May 25th, 2024

Police crackdown on Gaza protest encampments on campus sparks outcry

By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press on May 11, 2024.

Edmonton police say they cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Alberta early Saturday morning. Tents are set up at a Gaza encampment protest on the campus of the University of Alberta in Edmonton on Friday, May 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dean Bennett

Students and academics at the University of Alberta reacted with outrage on Saturday after Edmonton police dismantled a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, describing the operation as violent and contesting assertions that demonstrators were breaking the law.

Organizers said police fired tear gas and wielded batons and bicycles against students at the university’s north campus quad shortly after arriving at 4:30 a.m., resulting in one hospitalization.

Videos posted to social media show a line of police clashing with protesters in the dawn light, as young people shout “Free, free Palestine” before officers advance chanting “Move” and shoving and striking some students with billy clubs.

The footage aligns with descriptions from political science professor David Kahane, a member of the Edmonton chapter of Independent Jewish Voices Canada who was on-site with the demonstrators and described the experience as “violent” and “gutting.”

“I personally saw quite a heavily bleeding surface wound that came from a baton strike. I personally saw – this was after the police engagement was over – bruises from non-lethal projectiles that people were showing on their legs and arms,” Kahane said in a phone interview.

“It was not peaceful.”

The scene portrayed by participants stood in stark contrast to the picture painted by authorities.

University president Bill Flanagan said police reported no critical injuries and “almost all of the occupants of the encampment peacefully dispersed.”

In a statement Saturday, he cited fire hazards and the risk of escalation and violent clashes with counter-protesters among the reasons for the police action at the two-day-old camp.

“Of great concern, some members of the group brought in wood pallets, materials known to be used as barricade-making materials – actions that are counter to peaceful, law-abiding protests,” he said.

“Overnight protests are often accompanied by serious violence and larger crowds amplify those inherent risks – especially as they attract counter-protesters or outside agitators.”

Flanagan said “approved, peaceful protests are welcome” but must comply with university policies and public safety rules. About 25 per cent of the 50 protesters were University of Alberta students, he said.

Kahane countered that many others were alumni and organizers had already removed the handful of pallets from the site.

“It looked more like a picnic with some tents than it did like some kind of fortified encampment,” he said.

Following the lead of protesters on U.S. campuses, demonstrators in Canada have erected encampments at universities in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver as well as Calgary, where police forcibly removed participants from campus on Thursday night. The head of the University of Calgary said the dismantling devolved into a clash with officers because of counter-protesters.

That incident, along with Saturday’s clearance in Edmonton, prompted a group of about 500 mostly Canadian academics to call for censure of the two Alberta institutions.

“In light of the undemocratic and harmful actions taken by the University of Calgary and University of Alberta, we, the undersigned, demand an immediate academic boycott of the institution,” the group said in a statement Saturday.

The professors said the boycott should remain in place until administrators rescind “legal and administrative measures” against student protesters and respond to their demands.

In Edmonton, protesters called on the university to divest from Israeli institutions, give “amnesty” to encampment participants, condemn Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip as a “genocide” and demand that the federal government end any military contracts with the country.

The Indigenous Students’ Union also decried the actions by administrators and police as “unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, McGill University has sought a court order to clear an encampment at the heart of its campus in Montreal, saying safety and security are at stake.

In a judicial application for an injunction filed Friday, the university framed its request around sanitary concerns and what it described as the “risk of violence and intimidation.”

The filing cites “fierce verbal exchanges” between protesters and counter-protesters earlier this month, barrels of “human waste” on site, possible fire code breaches such as a single point of exit and the encampment’s potential as a “magnet” for further clashes.

On top of a doubling of the security detail on the quad, McGill said it will likely have to spend more than $700,000 on an alternate venue for spring convocation ceremonies that are typically held on the grounds partially occupied by the protesters.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.

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Yup. The police fist-bump the Freedom Insurrectionists, but crack down on young people with a conscience.

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