Trio of B.C. camps join growing wave of pro-Palestine university protests

Camps set up at UBC, UVic and VIU demanding change in relationship with Israel

The number of pro-Palestinian protest encampments at British Columbia universities has grown to three, as a wave of demonstrations at North American post-secondary institutions continued to spread.

The University of Victoria confirmed Wednesday that a protest site had been established on campus, saying the school was “taking a calm and thoughtful approach” to minimizing disruptions stemming from the encampment in its quad.

“We encourage thoughtful, reasoned and academic discourse on current issues and maintain that these discussions must take place in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and hate speech of any kind,” a statement from the university said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, campus security may be monitoring access to buildings near the demonstration and may ask people for information prior to entering these buildings.”

Photos on social media show tents with Palestinian flags and signs with slogans, although no barriers had been set up around the encampment’s perimeter. Security officers can be seen in some pictures watching protesters.

An official at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo confirmed Wednesday a camp site had been set up on its campus too.

The university said in a statement that it is “monitoring the situation on our Nanaimo campus and (is) in contact with local RCMP.”

An encampment has entered its third day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where protesters stockpiled food, water and other supplies in preparation for a prolonged stay.

A group of students at the University of Toronto say they have started a protest on campus to call on the university to cut its ties with Israel over the ongoing war in Gaza.

The students say in a news release that they breached a newly-installed fence around an area on campus known as King’s College Circle to establish an encampment in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

They say they are joining students at other universities in the United States and Canada in setting up encampments to call on their schools to disclose their ties with the Israeli government and divest from Israeli companies.

Several tents could be seen set up at the centre of King’s College Circle at the University of Toronto this morning, with a few police cars and private security vehicles seen parked nearby.

In Quebec, a judge rejected an injunction request from two students at Montreal’s McGill University to move a protest camp further away from school buildings, citing limited evidence of potential harms to students if the encampment remained in place.

McGill University remained neutral in the injunction request but had asked police to help to dismantle the camp, with authorities saying they were evaluating the situation and “advocating for a peaceful outcome.”

Protest camps at Columbia University in New York and the University of California-Los Angeles have resulted in clashes, either between attendees and police or counter-protesters.

In Victoria, protest group Free Palestine BC said in a post on Instagram that protesters are demanding the university “divest from all investments” connected to companies with Israeli business interests.

The post also said protesters are demanding that the University of Victoria “cease partnering with Israeli academic institutions that constrain Palestinian rights.”

“This encampment is in rejection of the University of Victoria’s normalized relations and partnerships with universities that uphold policies of apartheid,” the statement said, referring to the group’s characterization of Israel’s policies in Gaza.

The protests at North American colleges are in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which came after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages.

The Health Ministry in Gaza says Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in its offensive to stamp out Hamas.

Jewish groups in British Columbia have urged the administration at UBC to ensure the safety of Jewish students.

Hillel BC, a group representing Jewish students at seven post-secondary institutions in the province, said in a statement that it had asked UBC for “proactive measures” to prevent “disruption to student life and the educational process.”

The statement posted on Instagram said the group had advised its community members not to engage the protest “in any way.”

“We are closely monitoring the situation regarding the encampment at UBC,” the statement said. “We have been in touch with the university administration to express our concerns and to request measures that ensure the ongoing demonstrations remain peaceful and respectful.⁠”

Hillel BC did not respond to a request for comment about the University of Victoria encampment.

The protesters at UBC say they are prepared to stay until the school agrees to demands that it support the Palestinian cause in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

Naisha Khan, a spokeswoman for the protest camp, said in a written response that the UBC camp is “still going strong” despite increased police presence around the site.

Khan said protesters will not leave until their demands are met, including for UBC to divest from all companies linked to Israel, participate in a “global academic boycott” of Israeli schools and publicly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza.

UBC officials said Wednesday they had no update on the encampment.

On Wednesday, Vancouver police said they arrested a 44-year-old woman in a hate-crime investigation stemming from a speech at a protest last Friday where she praised the Oct. 7 attack.

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