Court rejects students’ request for injunction against McGill University camp

Pro-Palestinian activists who have pitched their tents on the McGill University campus won a legal victory Wednesday when a Quebec judge rejected a request for an injunction to stop their protest.

Two University of Montreal students had asked the Quebec Superior Court to order protesters to move at least 100 meters away from school buildings, claiming their presence had created an atmosphere of aggression and left them feeling unsafe.

Judge Chantal Masse ruled Wednesday that the students did not prove that they were being blocked from the school or that they would not be able to take their final exams. She also took into account statements from protesters who argued that such an order would have a “chilling effect” on their right to freedom of expression.

“The court considers that the balance of inconvenience is tilted in favor of the protesters, whose freedom of expression and peaceful assembly would be seriously affected,” he wrote. The evidence of harm to students, on the other hand, is “quite limited and arises more from subjective concerns and discomfort than from precise and serious concerns for their safety.”

Masse said that while some of the slogans and statements attributed to protesters are “concerning,” there is no indication that they constitute direct threats toward the plaintiffs.

In the court order application heard Tuesday, the students presented evidence of slogans such as “Intifada,” “From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever” and “All Zionists are terrorists” chanted or printed on banners as examples of the atmosphere “hostile, aggressive and violent” created by the protesters.

Masse noted that different groups have different interpretations of what those slogans mean. However, he extended what he called an “invitation” to protesters “to review the words they use during protests and dispense with those that are likely to be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as calls for violence or as anti-Semitic statements.” “.

Several dozen tents have been set up on the school’s lower field since Saturday, following a wave of similar protests on campuses across the United States linked to the war between Israel and Hamas. Pro-Palestinian protesters have also set up camps at the University of British Columbia’s Point Gray campus and at the University of Ottawa.

On Wednesday, a group of protesters began setting up tents in front of a Western University building in London, Ont., the school said in a news release.

McGill University, which decided to remain neutral rather than support the injunction request, asked for police assistance to help dismantle the encampment after failing to persuade protesters to end what the school says is an illegal action. . As of Wednesday, it was unclear how and when officers might intervene. Montreal police said in a statement that they “continue to evaluate possible avenues for the future, advocating for a peaceful outcome.”

The judge agreed that the campers are illegally occupying university land, but said it is too early “to conclude that the situation will not be resolved adequately and non-violently with progressive police intervention.”

McGill issued a statement saying he was encouraged by the court’s conclusion that the protesters’ presence is unlawful and its recognition that the university’s request for police assistance was “a last resort.”

In another statement, McGill President Deep Saini said the school was reaching out to lawyers representing camp members in an effort to restart negotiations. He reiterated that many of the protesters have no ties to McGill. “This cannot and will not be accepted,” he wrote. “Therefore, the camp must be dismantled quickly and this is non-negotiable.”

Saini pledged to “hold a forum with members of the McGill community to discuss their various demands and any opposing points of view in a peaceful, respectful and civilized manner,” as long as protesters leave the camp immediately.

Protesters have previously said they have no intention of dismantling their tents until the school, as well as nearby Concordia University, divest from companies that protesters say are “profiting from genocide.” They also want McGill to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions.

Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal-based human rights lawyer and associate professor at McGill, said she was not surprised that the judge rejected the injunction request.

The decision reflects “that there has been no evidence of any activity by protesters that suggests this was not peaceful,” such as threats, violence or blocking access to buildings, he said. And that view appears to be shared by Montreal police, who so far have not seen the need to intervene, he added.

“As long as the people involved maintain their peaceful approach to these types of protests or assemblies, which can include things like encampments, then it is not in the best interest of the courts or the police to intervene,” Eliadis said in a telephone interview. .

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

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