UVic president issues statement amid ongoing protest, arrest of knife-wielding man

UVic president issues statement amid ongoing protest, arrest of knife-wielding man
The pro-Palestine encampment at UVic is pictured on May 2, 2024.

University of Victoria (UVic) president Kevin Hall issued a statement Wednesday saying that while the school supports peaceful protests, he has growing concerns about safety after a man was arrested on campus for threatening people with a knife.

The arrest occurred at the First Peoples House on Tuesday afternoon by a man who was believed to have been camping outside the building earlier in the week.

On Monday evening, Hall says the man was showing signs of substance use that needed a medical response from paramedics and campus security, but their response was hindered by encampment members.

He was later removed from campus, but on Tuesday afternoon a person matching his description entered the First Peoples House and threatened people with a knife, prompting a large police response.

Saanich police swarmed the building and arrested the man, adding that no one was injured in the incident.

Police said they did not believe the man was associated with the encampment, though Hall says the suspect set up his tent “after numerous, public calls from the encampment for members of the local community to come join them.”

In a social media post by some of the encampment members, protesters stressed that the man was “in no way associated with our camp.”

Still, Hall says he has concerns for overall campus safety, citing a general increase in harassment, vandalism, and trespassing in buildings after hours.

Safety concerns

The pro-Palestine encampment first formed in the quad of UVic on May 1.

Since then, Hall says spray paint along buildings, walkways and signage “relaying messages consistent with those put forth by members of the encampment” has appeared, leading to some staffers feeling unsafe.

He added that some encampment members – made up of both UVic students and other community members – yelled at high school students who were touring the campus while using profanity and “other disturbing phrases.”

He says protesters are also accessing buildings that are locked overnight, including one instance where encampment members were seen “riding bikes through the first floor of the McPherson Library.”

Protester safety

At the same time, the encampment has been the target of shouts, and even assaults.

Last week, a man attacked protesters twice at the camp, and also once while a student was walking onto campus.

Saanich police say they are investigating the assaults, and UVic has banned the man from being on campus.

Overall, Hall says the school hopes to take a “calm and measured approach to the encampment,” so long as it remains peaceful, adding that protesting is a part of many peoples’ post-secondary journeys.

“Campus activism is part of a university experience for many students. Acts of hate, discrimination, property damage and actual or perceived threats of violence are not,” he said.

“I am concerned that these recent activities are challenging people’s sense of physical safety and security and have potential to silence the complex and difficult conversations that we should be having,” he said.

Hall claims that protesters have also been unwilling to have productive conversations with the university, especially over some of its demands, like where UVic invests its funds.

“Let me be very clear that while we have not sanctioned students, staff or faculty based on their participation in the encampment, those who damage property, threaten individuals, harass, hinder or prevent people from going about their business, or violate other applicable university policies, will be sanctioned under the relevant policies of the university,” he said. “People committing illegal acts can be arrested and banned from campus.”

Hall’s full statement can be read on the UVic website.

Pro-Palestine encampments have appeared at many universities across Canada, including at Vancouver Island University, the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, McGill University, University of Calgary (U of C) and University of Alberta (U of A).

Just last week, police cleared out the encampments at U of C and U of A, a move the Alberta government is now taking up with the province’s police watchdog after reports of potential injuries caused by Alberta’s serious incident response team.

With files from The Canadian Press

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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