Ahead of the recommendations on fossil fuel divestment that U of T’s presidential advisory committee is set to make on December 4, divestment group UofT350 held a march from Sidney Smith to Simcoe Hall during a Governing Council meeting on October 29. Prior to the march, UofT350 members presented letters, along with postcards from prospective students, to the Governing Council demanding that U of T divest itself from fossil fuel holdings. According to a press release by Toronto350, UofT350’s parent group, over 200 faculty members also signed an open faculty letter.
Students and faculty continued their support at the march along with community members from York University’s 350 branch. UofT350 also demonstrated solidarity with other groups; attendees filmed a support video for Fossil Free MIT’s week-long sit-in protest. Natasha Rojas, a representative of the Aboriginal Studies Students’ Union was invited to conduct land recognition.
“Fossil fuel companies have directly impacted Indigenous people’s lands and health,” said Rojas in an email to The Varsity. “Even if we are in regions where we think we do not see the negative impacts, Indigenous peoples experience those impacts because of how deeply rooted the connection with land is. Indigenous peoples have always upheld their responsibility in protecting our Mother Earth and supporting Divestment is but one example on how to do so.”
March organizer and second-year student, Lila Asher, believes the event was successful with roughly 150 to 200 attendees. However, she said there is still work to be done before the recommendation is given.
“It is really important for students to be involved in issues that they care about,” Asher said. “Environmental responsibility should really be something in the forefront of a lot of students’ minds because climate change is going to impact all of our futures… We are the generation that is going to have to deal with the consequences.”
Asher also said UofT350 has a good relationship with the university right now. Last April, the group presented a divestment brief to the committee.
“The university has been really impressed with the student reps in Toronto350,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T. “Their ongoing engagement and collegiality with the president’s advisory committee has really represented the university with integrity.”
Blackburn-Evans said that it is difficult to say exactly what percentage of the university’s investments are in fossil fuel companies because they are usually in pooled funds. These funds can change on a day-to-day basis so direct decisions are not always possible. However, the advisory committee is considering seeking community input.
U of T 350 wants the university to sell their stock holdings in 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and gas over the course of five years.