Pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill expands as talks with university continue

"If me camping here for 12 days can help, then I’ll camp for 20 more," says Ari Nahman, participating in the pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill's downtown Montreal campus, as talks with the university continue. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

By The Canadian Press & News Staff

The pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University’s downtown Montreal campus stood strong Wednesday on its 12th day and even grew in size.

The barricade surrounding the tents was moved forward in order to make more space and additional tents. Protesters are seeking McGill’s divestment from businesses in Israel and say talks are advancing slowly with the university.

“They’re starting to see a light at the end of tunnel in which we are in discussions with the administrations of McGill and Concordia, but we aren’t anywhere near our and we will not leave until we see divestment,” said Ari Nahman, an encampment participant and member of Independent Jewish Voices.

McGill University reps are in talks with students at the encampment. On Wednesday, in a statement to CityNews, they said they were not commenting, “out of respect for the ongoing discussions.”

“It’s the early buds of the discussions,” Nahman said. “Thing is, we’re not here to negotiate, we’re not here to have a compromise. We’re here to demand and I think that is what’s taking a lot of time to absorb because I think the administration needs to realize that we will continue expanding, we will stay present if it takes the whole summer, we will be here.”

12th day of pro-Palestinian encampment at Montreal’s McGill University. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

The small tent city on the campus’ lower field may get in the way of the upcoming convocation planned for the end of the month, usually outside in the same area.

McGill says as convocation is a time for students to mark their accomplishments, “the university will proceed with its ceremonies, so that our graduates have the opportunity they deserve to celebrate this festive occasion.”

Ceremonies will take place from May 28 to June 5, as planned they say, with more information to follow.

“I hope that McGill University and Concordia will meet the students’ demands before that happens that and everything can go ahead once they’ve met the students’ demands. If not, we’ll have to see,” said Michelle Hartman, a professor at McGill University.

Last week, McGill and Quebec Premier François Legault had called for police to dismantle the encampment. On Tuesday, Legault said he wants McGill and police to handle it and said the same on Wednesday.

12th day of pro-Palestinian encampment at Montreal’s McGill University. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

“I’ve said what I’ve had to say, now it’s up to McGill and Montreal police to act,” Legault said during a press scrum at the National Assembly.

A new poll suggests that nearly half of Canadians oppose the pro-Palestinian encampments that have sprung up on some university campuses.

Only 31 per cent of people responding to the Léger poll last weekend said they supported the encampments, while 48 per cent were against the protests. About one in five (21 per cent) said they didn’t know.

The results in Quebec are roughly the same as the Canadian average: 32 per cent are for, 51 per cent are against and 18 per cent have no opinion.

Montreal police continue to monitor the camp but have made it clear any intervention on their part will be based on the camp’s legal situation. Last week, a judge denied a request for an injunction to evict the protesters.

Meanwhile, in the United States, at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students clashed with police and barricaded themselves inside campus buildings.

In the Léger poll, 44 percent of respondents said they thought the encampments should be dismantled, “because they could pose a threat to campus safety and that of students.”

On the other hand, 33 per cent believe that they should be uninstalled “if and only if the demonstrators express anti-Semitic opinions or spread any form of hate speech.”

“A lot of people will try to say that these protests don’t fall under what’s legal, claiming they are violent or anti-Semitic but this is just completely false,” said McGill student, Malcolm Card Gormley. “They’re completely non-violent. The people there want nothing but peace.”

“Come in encampment before you make a decision or make a judgment,” Nahman said. “don’t forget that we’re doing this for Rafah and Gaza specifically, so we don’t want to direct away the attention from what’s happening there.

“People will forget about it if it’s not made a more pertinent issue in our lives like this, so I think it’s very important that people are doing something more active about it,” said McGill alumni, Keli Geers.

“If me camping here for 12 days can help, then I’ll camp for 20 more,” Nahman said.

Only 23 per cent of people said protests should be accepted as a form of free speech and should not be repressed.

Respondents were also asked if they had heard any anti-Semitic comments since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began in October.

Nearly three-quarters, or 73 per cent, said no, while 17 per cent said yes and nine per cent said they didn’t know.

Earlier this week, political leaders condemned some of the protesters’ actions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he supports free speech, but does not support actions that put other students at risk.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called for an end to the encampments, saying Monday that “the university needs to evacuate these people.”

Support for the protesters is strongest among young people who took part in the vote: 45 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 35 said they supported the encampments, while two-thirds of those over 55 said they did not support events.

Older people who were surveyed were more likely to say they felt the encampments should be dismantled.

The results of the survey, conducted among 1,519 people, cannot have a margin of error because online surveys are not considered truly random samples.

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