Doug Ford says pro-Palestinian college camps ‘need to move’

Ontario’s premier called on Monday for pro-Palestinian protest camps to be moved off university campuses, even as a Toronto university suggested it was making progress in its talks with protesters.

Premier Doug Ford said he is “not in favor” of the camps, which have sprung up on several campuses in recent weeks, adding that he receives messages from parents expressing concerns about their children being harassed or bullied by his fault.

“They need to move. The university needs to move these people forward,” Ford told reporters at the Ontario legislature.

The prime minister said some of what he has seen and heard about the protests is “unacceptable.”

“I can’t stand some of the disgusting things I’ve been seeing out there,” he said.

Ford’s comments came as the University of Toronto said it sees “a path forward” after meeting with student protesters involved in an encampment on its campus.

Although the university initially gave protesters until 10 p.m. last Thursday to leave the camp, administrators later said they would not vacate the camp if their activities remained peaceful.

Sandy Welsh, the university’s vice chancellor for students, said in a statement Monday morning that members of the administration met with student representatives for the camp over the weekend and that discussions “have been constructive.”

Representatives and administrators are working together to address health and safety concerns, as well as reports of threatening or hate language, he said.

At the camp set up in an area known as King’s College Circle last Thursday, protesters called on the university to reveal its ties to the Israeli government and divest from Israeli companies.

Mohammad Yassin, a fourth-year student and one of the protesters’ spokespersons, said he was part of the group that met with administrators over the weekend.

The statement issued Monday was disheartening because it “perpetuates lies” about the demonstration, he said.

The administration’s continued accusations that protesters are not part of the university community or that they are engaging in hate speech are simply not true, Yassin said.

“On the second or third day of our camp, we had a Shabbat dinner hosted by the faculty and Jewish community at our camp, while we were accused of anti-Semitism,” he said. “We suppress any form of hate and anti-Semitism in a virulent way. It goes against our community guidelines and we have processes to deal with people who promote this type of hate.”

The group entered into talks believing they would soon discuss their demands, but instead the university has continued to focus on “trivial things” like the fence around the area and sanitation, he said.

“We will only discuss demands with the university in the future… It is not worth spending time discussing fences when more than 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed.”

The International Court of Justice is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza, and a ruling is expected to take years. Israel has rejected accusations of wrongdoing and accused the court of bias.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza was launched after Hamas-led militants swept into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 men, women and children hostage in October. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.

Pro-Palestinian activists have also set up tents at McGill University in Montreal, the University of Ottawa, McMaster University in Hamilton and the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

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