Students activists at the University of Victoria blocked all entrances to the Michael Williams Building on Tuesday to protest the institution’s fossil fuel investments.
Divest UVic – a group campaigning for UVic to divest from fossil fuels – set up a picket line outside the administrative building at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 3 in response to the university Board of Governors’ decision to delay a vote on divesting from fossil fuel industries. The students expected board members to take a vote during a November meeting.
The students didn’t allow anyone to cross the picket line once they’d set up, but some staff members had arrived before the protesters so there were staff inside working.
Elora Adamson, an organizer with Divest UVic, feels the university’s branding as a sustainable school is hypocritical when it has $40 million invested in fossil fuels.
Divest UVic has been active since 2013 and the group has met with representatives from the university several times over the years. She feels the university is “stalling.”
“It’s incredibly frustrating to see [UVic] continue to ignore our calls to action,” Adamson said.
Aside from protesting, the students were also raising money for Unist’ot’en in honour of Giving Tuesday. More than $1,200 had been raised in the days leading up to the protest. The goal was to collect $1,500 by the end of the day through a bake sale set up on the picket line.
Organizer Juliet Watts said staff were understanding and that many donated to the fundraiser after being turned away.
A communal lunch was served at noon to celebrate the Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia’s recent partial divestment, Watts explained.
UVic respects students’ right to protest and make their views known, said Gayle Gorrill, UVic vice-president of finance and operations. However, approximately 135 university employees who work in payroll, accounting, pension and research services were unable to go to work on Tuesday – many were told to work from home or from somewhere else on campus.
Gorrill explained that UVic knows that climate change is a “critical issue” and that its short-term “investments can make an impact,” but that it’s unclear if a decision regarding divestment can be made at the January meeting. The board members will be presented with policy options in January, but may require more information before taking a vote.
Gorrill pointed out that divestment is a long process and that there are many factors for the university to consider but that responsible investment is the goal. Students can expect the board to vote in early 2020, she said.