Pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University can remain after judge rejects injunction request

“We’re ecstatic, this really reaffirms why we are here,” says Leila Ksaled, a McGill University student, part of the pro-Palestinian encampment on school grounds, after a Quebec judge rejected a request for an injunction. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

By News Staff

The pro-Palestinian encampment on McGill University’s downtown campus can stay put, a judge has ruled.

Judge Chantal Massé rejected the injunction filed Tuesday on behalf of two McGill University students.

They were asking for demonstrations not to be held within 100 metres of the entrances of the university’s 154 buildings for a period of 10 days.

Massé ruled the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that their access to the school was being impeded.

She also said it would be “premature” to conclude the situation cannot be resolved in a non-violent fashion with a “progressive police intervention.”

“In short, there is no urgency showing the necessity for the court to intervene,” she wrote.

The lawyer for the two McGill University students that filed the injunction to move the encampment says the judgment is clear and detailed. 

“We remit to the court’s decision. We respect the court. We respect the judge. Justice is done when justice is done. But there are many [takeaways] from this judgment,” Neil Oberman said on Wednesday, after arguing at the Montreal courthouse the day before that the encampment on the university grounds is causing prejudice and irreparable harm for the plaintiffs, but that was not proven in court.

Judge Massé did, however, invite activists “to review the words used during demonstrations” and to refrain from using remarks perceived as calls for violence or as anti-Semitic. 

“A brave statement by the court that words matter and words count and that using words has an impact on people and how they perceive things and their lives,” Oberman said.

Montreal police said they were aware of the court decision and will “carefully analyze the content of the decision rendered. We continue to evaluate possible avenues for the future, advocating a peaceful outcome.”

Protesters at the camp were pleased with the judge’s decision.

“We’re ecstatic,” said McGill student Leila Ksaled. “This is really reaffirming why we are here and the fact that we have a right to be here.”

Ksaled says the protesters want no “repercussions or disciplinary charges for any actions taken by students of McGill and Concordia in support of Palestine.” They also want officials to “drop pending charges, to divest from all complicit companies, and to end all academic ties with Israeli institutions.”

Watch: Lawyer reacts to Quebec judge denying injunction at McGill encampment

McGill offers to hold forum

In a letter to McGill students, the university’s president says it made an offer to the lawyers retained by certain students.

“If members of the McGill community in the encampment permanently leave the encampment immediately, I commit to holding a forum with members of the McGill community to discuss your various demands and any contrary views in a peaceful, respectful, and civilized manner,” McGill president and vice-chancelor Deep Saini wrote.

“I felt it was important to let McGillians as a whole know the proposal we had offered to them.”

Saini said all non-McGill students must leave the university grounds immediately.

Pro-Palestinian encampment on grounds of Montreal’s McGill University, May 1, 2024. (Martin Daigle, CityNews)

“No one, let alone individuals from outside McGill, has the right to set up an encampment on the university’s property, including the grounds,” said Saini.

“By their own declaration through explicit signs, the current encampment includes a variety of groups with no association with McGill. This cannot be accepted and will not be allowed. Therefore, the encampment must be dismantled quickly, and this is non-negotiable.”

In a separate emailed statement, a McGill spokesperson said the university was encouraged by the judge’s determination that “the demonstrators… are illegally occupying the premises by camping there.”

Citing the judgment, the university added that, contrary to claims made by the plaintiffs, McGill was “proactive, applied the process it set out, tried to negotiate an agreement for a progressive dismantling with the respect of certain conditions, gave warnings in the absence of an agreement and, finally, called for police assistance as a last resort, in order to put an end to this situation.”

Possible police intervention?

Officials at McGill University are awaiting word from Montreal police, following that request to help clear the encampment. The call for assistance comes after efforts to persuade the protesters to end what the school has called an illegal action failed.

As of Wednesday morning, Jean-Pierre Brabant with the SPVM said there was a police presence on the outside of the campus to ensure safety measures, but there was no intervention.

“Students are prepared for police to approach. We have been briefed on that and we are not scared anyway.”

—McGill student Leila Ksaled

McGill student Sasha Robson says a police intervention following the judge’s ruling would be telling.

“If you don’t listen to the injunction, I think that says a lot about them and their lack of respect for student voices, for community voices, for the people of Montreal and Quebec who have shown up day in and day out, rain or shine to this encampment,” Robson told CityNews.

“If they are going to intrude on this space when the injunction is being denied, make your own conclusions about it.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she didn’t want the situation at McGill to mirror campuses in the U.S., where hundreds of encampment protesters have been arrested.

“I really trust my management, the police chief of the SPVM and then the police officers to do it, but to do it…” Plante said. “We’re not in the United States, and I don’t want to look like that. I don’t want the same thing to happen as in the United States either. That is to say that, in certain cases, it even added fuel to the fire.”

Pro-Palestinian encampment on grounds of Montreal’s McGill University, May 1, 2024. (Martin Daigle, CityNews)

The demonstrators say they have no intention of dismantling their tents until McGill, as well as nearby Concordia University, divests from all companies linked to advancing Israel’s military efforts in Gaza.

The encampment, which was erected on Saturday, follows a wave of similar protests on campuses across Canada and the United States linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

A lawyer for some of the defendants named, including McGill’s student union, says the encampment doesn’t block access to school buildings, is peaceful, and has many Jewish participants.

The defendants also say it’s an abuse of the court system and a means to stifle criticism of Israel.

“The main argument we were making is that it’s abusive because basically what it’s asking for is to block out a big part of downtown to all protests, so peaceful protests of any kind,” said Sibel Ataogul, a lawyer for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).

“So for us that’s an egregious violation of the fundamental freedoms that we enjoy in Canada and Quebec and in Montreal.”

Pro-Palestinian encampment on grounds of Montreal’s McGill University, May 1, 2024. (Martin Daigle, CityNews)

Lawyers for McGill University said although they do not authorize the encampment and don’t want it to continue, they have not applied to the court for an injunction.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have also set up an encampment at the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus and at the University of Ottawa.

What elected officials are saying

At the House of Commons on Wednesday, elected officials weighed in on the situation at McGill.

“We shouldn’t have encampments. We shouldn’t have hateful words. And at the end of the day, I believe we should have a peaceful solution in McGill,” said Liberal MP for Mount-Royal in Montreal, Anthony Housefather.

Salma Zahid, a Liberal MP for Scarborough Centre said “peaceful protests, I think are really part of the democracy and people have the right to peaceful protests. And we should not take freedom of expression and freedom of speech away from the people. And at the same time everyone has to feel safe within their campuses.”

Mélanie Joly Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada added: “Concerning what is happening in McGill of course, we expect that people will be able to talk to each other, will be able to hear each other. But in any case, the situation is still the same. We need a ceasefire, we need the violence to stop, we need an agreement on the hostages, the hostages must be released. And so, our position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that again and again, we will press the different parties to ensure that we arrive at this cease.”

-With files from The Canadian Press

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