Lobby group persuades Toronto to divest from tobacco

Queen’s has no plans to divest

In March, the University of Toronto announced it would divest its stocks from tobacco-related companies.

Queen’s has no plans to do the same.

Vice-Principal (operations and finance) Andrew Simpson said the University needs to be selective about its investments because of the commitments it has made with regards to that money.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we maintain the returns on those investments,” he said. “The problem is, if the investment committee at Queen’s jumped every time a lobby group jumped, we wouldn’t invest in anything.”

Queen’s currently has $800 million in endowment funds, which are used for student awards and scholarships. It also has $1.4 billion in pension plan investments.

Simpson said Queen’s hopes to have a policy set up by the end of the year to screen investments the University makes.

He said the investment committee will assess potential investment opportunities against specific guidelines to prevent situations in which Queen’s finds it needs to divest from certain companies.

The issue was brought forward at U of T from the student-led group Education Bringing Youth Tobacco Truths (E-BUTT) through a petition submitted to President David Naylor on March 14, 2006. The petition had collected more than 400 signatures calling for the University to end all investments in tobacco-related companies, saying the stocks were “antithetical to the University’s mission and academic values.” In June of that year, Naylor set up a six-member advisory board that recommended divesting from tobacco companies.

The University holds about $10.5 million worth of stocks in the tobacco industry, with companies such as Japan Tobacco, Rothmans Inc., and Altria Group Inc.

According to the advisory board’s report, a tobacco company is “one that derives 10 per cent or more of its revenue from tobacco products.” Using this criterion, the University is set to divest 100 per cent from Japan Tobacco and Altria Group Inc.

Naylor could not be reached for comment.

“Divesting of those occurred within a few days [of the decision] at the accounting department,” said E-BUTT Vice-President of External Affairs Albert Gaudio. “U of T continues to hold some $1.5 million in Rothman’s stocks, which are held in a pooled account, and as such, can only be divested were the University to divest of that much larger pooled account.”

E-BUTT president Tyler Ward began his campaign in 2005, when he noticed that the Canada Pension Plan documents listed some questionable investments in tobacco companies. Gaudio said E-BUTT was formed at the University of Toronto because it was easier to have impact in a university setting, he said.

As a result of its success there, E-BUTT is set to start similar groups in different universities across Canada. Gaudio couldn’t confirm at which schools the new chapters are forming because they’re in the planning process. He did, however, confirm that Queen’s will be starting its own chapter this fall.

“We’re looking to build a national front,” he said, “Queen’s will be an integral part of that.” At U of T, students are now focusing their efforts on getting the University to divest from companies connected with the Sudanese government. The group Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) that successfully pressured Queen’s to divest also has a chapter in Toronto.

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