NDP, Green Party MP candidates for University–Rosedale discuss climate at Sidney Smith

UTEA and APSS host Melissa Jean-Baptise Vajda, Tim Grant

NDP, Green Party MP candidates for University–Rosedale discuss climate at Sidney Smith

The University of Toronto Environmental Action (UTEA) group and the Association of Political Science Students (APSS) hosted University–Rosedale’s MP candidates Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Tim Grant from the Green Party, to discuss their parties’ approach to the climate crisis. The Liberal and Conservative Party candidates for University–Rosedale were not invited to the discussion, as UTEA only invited parties with climate as a central part of their platform.

Keith Stewart, a senior strategist with Greenpeace Canada, was one of the speakers for the event. He criticized “petro nationalism,” the rhetoric of oil companies where they attempt to connect the extraction of fossil fuels to a Canadian identity.

Speaking on each party’s environmental plans, Stewart described the Green Party as being more focused on the reduction of greenhouse gasses than on environmental justice, which he defines as “transforming relationships” between society and environment. He described the NDP as being more focused on environmental justice.

“We don’t have to be very nice. The thing is this is actually a fight,” said Stewart on Greenpeace’s approach to environmental issues.

The discussion then turned its focus to the two MP candidates. The NDP wants to make emissions reduction targets legally binding. “We will establish a climate and accountability office that will be outside of the government,” said Vajda.

On environmental justice, Vadja commented that the NDP plans to put Indigenous people “on both sides of the table,” referencing the fact that the NDP is putting forward Indigenous candidates in the election.

Speaking on her housing plans, Vadja said, “We’ll build 500,000 more units all across Canada. We will build more affordable housing, social housing, co-ops — all of that impacts the ability for people to remain in their communities to live safer and healthier lives. It’s all intertwined and connected with a green new deal.”

Green Party candidate Tim Grant emphasized the importance of working with other parties and increasing political engagement from young voters. As 18–24-year-olds are the biggest demographic of non-voters, “your ability to reach out to your friends and get them engaged is critical,” said Grant.

Moving into possibly a minority government, Grant said, “the Greens and NDP I think quite reasonably are going to be pressing hard on climate and other files.”

What makes the Green Party stand out, according to Grant, is that they do not whip votes, a practice he criticized other parties for. “And that means you have to wilt the same way and you can’t speak out even though you may, on various issues, feel differently than the party mainstream, and you can’t speak out otherwise.”

In Photos: When we push back

Young and old mobilize for the Global Climate Strike

In Photos: When we push back

U of T students join the Global Climate Strike at Simcoe Hall

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VICTORIA LEE/THE VARSITY

VICTORIA LEE/THE VARSITY

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Fridays for Future leads a teach-in at Hart House

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DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

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DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

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Alienor Rougeot handing a green pin to the youth attending the Friday’s for Future Teach In

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DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

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(from left to right) ASAP Science host Gregory Brown, and his friend

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How the climate crisis is impacting sports

The changing climate is providing athletes and sporting competitions with new and greater challenges

How the climate crisis is impacting sports

There is no denying that the impacts of the climate crisis are being felt all around us. From the increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes, to longer periods of drought across the world, many people are directly facing the catastrophic consequences of our changing climate. Sports, like many other aspects of our lives, have not been left untouched. The climate crisis has the ability to turn many summer sports into deadly heat-traps and force winter sport athletes and organizers to take drastic actions in order to prolong their seasons.

Winter sports, especially, are prone to the changing climate. According to a study conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation, warmer winters will lead to shorter ice and snowfall seasons, as well as a reduction in snow cover. As a result, the skiing and snowboarding season across Canada and many other countries, whose tourism revenue relies on the winter season, will see an overall reduction across the board.

Resorts are being forced to use fake snow to counter rapid melting of snow and maintain their skiing and snow- boarding seasons. Unfortunately, this option comes at a major price both financially and environmentally, as snow-making machines are costly, water-intensive, and the snow created is water-tight, which means that water cannot seep back into the ground, thus impacting the water table.

Summer sports are not spared from this crisis either. Athletes and spectators will be more prone to heat-related illnesses. For example, during the 2015 US Open, many tennis players felt the effects of record-high temperatures and humidity levels. This contributed toward 10 players retiring from the tournament in the first round due to heat-related circumstances, with many others throwing up and passing out.

American tennis player John Isner said that these illnesses had absolutely nothing to do with the fitness levels of the competitors. The body is unable to cool itself off in a combination of high heat and humidity, and continued exposure leads to illness. With temperatures continuing to rise globally and with more intense heat waves, it is easy to imagine that there will be a massive spike in heat-related deaths and illnesses.

However, this does not mean we need to give up sports entirely to minimize damages. ere are changes that can be made at the amateur, university, and professional levels to respond to this crisis. is includes providing cooling provisions for athletes and fans during times of extreme heat, such as playing in sheltered, air-conditioned venues or allowing extended water breaks to the competitors. For example, the US Open provided tennis players with at least a 10-minute break between sets to allow their bodies to properly cool off.

Outdoor soccer and gridiron football stadiums will also have to improve their water drainage systems in order to prevent pitches from clogging up due to heavy downpours, which could lead to athletes seriously injuring themselves. Furthermore, athletes and organizations will need to use their reach and influence to encourage environmentally-sustainable lifestyles and initiatives.

One example comes from the English Football League Two soccer club, Forest Green Rovers. The club became the world’s first United Nations-certified carbon-neutral club by feeding their players and supporters vegan food and having numerous eco-friendly facilities at their stadium, such as electric car charging facilities and an organic football pitch. The club’s stadium is also 100 per cent powered by green energy.

Their supporters have been in favour of these initiatives and have taken it upon themselves to adopt these same principles at home, for example by transitioning toward a vegan diet to lower their carbon footprint. This is just one example of how teams are able to use their reach to influence the decisions their supporters make.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

U of T students join millions around the world in historic Global Climate Strike

Protestors voice discontent with university policy, Fridays for Future organized teach-in for children

U of T students join millions around the world in historic Global Climate Strike

On September 20, U of T students stood in solidarity with millions of protestors around the world in a historic Global Climate Strike to demonstrate against inaction surrounding the climate crisis. Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the week-long strike kicked off on Friday in more than 150 countries where youth activists coordinated local events. Protestors gathered outside of Simcoe Hall to voice their anger and anxiety over the emergency, later moving to Hart House for a climate crisis teach-in.

Students speak out

“Which side are you on?” written in black paint, was stretched across a banner held by climate activists on the steps of Simcoe Hall, where students expressed their frustrations and anxieties about their future in the face of a climate crisis.

Students from Leap UofT led the rally. Their grievances were against the university’s involvement in the development of the Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope, continued investment in the fossil fuel industry, and inaction over the mental health crisis on campus.

The last major environmental protest took place four years ago during a divestment campaign that led to the formation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Divestment. The committee’s recommendations — including targeted divestment — were rejected by President Meric Gertler in 2016, who instead mandated a case-by-case approach to divesting from companies involved in the fossil fuel industry.

“An administration that does not know how to treat any land with care because of the same undergirding logics that lead it to treat people as fungible, as disposable, as less,” said vocal mental health advocate and U of T student Lucinda Qu, in a rebuke of the university’s policies on climate and mental health. Qu was among an array of speakers, including local climate activists and lawyers from Climate Justice Toronto.

New Democratic Party MP candidate for Spadina–Fort York Diana Yoon joined students in their protest. “I think that it’s important to amplify and support youth-led movements,” said Yoon in an interview with The Varsity.

“The role of a university should be to play a leadership role in showcasing what is possible,” said Yoon on what the university can do in fighting the climate crisis. “I think it’s a microcosm of a bigger picture, of a larger society… There’s so much potential to showcase what young people are demanding.”

Hart House teach-in

Outside of Hart House, Fridays for Future’s Toronto chapter organized facilitator-led group sessions to teach children about how to discuss the climate crisis. At the event, presenters sang songs and led cheers with a crowd of school-aged children, asking them to connect with the environment. “All the science has been there for years. We didn’t listen. The mass protests have been there. Why is the kids’ aspect working better than the rest? And how can we empower all the kids that are coming… to have meaningful conversations, especially right before a big election,” said Allie Rougeot, head of Fridays for Future in Toronto, in an interview with The Varsity.

Nadine, a second-year student at U of T, led a small group in a session on how to speak to politicians about the climate crisis: “I’m specifically trying to teach kids, trying to teach other students… how to effectively respond and speak with politicians, because they’re the ones who create the change.”

Gabriel Kerekes, another facilitator, led a session about talking to family members for around 30 elementary-aged students, and encouraged them to think about compassion and diversity.

“You don’t have to be angry at your parents if they don’t understand you right now, or even if they don’t understand you at all, because you’re part of something way, way, way bigger. This is your family too, and together we can all work together to influence one another,” explained Kerekes during his group session. He explained to The Varsity that communicating with family members is a stepping stone to communicating to anyone.

“Every single one of us is having an issue with communication,” said Kerekes. “We don’t know how to tell people in a way that they can get on board with the issues at hand for a variety of reasons.”

Katia Newton, 15, skipped school along with her friends to attend the teach-in. “If you’re not actually helping or doing things, even if it’s just showing up to a protest, then you can’t really say that you’re helping. But you can’t just complain and then not do anything. But it’s a big issue and it’s going to impact us, especially the younger generations — and we can’t even vote yet. But we can show up and we can do what we can,” Newton said.

Parker and Ziggy, both 15, had the same idea. “We can’t just sit idly by — this is our world. It’s being passed down to us. We’re not going to just let old people shit on our planet. It’s ours now,” said Parker.

U of T and climate

Steve Easterbrook, Director of U of T’s School of the Environment, also attended the rally, and said he was inspired by the student protests: “I support the youth that are getting out there on the streets… I work on climate change, climate modeling, and it’s the most hopeful sign I’ve seen in years.”

Easterbrook, wearing a sign that read “I’m a Scientist, Ask Me Anything,” said of climate science: “People don’t realize that once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it basically stays there for thousands of years,” unlike many other air pollutants.

According to the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation’s 2018 Carbon Footprint Reports, the combined total carbon footprint of the university’s pension fund and endowment fund is over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Esterbrook also said of U of T’s administration, “I would love to see a much stronger statement from the central administration supporting the students that want to get out and take action.”

Jessica Bell, MPP for University–Rosedale, attended the teach-in and hosted workshops teaching children how to talk to politicians about the climate crisis. Just a day before, Bell’s office released an online form collecting signatures for a letter calling on Gertler and the university to “support student, faculty and staff participation in the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 27, 2019.”

In an email to faculty and students on September 22, Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin requested that instructors provide flexibility for students who do not attend class on Friday, September 27 to join the Toronto climate strike.

Elizabeth Church, spokesperson for the university, held firm on the university’s commitments to the environment in an email to The Varsity: “[We] are committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change through our research, our teaching and by taking action to reduce the carbon footprint of our campuses.”

In a U of T News article, John Robinson — Gertler’s Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability — advised students to participate in events across the university.

“We encourage students to use the opportunity of the climate-related events going on at U of T and in the community to learn more about climate change and climate action.”

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Editor’s Note (September 25, 2:53pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote by Qu.

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

Efforts to engage students are meaningful, organized, direct

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

This September, individuals and organizations around the world will join together in a global demonstration to demand climate action and an end to the age of fossil fuels. U of T’s Mississauga campus has been involved in organizing events in support of the Global Climate Strike. For instance, UTM held a banner-making workshop in preparation for the walkout on September 20. On both September 20 and 27, people from around the world will have walked out of homes, schools, and workplaces to show their dissatisfaction over inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

UTM is helping along the strike by sharing resources and information on the movement, and hosting teach-ins, talks, and workshops throughout the week. UTSG administration hasn’t released any statements on the issue, though Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin sent an email on September 22 in support of the strike.

By supporting this cause, UTM is showing that it is listening to the concerns of its students and taking the climate crisis seriously. Its support of this movement conveys that it understands the importance of climate action, especially for young people. While climate change will affect everyone, it is young people who are particularly distraught, as their entire futures are under urgent  threat.

As a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a United Nations body — report stated, the world only has between one and three decades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically before we face catastrophic climate destruction.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student, is the face of youth activism against the climate crisis today. Thunberg, like millions of students around the world, sees everything that she works and strives toward, including her education and her future career, being in jeopardy due to the actions — and inactions — of corporations, politicians, and individuals. The Global Climate Strike is a demand from young people around the world to world leaders for an urgent response to the climate crisis and divestment from fossil fuel industries to world leaders.

By supporting this cause and encouraging involvement in climate action, UTM is acting as a visible leader in the fight against the climate crisis. It is validating the concerns of its student body, and in doing so, it shows that it does not view its students merely as masses of numbers or tuition checks, but recognizes them as the future of this country and the world at large.

Recently, U of T moved up to be the 18th-best university in the world, according to Times Higher Education. Students at this university are some of the brightest around the globe, and have the potential to affect positive change in whatever they choose to pursue. By participating in this movement, UTM is not just supporting climate action; it is safeguarding the future of its students. This stance is one that UTSG and UTSC should follow as well, because when you encourage young people to advocate for their future, they will be that much more empowered to change this world for the better.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

The environmental impact of diets

The intersection of the climate crisis and your eating habits

The environmental impact of diets

Whether due to a facetious New Year’s resolution, a new documentary that spooked you off meat, or a genuine concern for your health, many of us have tried a new diet. It’s normal to experiment with what we consume on a daily basis. However, in the midst of all these trends, the environmental impact of our choices is hardly discussed. Whether you’re a strict steak-lover or a die-hard kale enthusiast, for those who have the means, it’s time to consider the impact your food has before it hits the table.

The keto diet

The keto diet is among one of the most popular ‘trendy diets’ today. In essence, the keto diet is made up of 75 per cent fat, 20 per cent protein, and five per cent carbohydrates.

Since it involves a high level of protein proportionally, many followers choose to consume meat products as their method of choice. However, meat production can have a massive carbon footprint.

For example, the production of livestock such as cows, chickens, and pigs accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land usage, and creates 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere. Moreover, 43 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions are released for every one kilogram of beef produced. The keto diet is not doing any favours in correlation to environmental impacts.

Vegan and vegetarian diets

According to a 2018 Gallop poll, five per cent of Americans identify as vegetarian. Contrary to the common perception that cutting meat out of your diet correlates to a positive impact on the environment, a strict vegetarian or vegan diet may also have its own shortcomings, though it can still be a much better alternative to an omnivorous diet.

For example, vegetarians in the US commonly replace the meat in their diets with dairy products. Dairy products, an adjacent production to livestock, have a massive carbon footprint, since dairy cows release copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere, as well as other greenhouse gases, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Dairy production also uses high amounts of water in order to nourish cows, and process manure. Moreover, manure runoff can pollute water systems, which can lead to serious health problems for consumers.

Vegans, however, do not consume dairy; in fact, they avoid animal products altogether. In theory, this should remove any negative environmental impact. However, according to the US Library of Medicine, pesticides used in conventional agriculture, such as fruit and vegetable crops, leak into surface level water where it can also pollute soil, poison wildlife, and harm other nearby plant-life.

It’s absolutely admirable to take on a new diet in order to improve yourself —personal growth is important. However, the next time you follow the next trendy diet, consider how much our Earth loses, too. There is no one diet that can save the planet, but individual consumer choices do add up.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

Teach-ins, banner-making workshops, documentary viewing among organized events

UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

UTM will be holding a series of events in support of the Global Climate Strikes taking place on September 20 and 27, which coincides with the upcoming United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit that aims to present viable plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time… The Strike represents a pedagogic moment that UTM wanted to be part of,” wrote UTM Media Relations spokesperson Nicolle Wahl to The Varsity.

Classes at UTM will not be cancelled on the days of the strikes. However, in an email, former acting Vice-President and Principal Amrita Daniere encouraged faculty to be mindful of the walkouts and to remind their students to request accommodations should they participate.

In coordination with local groups, UTM is arranging drop-in workshops for making banners supporting climate justice, one-hour sessions with professors from various facilities, and TED-style climate talks.

An event titled “Meltdown: A Climate Change Summit” will be hosted at The Maanjiwe nendamowinan Building on September 24, bringing environment and health experts, including former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dr. Diane Saxe, to discuss the impact of climate change on health.

The week of Climate Strike events will conclude on September 25 with an outdoor screening of ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch  a multiple-award winning documentary focusing on the Anthropocene Working Group.

As part of a global effort, the Climate Strike aims to “declare a climate emergency and show our politicians what action in line with climate science and justice means,” according to its website. The global strikes are inspired by school strikers, like activist Greta Thunberg, who has been leaving class every Friday since last August in protest of the climate crisis.

In a video in support of the Global Climate Strike, Thunberg said, “This shouldn’t be the children’s responsibility. Now the adults also need to help us, so we are calling for them to strike from their work because we need everyone.”

Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time

U of T faced criticism in 2016 when President Meric Gertler opted not to divest from all fossil fuel companies, instead choosing to assess investments individually.

The UN Climate Action Summit, occurring the same week as the strikes, is urging world leaders to enact plans that address more than just fossil fuel mitigation and encouraging countries to move forward in fully transitioning to sustainable economies. This includes prioritizing renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind, and removing subsidies for fossil fuels.

The UN also emphasized that these climate action plans must not add to economic inequality and that those negatively affected by shifts toward renewable energy production must be given new opportunities.

UTSG and UTSC have not announced any events for the Global Climate Strike. A full list of UTM’s Global Climate Strike events with dates and locations can be found on their website.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

U of T and the climate crisis: what you need to know

In light of Gertler’s commitment to U7+ climate goals, a look at U of T’s recent history of climate policy

U of T and the climate crisis: what you need to know

Meric Gertler attended the inaugural U7+ Summit this July, and affirmed his commitment to addressing climate change, along with the leaders of 48 universities worldwide. The U7+ Alliance aims to confront global problems, including the climate crisis, through the commitments of various universities.

However, over the past few years, U of T’s climate record has been marred with dissent, marked notably by Gertler’s 2016 rejection of divesting from all fossil fuel companies, as recommended by the President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment (PAC). 

Principle 3 of the U7+ Alliance states, “We recognize that our universities have a major role to play in addressing the environmental issues and challenges to sustainability such as climate change, biodiversity and energy transition. This should include leading by example on our own campuses.” As Gertler and U of T continue to voice support for fighting the climate crisis, The Varsity takes a look at what the university has done in recent years.

Background

Leading up to 2015, student activists and a Toronto350.org petition encouraged the university to create a committee that would look into U of T’s financial investments and make recommendations. The PAC specifically recommended that U of T divest from firms that spread misinformation about climate change, derive 10 per cent or more of their revenue from aggressive or non-conventional extraction, or disregard the 1.5 degree warming threshold. 

“We had come up with what we thought was a very reasonable and well-thought-out approach,” said Professor Matthew Hoffmann, who served on the PAC. 

In rejecting the PAC’s suggestions, U of T announced its plans to instead evaluate investments on a “firm-by-firm basis,” using “Environmental, Social, and Governance [ESG] factors.” 

“It’s what everyone should be doing,” said Hoffmann on U of T’s usage of ESG principles. “I don’t think it necessarily goes far enough in terms of a climate crisis.”

Even as campaigns similar to U of T’s have been enacted at universities such as McGill University and the University of British Columbia, the sole postsecondary institution in Canada to commit to divestment is Université Laval.

Where are we now?

On the heels of the rejection of the PAC’s recommendations, President Gertler instituted the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability (CECCS). Focusing on sustainability and academic response to climate change, CECCS champions three main concepts: campus as a living lab, university as an agent of change, and curriculum innovation.

The CECCS’ work is in line with Principle 3, Action 1 of the U7+ Alliance, dictating that “all students of our universities will have access to courses related to climate, biodiversity and sustainability.”

However, many feel that this is simply not sufficient. “If, as [the CECCS] argues, U of T needs to be a living lab and an agent of change, then this must go beyond curriculum to the material and energy foundations of the institution,” said Professor Scott Prudham.

As of the 2018 University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM) Carbon Footprint Report, carbon emissions for the Pension and Endowment portfolios are 13.1 and 12.5 per cent higher than their Reference portfolios, respectively. UTAM directs U of T’s investments, which amounts to almost $10 billion. This measurement is comprised of total emissions and emissions per million dollars USD invested. 

“Our portfolio is higher in carbon emissions than I’d like to see,” said Hoffmann.

“Beyond Divestment,” the document that outlines Gertler’s rejection of the PAC’s recommendations, emphasizes that fossil fuels only contribute to a quarter of carbon emissions, citing this as a limiting factor when considering the possibility of divestment. However, divestment increasingly has a financial logic, as the report agrees that investing in fossil fuels may be riskier in the long-term. 

“If U of T came out with a strong commitment to pursue divestment, it would send signals. After all, financial markets are about information and expectation, and if large institutional investors begin to show aversion to investing in fossil fuel companies, then others may follow suit and suddenly those firms do not look like good investments anymore,” said Prudham.

But the logic of divestment goes beyond financial considerations. “Divestment activists think… this really needs to be about changing the way society thinks, what we invest in,” said Hoffman.

Where are we going?

This debate over what it means to be a university in the face of the climate crisis causes many to still feel as though U of T is not living up to its potential. Divestment remains a priority for student environmental groups such as Leap UofT, who simply are not satisfied with the university’s focus on academic solutions and sustainability.

“This administration has been very good at greenwashing its unwillingness to challenge the corporate power driving the climate crisis under support for sustainability initiatives. Those initiatives are wonderful on their own, but they aren’t a substitute for divestment,” said Leap UofT co-founder Julia DaSilva. In the past two years, Leap UofT has focused their divestment efforts on Victoria College, where the Board of Regents Investment Committee has agreed to look into the possibility of divestment.

“Our aim with these campaigns has been to rebuild the momentum around divestment, and this year, we’re working on ways to direct this momentum back into a cross-campus campaign that will force U of T’s administration out of their confidence that divestment at U of T is dead,” said DaSilva.