Pro-Palestinian camp at McGill enters its fifth day

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The pro-Palestinian camp at McGill University enters its fifth day on Wednesday amid a looming court decision on whether it should be dismantled.

The outer part of the camp, outside the fenced tents where people sleep, grew from Tuesday to Wednesday.

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Protesters have now installed wooden pallets on the muddy grass and erected several sun shelters, expanding the protest’s presence on campus.

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“We will not leave here until our demands are met,” Concordia University student Zeyad Abisaab had said Tuesday afternoon. “This is an indefinite camp.”

McGill University has already said it has requested police assistance in handling the encampment, arguing that the protest is against school policy and the law. A single police car guarded the scene early Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing two McGill students was in court Tuesday seeking an order to dismantle the encampment and a ban on protests within 100 meters of any of the school buildings.

A judge is expected to rule on the request Wednesday.

A tent city surrounded by tarps.  There are pallets on the muddy ground.
A paddle bridge crosses a drainage ditch between rows of tents as the sun rises over a pro-Palestinian camp on Engineer’s Field at McGill University on May 1, 2024. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Students began setting up camp Saturday on the lower part of McGill’s downtown campus. It has grown steadily and now has approximately 75 tents, in addition to the canopies and tarps that surround it.

The protest aims to bring together students from different universities in Montreal to demand that their schools cut ties with Israeli institutions and companies in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

The offensive was a response to the October 7 attack by Hamas in Israel, in which more than 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were killed. More than 34,000 Palestinians have died in the war, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

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While McGill has said he has seen evidence of cases of anti-Semitism at the camp, the students involved have repeatedly rejected the accusation and point out that there are several Jewish groups involved in the protest.

Jérôme Charaoui, a Montrealer who stopped by to support the protest Wednesday morning, said there is a “huge disconnect” between the way the university has characterized the encampment and what he witnessed in person.

“I fear that the administration is trying to paint a different picture than what is really happening,” Charaoui said, “due to its intention not to address (students’) demands, but to use force to silence their voices.”

Charaoui said he was “impressed and encouraged” by the number of protesters on site despite the rain and colder weather on Tuesday.

People chat next to a picnic table and surrounded by tents.
People sit and chat as the sun rises over the pro-Palestinian camp at McGill University Engineering Campus on May 1, 2024. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

“I think the university should take stock of the demands and act accordingly,” he added. “Do not send the police or use force or violence to silence this very important protest.”

Montreal police have acknowledged receiving McGill’s request for assistance, but say they are considering what approach to take.

“The SPVM is monitoring the evolving situation and evaluating all possible avenues,” Montreal police spokesperson Antony Dorelas said Wednesday morning.

“Our role is to maintain peace and public safety. Of course, if there are criminal violations we will adapt our strategy,” Dorelas added, “but we are really in favor of a peaceful resolution in this case.”

This story will be updated.

The Gazette’s Jacob Serebrin contributed to this report.

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