By Luc M.
On Wednesday March 4th, between 100 and 200 students at the University of Guelph occupied the University Centre, demanding that the university’s Board of Governors divest immediately from fossil fuels and in particular the controversial Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline, the attempted construction of which has in the last month sparked a country-wide struggle between the Canadian state and corporate interests on the one hand, and Indigenous peoples and their supporters on the other hand. In the process, the protesting students chased Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recruiters out of a job fair being held on campus, targeting the organization for its role in the ongoing violent invasion of the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in order to make way for the construction of the 670 km-long pipeline.
The action began with a rally in support of the Wet’suwet’en people in the center of campus that attracted over 100 attendees. Protesters spoke about the situation in Wet’suwet’en, emphasizing that the resistance to CGL is not simply about resisting climate change and pollution, but rather a fight between Indigenous national self-determination and Canadian colonialism. Speakers affirmed the right of the Wet’suwet’en people and their own governmental structures in the form of the hereditary chiefs and bahlats (potlach) to resist the imposition of the CGL pipeline on their unceded land by TC Energy and the Canadian state, and likened the current situation to the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century, stating that all settlers on Turtle Island (North America) have a moral responsibility to support the land defenders against actual and threatened violence by the state and reactionaries. Several protestors called for people to provide support to the ongoing solidarity rail blockade by the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawks) of Tyendinaga, which is also facing police repression.
After about an hour, the crowd moved into the University Centre where a job fair was taking place, taking up one entire side of the building and serving an eviction notice to the RCMP recruiters who were present, chanting “R, C, M, P! Racist, Colonial, Militarized, Police!” and “How do you spell ‘racist’? R-C-M-P!” Following this, the RCMP recruiters hurriedly packed up and left. Despite recent claims about being in “negotiations to withdrawal” with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the RCMP is still maintaining an armed presence on Wet’suwet’en territory and is allowing the cutting down of trees and construction of work camps – which pose a danger to the safety of Indigenous women and girls – by TC Energy, the company responsible for CGL.
The Mounties having been expelled, the students then marched upstairs to the university’s administrative offices, which they occupied for an hour, demanding that the university immediately divest from all fossil fuels and especially TC Energy. Vice-President of Finance Don O’Leary attempted to dissipate the students’ anger by promising them that the university Finance Committee would “look into it” in three weeks’ time, and to “trust in the process” (which has led to very little change in the university’s investment portfolio since students first began demanding divestment 7 years ago). When this maneuver failed, O’Leary agreed to propose full divestment from fossil fuels to the Finance Committee in three weeks’ time. After this, the protestors dispersed, reminding O’Leary in no uncertain terms that the student body will continue to hold the University of Guelph accountable for its role in environmental destruction and colonial violence.
The wave of protests that have swept the territory controlled by the Canadian state in the past month, as well as increasing police repression, are clear signs that even a “stable” country like Canada is not immune to the intensifying global crisis of capitalism-imperialism. The Canadian economy is heavily dependent on resource extraction, including oil and natural gas, and the Canadian monopoly capitalist class – to which most of the University of Guelph’s board members belong – cannot afford to abandon these key sources of profit in the midst of growing economic instability. The internal logic of capitalism thus forces the Canadian bourgeoisie into ever greater confrontation with the Indigenous nations whose lands it must violate to stay competitive, and the broad masses who will soon be affected by quickening climate change.
Guelph is the occupied territory of Mississaugas of the Credit Nation and Anishinabek Nation