil fuel investments

Campus News

Students met by Campus Security at Michael Williams Building

divest action
Photo by Mary Heeg.

Editor’s note: after this article was published, the UVic Foundation made a significant change to their investment measures and announced a new responsible investment policy. We have a new article on that announcement here.

Chants from a crowd of close to 30 people supporting Divest UVic caught the attention of passersby as the quad filled with the bustle of students midday on Friday, Nov. 5. 

“One, two, three, four, Divest UVic is back for more. Five, six, seven, eight, Kevin Hall, it’s not too late.”

The group, mostly students, were on their way from the Student Union Building (SUB) to the Michael Williams Building as part of a rally demanding that UVic divest its remaining investments in fossil fuels. 

The university moved one of their main investment pools, the working capital fund, to a fossil fuel free fund earlier this year. But a portion of the holdings of the UVic Foundation remains invested in fossil fuels — approximately $10.5 million, according to the university. Divest UVic wants to see UVic Foundation divest as well. 

The crowd that met at the SUB at noon was a lively one. Speakers blasted Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as people began to congregate. Attendees included former Saanich council candidate Trevor Barry playing a saxophone as well as first-time Divest supporters. 

Paige Harrison is a UVic student who had not been involved with Divest before. She said that UVic’s investment in fossil fuels while purporting to care about environmental issues was, they felt, “embarrassing.”

“There’s so much power behind money,” said Harrison. “It doesn’t really matter what the administration says they believe in, if they’re supporting fossil fuels and they’re receiving benefits from the fossil fuel industry, they’re not able to fully support a carbon-free future.”

After making their way through the quad, the Divest supporters congregated in the sheltered area outside the doors of the Michael Williams Building and continued their chants. They were quickly met by Keith Cascon, security manager for Campus Security. 

Cascon confirmed that Hall was not in the building at the time, and said he did not know where the president was. After a quick discussion with Cascon, Pollard turned to the group and said Campus Security would permit a few Divest members to bring materials to Hall’s office.

UVSS Director at Large and Divest member Hailey Chutter was one of the students to go inside the Michael Williams Building. She says they brought up a board covered in sticky notes with students’ reasons why they care about divestment, two informational pamphlets, and a sign that said “put the money where your mouth is.”

“LIFE is more important than PROFIT,” “divesting is a step in decolonizing,” and “so that we can focus on building community,” read some of the sticky notes.

While the few students went upstairs, the rest of the group made their way back to the SUB, with a quick, and loud, detour by the law library, where Hall was rumoured to be.

The rally follows recent announcements from Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto that they will be fully divesting. The University of British Columbia announced the same in late 2019. Pollard hopes these decisions will put some pressure on UVic.

In past interviews with the Martlet, UVic has emphasized their commitment to decarbonization and has said they view “responsible investment as a strategy and divestment or engagement as outcomes.”

In an email to Hall and Coward on Nov. 10, Pollard said Divest hopes the UVic Foundation will promise full divestment by 2025. Divest wants to see the commitment by the end of this December.

“We are getting extremely tired of asking UVic to divest from fossil fuels, especially as we see full divestment as a small (yet incredibly important) step towards true climate action,” says the email.

Pollard sees UVic’s fossil fuel investments as contradictory to their stated commitment to reconciliation. She refers to research by Amnesty International which has highlighted how resource projects contribute to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Pollard says they have met with Hall, and UVic treasurer Andrew Coward, multiple times. In an ideal world, Pollard says, students would be focusing on different issues by now, like community reinvestment and solidarity with Indigenous nations.

“Personally, I’m really tired and I’m burnt out, and I know that a lot of students are as well,” said Pollard. “This is something that students have been asking for and pushing for for eight years … it’s frustrating that it takes so many students to hold [UVic] accountable to those values [of sustainability and equity].”

Despite being a first-time Divest participant, Harrison echoes the same frustration. If she had the chance to speak with Hall, she says she’d tell him she wants greater accountability.

“You need to do more to divest from fossil fuels. You need to represent the interests of the student body you’re appointed to.”