The referendum win is almost certainly Canada’s first such result, and only the second time in the world such a resolution has been passed by a student body-wide vote.
Elections for the Carleton University Graduate Students Association (GSA), a local of the Canadian Federation of Students, included the following referendum question:
Do you support Carleton University adopting a binding socially responsible investment policy that would require it to divest from companies complicit in illegal military occupations and other violations of international law, including but not limited to: BAE Systems, Motorola, Northrop-Grumman, and Tesco Supermarkets?
The question passed by 204 “yes” votes to 77 “no” votes, or by 72% of valid votes cast according to the results posted on the Graduate Student Association’s website. The election results must be ratified by the GSA in April.
A major milestone
Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at Carleton University hailed the result as a major milestone for their campaign in a statement posted online:
it is one of many results of nearly four years of intensive campaigning by SAIA. The graduate students’ will to divest adds further strength to SAIA’s growing divestment campaign, which consists of 2500+ petition signatories and the endorsements of over 25 student clubs, academic workers’ unions, and university service centres in an expanding student movement across campus.
The statement also said it was a world first however that distinction belongs to Evergreen State College, whose students passed divestment resolutions in a June 2010 referendum. Nonetheless, the Carleton vote is almost certainly the first such result in Canada.
The statement noted that SAIA was formed in 2008 in response to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. SAIA is working to get the Carleton University administration to divest the institution’s pension funds from firms complicit in Israeli occupation and human rights abuses.
The Carleton vote is a another milestone in divestment activist in Canada. In February the University of Regina Student Union passed a resolution supporting divestment.
A video released by Carleton SAIA campaigning for divestment explains that an ethical divestment policy will be beneficial not only for Palestinians, but to oppose other human rights abuses around the world.
However, the SAIA statement, noted:
Although Carleton’s administration has shown little interest in divesting from the aforementioned companies or in adopting a binding mechanism to prevent unethical investments in companies that violate international law, students have spoken out and grad students have voted explicitly in favor of divestment.
In 1988, according to the statement, “the Carleton Anti-Apartheid Action Group forced the university to divest from South African apartheid.”