Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k
$32,749

A group of students camped out in a Toronto university building say they're not leaving until their school commits to a timeline for divesting from fossil fuels.

More than 200 students have joined the 16-day occupation of the “Old Vic” building located on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, says Erin Mackey, co-coordinator of Climate Justice U of T, the student group organizing the protest. Victoria University, whose undergraduate section is known as Victoria College, is part of U of T.

“We are not leaving until we see a tangible action divesting from fossil fuel by Victoria College,” said Amy Mann, a second-year student and co-organizer of the protest. “We have been waiting for too long.”

Since 2018, student groups have been calling on Victoria University to divest its endowment, which was valued at just under $524 million in 2021. In recent months, students have held on-campus demonstrations and interrupted the university’s board of regents meeting to register their divestment demands.

In a statement shared online last Thursday, Victoria University president and vice-chancellor Rhonda N. McEwen showed support for the student protest but noted students must “adhere to all fire and health and safety regulations while they are present in Old Vic.”

The school has requested that students remove “physical objects such as tents that are obstructing pathways, entrances and exits” and restrict protests to daytime hours only, as the building “was not meant for overnight occupancy,” the statement reads.

Mann says the school has not provided the group with a fire safety report, and the group, which has been camped out around the clock since March 27, will not be moving.

“We have the capacity to stay here… We will not leave until Victoria College joins U of T and divests from fossil fuel or police forcibly remove us,” she added.

Erin Mackey, co-coordinator of Climate Justice U of T, says more than 200 students have joined the 16-day occupation of the “Old Vic” building on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Photo submitted by Erin Mackey.

The Climate Justice U of T occupation comes after the release of a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of the catastrophic effects of climate change and the need to transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels immediately.

More than 200 students have joined the 16-day occupation of the “Old Vic” building on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, says Erin Mackey, co-coordinator of Climate Justice U of T, the student group organizing the protest.

“We hope this disruption and displacement pulls the administration out of their tower and forces them to confront the realities of climate change,” Mackey said. “The longer it takes for the board to divest, the more blood is on their hands.”

An online petition calling on the school to divest has also garnered more than 700 signatures, Mackey added.

“There is a sense of immense disappointment that while Vic admin and board of regents members have always professed to be progressive and caring leaders, they have failed to represent student interests or even discuss our demands in a meaningful way,” says Leah McKinney, a second-year Victoria College student and member of Climate Justice U of T, in a statement to Canada’s National Observer.

“Fossil fuel investments not only pose a serious threat to the environment but also become less profitable every year. The only way to make a substantive change that will benefit students and the broader community is to put our money where our mouth is and divest from fossil fuels.”

In a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer, McEwen acknowledged Victoria University has a vital role in advocating for climate action but noted the school does not have direct fossil fuel investments.

“We invest a portion of our general endowment (approximately $250 million in assets) into pooled funds,” said McEwen. “Only a small portion, approximately 3.5 per cent, of these pooled fund assets have exposure to fossil fuels. We use these funds to support outstanding academic offerings, university operations and signature learning experiences.”

In her statement, McEwen stressed the importance of due diligence and process as the school’s board of regents considers how to move forward while balancing its fiduciary responsibilities.

“While I appreciate that progress is often not as fast as we would like, I must recognize and commend the hard work of our board members and administration who have taken on this task with a duty of care,” she said.

As of Monday afternoon, students remained in the Old Vic building.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

Keep reading

The University of Western Ontario managed to survive more than 100 years without selling out to corporations only something around the 2000s caused them to pimp out the entrance to the DB Weldon Library where today you will see the corporate 'We-love-your-Money' wall. That, plus chopping their name to 'Western' which would be as galling as calling the University of Calgary 'Eastern'.

Belle! Il faut manifester pour les problèmes comme ça! La planète est plus importante que les études ou les règles de société.

Does the Victoria University president and vice-chancellor not see the irony in insisting that students "adhere to all fire and health and safety regulations" while inside the building ... as Victoria College's investments burn up the Earth, ensuring that these students don't have a safe and healthy future? There seems to be a lot of irony impairment in so-called developed nations these days.

“Only a small portion, approximately 3.5 per cent, of these pooled fund assets have exposure to fossil fuels.” is a copout that she needs to deal with. The first thing she should do is to tell the manager of the fund to get rid of that 3.5% or expect to lose millions in deposits; the manager will see his or her job on the line .....

I think that would be a good idea David. The University can then increase your tuition by the same or greater amount for their losses. You should perhaps spend some time and learn about how this planet has had several climate changes that go from frozen over to tropical in the arctic. No matter how much money our Government spends trying to change the climate, mother earth will have her way. This so called Climate Crisis is the greatest Ponzi Scheme and you drank the cool aid. Stay at school, your education will improve.

Can we all take the students' spirit and figure out what we can do to resist as if our lives depended on it?