May 19th, 2024

Alberta premier ‘glad’ Gaza protest in Calgary ended as encampments escalate

By Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press on May 10, 2024.

Political science professor David Kahane, a Gaza protest organizers, looks on at an encampment set up on the campus of the University of Alberta in Edmonton on Friday, May 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dean Bennett

EDMONTON – Premier Danielle Smith says she’s pleased the University of Calgary moved to have police dismantle an on-campus pro-Palestinian protest and hopes the University of Alberta will take note.

Smith’s comment comes as the head of the University of Calgary said the dismantling of the encampment Thursday night derailed into a clash with police because of counter-protesters.

Also Friday, a similar protest that began with one tent at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton mushroomed to about 35.

Smith, speaking at an unrelated news conference in Calgary, said her government is on hand to help if asked but will otherwise leave decisions of what to do with the protest encampments up to the universities.

She said peaceful protest is fine, but rules must be followed and students’ education should not be disrupted.

“I’m glad that the University of Calgary made the decision that they did,” Smith said.

“I think what they found in Calgary is that a large number who were trespassing were not students, and we have to be mindful of that.

“Kids are having graduation ceremonies. A lot of these kids didn’t get a graduation ceremony for high school. It’s not fair for them or their families to be disrupted.”

She added, “I’ll watch and see what the University of Alberta learns from what they observed in Calgary.”

The Calgary protest began early Thursday, as shelters and fencing were erected as part of the encampment.

The university issued protesters a trespass notice. When they would not disperse, police were called in.

The protest reached a peak of about 150 people in the early evening. By about 11 p.m. most had left, but the small number that stayed clashed with officers. Police set off flashbang explosives and made arrests.

“Unfortunately, counter-protesters showed up – also putting themselves in violation of our policies and in a trespass situation,” University of Calgary president Ed McCauley said in a statement.

“The situation very quickly devolved into shoving, projectiles being thrown at officers and ““ ultimately ““ flashbangs and arrests.”

McCauley said the university respects and values protests within the confines of the school’s safe operation.

The protest was one of several recent demonstrations on academic campuses in Canada and the United States in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

In Canada, there have been protests at schools from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Many protesters have demanded institutions make clear if their investments are helping fund Israel and its military in its conflict with Gaza. If so, they want those investments halted.

In Edmonton, tents were set up on a grassy area of the University of Alberta campus. There were Palestinian flags, both cloth versions and hand-painted cardboard ones.

Early-rising demonstrators, most in their early 20s, sipped coffee, chatting in camp chairs underneath an awning.

Nearby was a handwritten sign reminding protesters to keep the focus on solidarity with Gaza and to direct media to designated spokespeople.

There were multiple handmade signs and slogans: Our Tuition Funds Genocide; Silence is Violence; Welcome to the People’s University for Palestine; and From Edmonton to Gaza Globalize the Intifada.

Clutches of students shouldering backpacks walked by, with a few breaking stride to see what was going on.

“At the very beginning yesterday, it was one tent and four people. And it has just grown and grown and grown,” said David Kahane, one of the protest organizers.

Kahane, a political science professor at the university, said the protest is about students holding their institution to account in the “slaughter that is happening in the West Bank and Gaza.”

He said students are inspired by time-honoured protest methods. Campus protests and calls for divestment helped end the racist apartheid system in South Africa, he added.

The university has warned protesters that while it respects free speech, they are trespassing.

There was no visible security staff from the university and no police in the morning, and Kahane said he hopes it stays that way.

“It’s day-by-day, waiting and seeing how the university chooses to respond,” he said.

“For the moment, I think wisely, they have simply let this peaceful encampment for justice be.”

In St. John’s, about 50 people laid down outside on the chilly concrete at Memorial University for a 76-minute “die-in” demonstration against what organizers say is Israel’s 76-year occupation of Palestinian territory.

During the demonstration, a protester read names of Palestinians killed in the war.

“A die-in like this is minuscule compared to the amount of terror and fear and pain the Gazan people (have been) going through for years and years,” said organizer Aramaria Yetman.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.

– With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary and Sarah Smellie in St. John’s

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The premier is “glad”. About what? The deaths of over 14,000 children? The deaths of over 34,000 people? Starving children? The Israeli blockade of food? The bombing of hospitals? Palestinian genocide?

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