University of Guelph postpones decision to divest from fossil fuels

A student group is pushing the university to end its $33 million investment in fossil fuel companies

A student group is pushing the university to end its $33 million investment in fossil fuel companies

Students from Fossil Free Guelph rallied and marched to the board of governors meeting, demanding the university end its investment in fossil fuels. (Submitted by Danielle Scepanovic)

The University of Guelph has deferred a decision on if the school will pull its investment in fossil fuel companies, after nearly a hundred students stood in protest at a board of governors meeting Tuesday night. 

Fossil Free Guelph, a group of students that has been campaigning for the university to axe its investment in companies like ExxonMobil, Suncor and Syncrude, marched into the board meeting with signs and banners, to show their opposition to the school's current financial portfolio. 

Elizabeth Cyr and Julie Maxwell are students who are associated with Fossil Free Guelph. They were one of many students who wore orange squares on their shirts to symbolize the environmental damage that fossil fuel companies cause. (Peggy Lam/CBC News)

Claiming that these companies pollute the environment, cause climate change and hurt Indigenous communities, the group asked the board of governors to commit to fully divesting money from the list of 50 fossil fuel companies in which the school currently has investments. 

"Taking leadership isn't always the easiest thing to do, but it is the right thing to do," said Megan Peres, a third-year student who spoke at the meeting. 

"What will our reputation be in five years? This makes me really sad because I would like to be a mother someday," she said, referring to the legacy of climate change. 

The students occupied most of the 112 seats set out for the board meeting. After Peres spoke, they cheered and stood up in protest with signs and banners. 

A heated debate 

Peres' speech drew a heated and emotional debate between board members and students. 

One of the university's board members, Gerritt Bos, said, "Investing is not the right tool to deal with climate change." 

Coral Murrant, another board member, said they have "absolutely grappled with the complexity of the issue."

A banner hangs from the second floor at the University Centre, put up by Fossil Free Guelph. (Peggy Lam/CBC News)
Other board members applauded the students for being present but stated the group's proposal is too "binary" in its thinking, referring to how Fossil Free Guelph is only demanding full, and not partial, divestment. 

"This would be a symbolic action and it's not symbolic to just pick and choose a few companies," responded Elizabeth Cyr, another student associated with Fossil Free Guelph.

Fossil Free Guelph has been campaigning on this matter for the past four years. They've conducted research and wrote reports, which they brought forward to the university's finance and ad-hoc committee. 

Decision postponed

Spokesperson Chuck Cunningham says the heated events that took place 'pushed the conversation further.' (Peggy Lam/CBC News)
A week prior to the meeting, the ad-hoc committee brought forward a report and recommendation for the board to continue investing as-is and "refrain from implementing a policy of blanket divestment from those companies listed in Fossil Free Guelph's expression of concern."

The board rejected the motion to accept that recommendation.

Instead, it put forward and passed another motion to defer the decision until the next board meeting in April, and to allow Fossil Free Guelph to be actively and physically involved in the next stages, after one student asked for this to be included in the motion.