Police say McGill occupation won’t change approach to pro-Palestinian encampment

Police say McGill occupation won't change approach to pro-Palestinian encampment
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Police stand guard on the McGill University campus following a pro-Palestinian protest in Montreal, Thursday, June 6, 2024.

Montreal police say that despite the occupation Thursday of a McGill University administration building that ended with 15 arrests, they have no plans to move in on a pro-Palestinian encampment on the downtown campus.

Thursday’s occupation, which ended with police in riot gear spraying tear gas at protesters, was an escalation in the standoff that began when demonstrators set up an encampment on the university’s lawn more than a month ago.

Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant said Friday that police intervened because crimes were being committed, which is not the case with the encampment. He wouldn’t say if those arrested had been involved in the encampment.

“Concerning the encampment, nothing is going to change,” Brabant said, adding that it’s up to the university to convince a court to have the encampment dismantled. Quebec Superior Court has twice denied injunction requests to clear out the protesters.

In a statement to media on Friday, the university called the incident “troubling.” It says protesters occupied its administration building, blockaded several doors, damaged furniture and yelled threats, forcing some staff to shelter in place.

McGill says it supports the right to freedom of expression within the limits of the law but condemns “the use of intimidating, aggressive, harassing or illegal tactics such as those seen yesterday.”

Police say 13 people were arrested for breaking and entering and two people were arrested for obstructing police work, after officers in riot gear used chemical irritants to forcefully disperse the crowd.

Pro-Palestinian protesters set up tents on McGill’s lower field in late April, demanding the university pull its investments tied to Israel’s military and sever relationships with Israeli academic institutions. As of Friday afternoon, the encampment on the university’s lower field, in downtown Montreal, remained.

VĂ©ronique Dubuc, a spokesperson for Montreal police, acknowledged officers used tear gas and shields to disperse protesters on Thursday. She said protesters threw objects and rocks at the officers.

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill, a student group participating in the encampment, posted a statement on Instagram as Thursday’s events unfolded, promising an “escalation” of the protest movement.

“As the Zionist forces massacre Palestinians in Rafah and Jabalia, our administration continues to shamelessly fund genocide, ignoring the collective demands of the student body and the encampment,” the group said. “Until McGill cuts all financial and academic ties with the Zionist regime, students will carry out a forceful campaign of escalation.”

McGill blamed protesters for an impasse in negotiations, saying students at the encampment “walked away from the table” last week.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Montreal Mayor ValĂ©rie Plante said police intervened Thursday to “restore order.”

She said the right to protest doesn’t include “violence and the illegal occupying of McGill buildings.” At a news conference at city hall earlier in the day, Plante refused to take questions about the situation at McGill.

Brabant said that calm on campus has been restored but police were maintaining a presence on Sherbrooke Street, in front of the university’s main gates.

READ ALSO: Discussions remain halted between protestors and UVic following protests

By Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2024.

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