Letters to the Editors

Freedom of speech

Dear Editors,

Re: “Prospecting the oil sands” (Oct. 23, 2009).

On Oct. 24, International Day on Climate Action, thousands of people from across Canada, including me, rallied on Parliament Hill to show their support for real and immediate action on climate change.

Among the many notable speakers at the rally was Francis Zwiers, the Canadian representative to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His speech even struck fear through the highly environmentally-educated crowd: “Climate change is happening much faster than [the IPCC] predicted. There is no time to delay. We must take action now.”

That’s why Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) is taking this issue seriously.

On Oct. 15, AMS Assembly voted against putting QBACC’s plebiscite question on divestment from the Albertan tar sands on the fall referendum. I take issue with two of the arguments made by Louis Tsilivis, the Vice-President (Internal) of the Commerce Society.

Tsilivis said the question would draw negative national media attention. I disagree. Action on climate change is not only a pressing issue—it’s become ‘sexy.’ Students voting on divestment would draw positive national attention and enhance Queen’s reputation as a cutting-edge institution. Raising the debate on campus would attract future students to a campus that’s moving towards becoming a leader in environmental action.

Tsilivis claims the question was “100 per cent politics and zero per cent results.” But aren’t the repercussions of every plebiscite question political? QBACC recognizes Queen’s is a business and won’t be able to immediately divest from any company financing the Albertan tar sands. The purpose of this plebiscite question wasn’t to elicit immediate divestment. It was to announce to political leaders attending Copenhagen Summit in December that we—Canada’s upcoming leaders—believe in serious action. Yes, this plebiscite question was political. It was intended to be.

Queen’s students have the right to voice their opinions. For Canada, the Albertan tar sands is one of the most pressing topics under debate. Taking away the opportunity to vote on this issue is unjust and restricting our basic human right to freedom of speech. As a Queen’s student, I demand to know how and why this happened.

Jena Hall ArtSci ’10
Co-Director of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change

Irrational rhetoric

Dear Editors,

Re: “Offensive tactics” (Oct. 23, 2009).

In his letter to the Journal, Paul Tye assailed members of Queen’s Alive who participated in the Silent Day of Solidarity. Mr. Tye completely misrepresented the event, which was not intended as an “arm-band campaign” of any kind. Any connection drawn to the Holocaust comes entirely from him.

Although he speaks of reason, Mr. Tye refuses to make any rational argument, instead taking recourse entirely to ad hominem attacks. He howls that those who publicly defend the rights of the unborn are “moralistic,” “crazy,” “childish,” and “infantile,” which is all well and good rhetorically. However, for the sake of the rational discourse which Mr. Tye claims to cherish, I’d ask him—and those who share his views—to make an argument defending the killing of innocent human beings that doesn’t amount to saying pro-life advocates are “anti-woman.”

Mr. Tye concludes his letter by mentioning Christianity, as if the recognition of human rights were something unique to the Christian community. In fact, the conviction that every human being has intrinsic worth that cannot be destroyed or discarded is a fundamental criterion of decency for every person, Christian or not.

It’s those who ignore this grave and ongoing violation of human rights who should be ashamed, not those who expose it.

Paul Griffiths
Comm ’10, ArtSci ’10

Keep it up Queen’s

Dear Editors,

I've never been to Queen's University—or Ontario for that matter—but I felt the need to write a letter to the editor when a good friend of mine at Queen's e-mailed the article "Prospecting the oil sands" to me.

I live in Missouri and I’m really engaged on environmental issues, especially related to energy production. We here in the U.S. get more oil from the Canadian tar sands than we do from Saudi Arabia and I'm ashamed that we get oil from such a dirty source. I've signed a few petitions calling on President Obama to create an embargo on Canadian tar sands oil.

Our President has made climate change a priority and there’s no doubt in my mind that in the next few years he'll act out against the tar sands and stop importing oil. In fact, this will be absolutely necessary to combat climate change, as oil from tar sands emits three times the amount of greenhouse gases as conventional oil production.

It would be a real embarrassment for Canada and the institutions invested in the tar sands if an international embargo was needed for the right choice to be made. I personally think Queen's University should lead and divest money from companies engaged in tar sands production.

It’s great to see many Queen’s students working hard to pursue this goal. Keep it up.

Ryan Doyle
Columbia, Missouri

Make the right choice

Dear Editors,

Re: “Prospecting the oil sands” (Oct. 23, 2009).

Queen’s University’s investment in the Canadian oil sands deserves critical attention. The opinions of Mr. Myran and Mr. Tsilivis provide a starting point in this debate.

Mr. Tsilivis declares “the vast majority of Canadians would agree we should live in a society with clean air, clean water and pursue sensible environmental policy,” then reserves the majority of his words for the defence of corporations and the reputation of Queen’s. Queen’s doesn’t—or shouldn’t—as Mr. Tsilivis implies, have a duty to appease the myriad companies/institutions implicated in oil sands development. Queen’s has an opportunity—as does Canada—to be a leader in the shift towards sustainable systems. By doing away with dated, polluting technology and investing in sustainable energy, we can be at the forefront of an emerging market.

Mr. Myran points out ways in which oil sands development is a poor choice. Queen’s can take a stand, muster up this stance of leadership we are supposedly known for and show we are a union with insight and determination.

We can also stand back, be reactionary and watch as part of our country is sieved and destroyed. We can’t be held back by the idea that we will sour a few relationships by taking the moral and scientific high ground. We are better than that. Embracing sustainable energy will make our institution and our country the envy of others. If we develop and improve our technology and practices now, these improvements will be in demand by those who chose an easy route of waiting. By preparing our engineers for the inevitable end of fossil fuel energy, we offer them future jobs at the forefront of their field.

We shouldn’t be afraid of “alienating Queen’s alumni at these companies and tell them their line of work is shameful or disrespectful.” This is a non-issue. We aren’t looking to shame people for what they have done in the past—we need to look to the future and realize a better way of operating.

Mr. Tsilivis admits the “AMS Assembly has a responsibility to protect students and post-graduation jobs, to respect our alumni and students from Western Canada and ensure our university’s image isn’t dragged through the mud.” By distancing ourselves from a near-obsolete technology and immoral practices, we are doing all of this. ‘Developing’ the oil sands—annihilating Alberta’s landscape—creates more mud to drag our reputation through.

Everyone should be proud of Queen’s if we make the collective choice to challenge ourselves to do what’s difficult but rewarding—I’m sure both Mr. Myran and Mr. Tsilivis would agree.

We know oil sands production is inefficient. We know in the long-term the cons outweigh the pros in oil sands investment and we know we can choose insight over insecurity and come out stronger in the end—financially, morally, ecologically, academically and universally. Isn’t this what we strive for at Queen’s?

Darryl McGrath
ArtSci ’10

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