July 19th, 2024

Pro-Palestinian protesters vow to fight on, as numbers dwindle at UBC encampment

By Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press on July 5, 2024.

A Pro-Palestinian protest encampment is shown at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on Friday, July 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Chiang

VANCOUVER – When the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver started in late April, the scene resembled a festival.

Music played as protesters picnicked and sat in circles discussing Palestinian history, surrounded by about 75 tents that packed the turf field.

On Friday, the camp was nearly silent. The number of tents had fallen by about half. Only three people could be seen inside the fenced protest zone, although others could have been out of sight in the tents.

Organizers of the protest at UBC and another at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo have pledged to fight on in the face of a decision by an Ontario judge this week that led to the clearing of a similar camp at the University of Toronto.

They said they remained committed to pressuring schools to end financial and academic ties with Israeli companies and institutions, calling the Ontario court decision “shameful.”

“We will continue to act on our campuses and apply pressure to our universities through every possible avenue,” the statements on social media platforms Instagram and X said. “The student intifada will continue on, until Palestine is free and all colonized people have achieved freedom and liberation.”

But University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist said the Ontario court decision, basing an injunction against the University of Toronto camp on property rights, had given other Canadian universities a “road map.”

“I do think we will see many universities where there are encampments looking at whether there is parallel evidence on their encampment, similar to what was raised in U of T’s case,” Geist said.

“They may start with first a notification of trespass, providing a notification that they believe that the encampment protesters are trespassing on their property.

“And then, the step after that would be to seek an injunction to essentially enforce the trespass notice.”

On Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Markus Koehnen ruled that the encampment at the University of Toronto took away the school’s ability to control what happened on its property, which amounted to irreparable harm.

“In our society, we have decided that the owner of property generally gets to decide what happens on the property,” Koehnen’s decision said.

“If the protesters can take that power for themselves by seizing front campus, there is nothing to stop a stronger group from coming and taking the space over from the current protesters. That leads to chaos.”

Geist said universities so far have largely responded to encampments in either of two ways: swift action to remove them, or negotiating to address protesters’ concerns.

But Geist said with many encampments now in place for months, school administrations needed to address concerns about the protests going on without end.

“It then becomes incumbent on universities to seek other main means of recourse,” Geist said. “And U of T has provided, I think, a pathway for how to do that.”

Vancouver Island University said the protest situation there had deteriorated. The administration said on Wednesday — a day after the Ontario ruling — that it was “exploring similar legal avenues taken by other institutions.”

The university said about 25 protesters had occupied a school building on June 28, disrupting an exam while refusing to leave until just before police arrived.

The school also said protesters vandalized another building over the Canada Day long weekend, calling it “a troubling pattern” after occupation of the provost’s office on June 11 and the campus store on June 14.

Vancouver Island University said it made a settlement proposal to protesters on June 19 but it was rejected, and the school was considering its next steps.

“The fact that the proposal was recently rejected “¦ coupled with the latest protests and acts of vandalism, demonstrates that the encampment participants are unwilling to engage in good-faith dialogue with VIU administration,” the school update said.

UBC and the University of Victoria, another B.C. school with a protest camp, said they had no updates on their encampment situations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.

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