July 15th, 2024

Pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill’s downtown Montreal campus being dismantled

By Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press on July 10, 2024.

Supporters stand in front of the pro-Palestinian protest encampment on McGill University campus, in Montreal, Monday, June 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL – Dozens of police in riot gear patrolled the gates of McGill University’s downtown Montreal campus on Wednesday as security forces began dismantling a pro-Palestinian encampment that has been on the school’s lower field since late April.

Protesters, some wearing black-and-while checkered kaffiyeh scarves around their heads, could be seen being escorted from what the university’s president called “a heavily fortified focal point for intimidation and violence, organized largely by individuals who are not part of our university community.”

In a statement, McGill president Deep Saini said the operation to clear the site began at about 4:45 a.m., when campers were warned that they would be removed from campus if they did not leave voluntarily. The university was dismantling the camp in “close collaboration” with the city and police, and through the “engagement of a qualified security firm.”

“This camp was not a peaceful protest,” Saini said.

A Montreal police spokesman said one person was arrested on Wednesday for assault on a security agent. Security escorted the person outside the campus gates where Montreal police officers made the arrest.

McGill says it hired private security firm Sirco to dismantle the encampment, adding that the decision to clear the lower field was made after consulting lawyers.

“The owner of a property has every right to request individuals who are occupying its property without authorization to leave,” the school said.

Police, some dressed in riot gear, cordoned off streets leading to the site of the encampment at the university’s lower field, blocking access, while a crowd of demonstrators gathered by the police line, waving Palestinian flags.

A group of protesters stood in front of the encampment, facing construction equipment that had been brought in to remove them. As of mid-morning, a construction crane and bulldozer could be seen on site.

Campus protesters have demanded the university end its investments connected to Israel’s military and cut ties with Israeli institutions over the offensive in Gaza. Several protesters on Wednesday vowed to keep fighting, despite the dismantlement of the camp.

“The students are steadfast in their struggle,” said Zeyad Abisaab, a Concordia University student, who looked on from the street and said he had previously been part of a student-led Palestinian solidarity group.

Zaina Karim, a McGill student and encampment spokesperson, was one of the protesters voicing their anger at the school Wednesday morning. She said there were still about a dozen people inside the site who were refusing to move until “their demands are met.”

Karim, who wasn’t inside the camp when the dismantlement began, said protesters will persist until the university discloses and cuts its ties with Israel.

“This is not the end at all. Students are more motivated than ever to keep fighting,” Karim said.

McGill said classes typically held on campus would be moved online as it advised students and faculty to stay away. Libraries and campus daycares were also closed.

In its statement, the school said an investigation had uncovered what it described as “serious health and safety risks” inside the camp, including two overdoses, fire risks and a rat infestation. Karim, for her part, denied Saini’s accusations. “These are all lies,” she said.

The McGill encampment was erected in late April as part of a wave of North American campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war.

In June, protesters barricaded themselves in a McGill administration building a few metres from the encampment, and 15 were arrested. Last week, police said a 66-year-old man was arrested for breaking the windows of a McGill building and assaulting a campus security guard.

A pro-Palestinian encampment in the heart of Montreal’s financial district was dismantled by police last week.

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

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