Canadian Security Magazine

McGill requests ‘police assistance’ to remove pro-Palestinian encampment on campus

The Canadian Press   

News encampments

By Morgan Lowrie

McGill University has asked Montreal police for help to dismantle an encampment of pro-Palestinian activists who are refusing to leave its downtown campus.

On Tuesday, a day before summer session classes were scheduled to begin, dozens of tents remained pitched on the muddy ground of McGill’s lower field, enclosed by metal fencing erected by the protesters. Banners on the fence carried messages such as, “You are funding genocide.”

In an emailed statement, McGill said it had asked for police help after failing to persuade the protesters to end what the school has called an illegal action.

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“Police representatives, who have expertise in skilfully resolving situations such as these, have now started their own process,” the university said. “We continue to work with them to resolve the matter.”

Montreal police spokeswoman Véronique Dubuc said the force has received McGill’s request to dismantle the encampment and is evaluating “different avenues” to respond.

The encampment, which was erected on Saturday just ahead of the end of final exams at McGill, follows a wave of similar protests on campuses across the United States. The protests are linked to the Israel-Hamas war. Pro-Palestinian protesters have also set up an encampment at the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus, while the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa have both warned that encampments on campus will not be tolerated.

Later on Tuesday, a lawyer representing two McGill students is scheduled to argue in Quebec Superior Court for an injunction against the protesters. Neil Oberman, with the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, declined to give details about his clients’ injunction request, stating simply that “it’s not normal that two students have to hire a lawyer to go to school in Canada.”

Activists at McGill say they have no intention of dismantling their tents until the school, as well as nearby Concordia University, divest from all companies that protesters claim are “profiting from genocide.” The encampment is near the campus gates and does not block access to university buildings.

The university’s website says classes for its summer session begin Wednesday. The lower field is also where a tent is erected every spring for graduation ceremonies, which are scheduled to begin May 28.

McGill has said many of the activists, if not the majority, are not members of the school community and that it had seen video of some people using “unequivocally antisemitic language and intimidating behaviour.”

A university spokesperson forwarded The Canadian Press a link to a video on X, formerly Twitter, that shows protesters on the McGill campus, some masked, chanting, “Go back to Europe,” and “All Zionists are racist.” The university called the video very concerning. “We are investigating the incident, including consulting with external legal counsel, to see if what was said falls under protected speech,” a spokesperson said.

In response to the news that McGill had asked the police to intervene, encampment participant Ari Nahman said, “The plan is to keep the camp put.”

Nahman, who uses they/them pronouns and said they are a student at nearby Concordia University, said the people in the video shared by McGill are “not within the camp” but had shown up to join the protest. Still Nahman, who is Jewish, wouldn’t denounce the chants heard in the footage.

“Everyone seems to be offended about something these days,” Nahman said, adding: “Antisemitism does exist and it’s real, however it can’t be conflated with anti-Zionism. I am a Jew and I am anti-Zionist.”

Encampment members in Montreal have demanded that McGill divest from Israeli companies it says are “complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” They also want the school to cut academic ties with Israeli institutions.

Alessandra Renzi, a professor at Concordia University’s communication studies department, was at the site Tuesday supporting the encampment’s occupants.

Renzi said she is not surprised the university called on the police. “This is what universities have been doing all over the world, instead of listening to the demands of students and trying to actually consider what their role in genocide and the murder of Palestinians is.”

In Vancouver, UBC officials said they are monitoring the situation and are reminding protesters to follow the university’s policy and the law while taking protest action.

B.C. Premier David Eby said student leaders and the administration should balance the need for free speech on campus with the need to foster safe spaces, especially for Jewish students during a time when they need additional support to feel safe.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.


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