University of Toronto not clearing pro-Palestinian camp for now

The University of Toronto says it will allow a camp set up early Thursday morning by pro-Palestinian protesters to remain for now as long as “activities remain peaceful.”

Protesters breached a fenced area and entered around 4 a.m., setting up a few dozen tents on the grass of King’s College Circle. They promised to remain there until their demands were met.

Pro-Palestinian protesters

The university had erected fences to prevent a camp there, but protesters bypassed them. Several police vehicles quickly arrived at the scene, but no clashes were reported throughout the day despite some counter-protesters appearing.

Protesters are demanding that the university divest from companies with military ties to Israel and cut ties with some Israeli universities.

Leaflets distributed to protesters Thursday morning laid out a number of expectations for a peaceful protest, including no structures of any kind, no hate speech and no disruption to scheduled university activities.

“U of T grounds and buildings are private property. Unauthorized activities, such as camping or occupying university buildings, are considered trespassing,” the brochures read.

The university also stated in the brochures that protests are not permitted after 10 p.m.

In a statement to organizers Thursday night.Sandy Welsh, vice-chancellor (students) at the university, acknowledged that the protest had been largely peaceful and that organizers maintained an open line of communication.

“Our property is private. “You do not have our permission to be here after 10 p.m. In our communications with a representative of his group today, we reiterated our request that he leave campus at 10 p.m.,” Welsh said.

“However, if his activities remain peaceful, we have no intention of removing him from campus tonight.”

In his statement, Welsh said his concerns about safety are increasing as the number of protesters increased throughout the day. He noted that the university was concerned that most of the protesters were not U of T students or members of the school community.

“We have asked him, on several occasions, to identify a U of T student liaison and he has not provided us with one,” Welsh said.

He then informed organizers that they will see an increased number of special campus security officers nearby and noted that Toronto police were monitoring the protest.

“Please encourage others to remain peaceful. We ask that you be aware of noise tonight as we have students and staff living in a nearby residence hall,” Welsh said.

“Hate speech, threats and other discriminatory language or behavior do not constitute peaceful protest.”

Previously, Toronto police told CP24 that UofT had not asked for their help. Police reiterated Thursday night that the university was taking the lead in planning the protests.

“We are in contact with them, but they have not requested our help, not at 10 p.m. or at any time,” said a Toronto police spokesperson.

Erin MacKey of the group UofT Occupy for Palestine told CP24 that her group decided to start an encampment after their occupation of the president’s office failed to produce results.

“The University of Toronto has divested itself of South African apartheid, it has divested itself of fossil fuels. So this is not something new. Students have been demanding this university since 2006,” MacKey said. “A few weeks ago we occupied our president’s office and had a meeting with the president and we didn’t get any response. We weren’t having the conversation in good faith and there was no negotiation, so we decided to escalate the situation.”

McKey told CP24 that investments in companies with ties to the Israeli military amount to “complicity” in the “ongoing genocide.”

The International Court of Justice is investigating whether Israel committed acts of genocide during the war, but has not made a final decision. Israel, for its part, has rejected all accusations of irregularities.

University says academic boycotts are ‘counterproductive’

Last month, UofT President Meric S. Gertler published a letter saying that the university supports students’ right to peacefully protest, but would not comply with the group’s demand to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions.

“This lawsuit is at odds with the University’s long-standing opposition to academic boycotts, which dates back to at least the 1980s,” Gertler wrote. “Such demands are contrary to the University’s firm belief that human rights are best protected by firmly defending and promoting academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the unrestricted circulation of ideas within the global academic community.”

He added that it is “inappropriate and ultimately counterproductive to single out academics who work or study in a particular country and hold them responsible for the actions or policies of their country’s government.”

Regarding the divestment calls, Gertler noted that the university does not directly manage its pension funds and that its policy on divestments states that “the University does not take positions on social or political issues other than those directly relevant to higher education and academic research.” “. ‘”

In a statement early Thursday, the university said the campus remains open and protests are allowed as long as laws and rules are not violated.

“The university respects the rights of members of our community to assemble and protest within the confines of the law and U of T policies, but they should not interfere with the ability of students, faculty, librarians and staff to learn.” , teach, research and work on our campuses, or interrupt or prevent other university activities,” the statement reads.

He added that his preference “is to start with dialogue,” but that protesters could face consequences for violating the rules.

“Those who contravene university policy or the law risk consequences set forth in various laws and policies such as the Student Code of Conduct, which could include suspension,” the statement said.

Pro-Palestinian camps have emerged at numerous universities in the United States, along with several in Canada, such as McGill and UBC. Some protests in the United States have led to clashes with authorities; Some protesters refused to leave until their demands were met, and some police services responded by forcibly removing them.

Video posted on social media shows protesters at the camps preventing Jewish students and staff from entering some American campuses. No such incidents have been reported at UofT.

Hillel, the main Jewish student organization on campus, said in a statement that Jewish students on campus have been at the forefront of the growing hatred directed at Jews and expect the university to enforce its rules if necessary.

“While students have the right to protest, that right is neither unlimited nor absolute,” Hillel Ontario advocacy director Jay Solomon said in a statement. “Those who come to campus to harass and intimidate Jewish students, faculty or staff should not be tolerated. We have noted with concern how quickly these situations can create an atmosphere of hate, harassment and intimidation, and the university bears responsibility.” to act proactively to prevent this.”

A Quebec judge on Wednesday rejected a request by Jewish students for an injunction to stop the encampment at McGill, citing concerns about free speech.

The campus protests are the latest incarnation of protests that have raged for months over the war between Israel and Hamas.

The war broke out after Hamas, a militant group considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 captives in a surprise attack in Israel on October 7. Israel responded with airstrikes and a ground offensive in Gaza, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

– With files from CP24 reporter Courtney Heels and The Canadian Press

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