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Police ponder move after McGill asks for help with pro-Palestinian encampment

Activists at Montreal university have said they have no intention of dismantling their tents soon
Pro-Palestinian activists are seen in their encampment set up on McGill University’s campus in Montreal, Monday, April 29, 2024. The university says it will make efforts to de-escalate before asking for police help with a camp that’s been set up on campus by pro-Palestinian activists. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

McGill University says that after pro-Palestinian activists refused its request to pack up their tents and leave its downtown Montreal campus, it has requested police assistance to have the protesters removed.

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

Montreal police spokeswoman Véronique Dubuc said Tuesday the force has received McGill’s request to dismantle the dozens of tents on the front lawn of its campus and is evaluating “different avenues” to respond.

The encampment, which was erected on the weekend just ahead of the end of final exams at McGill, follows a wave of similar protests linked to the Israel-Hamas war on campuses across the United States. 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 have said 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.”

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.”

The university 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.” When someone in the video responds that his family is from Iraq, one masked person responds, “go back to Iraq then.”

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.

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

B.C. Premier David Eby says 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.

READ ALSO: Pro-Palestinian encampment grows at Montreal’s McGill university