Toronto

U of T encampment enters 3rd week as talks with school continue

Organizers of a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto say concessions offered by the administration continue to fall short of what they're asking for — and they're staying put until they see concrete progress on their demands.

Leaders of encampment say university's concessions haven't satisfied their demands

Pro-Palestinian protestors set up an encampment at the University of Toronto on Thursday. A spokesperson for the group says they will not leave until the school meets a list of their demands.
Pro-Palestinian protesters set up an encampment at the University of Toronto on May 2. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Organizers of a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto say concessions offered by the administration continue to fall short of their demands — and they're staying put until they see concrete progress.

Representatives for the protesters and university met for two hours Wednesday, the latest in a series of meetings aimed at addressing the students' demands and health and safety issues at the encampment.

The demonstrators' three official demands include disclosing the university endowment's investments, divesting from companies that "sustain Israeli apartheid, occupation and illegal settlement of Palestine," and cutting ties with Israeli academic institutions that operate in the occupied territories or support Israel's military efforts.

The university has offered to begin a process to consider disclosure and transparency about its investments alongside divestment, encampment leaders told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

But the students say they were told that process could take months and comes with no guarantee that it would end in disclosure or divestment.

"The complex procedure, which has no guarantees and many, many hurdles ... is completely superfluous and is designed to confuse us by drowning us in bureaucracy," said Kalliopé Anvar McCall, a fourth-year student. "We are not falling for it."

As the encampment enters its third week, there is no end in sight, although both sides say they're committed to negotiating in good faith and finding a peaceful resolution.

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Palestinians gather near the remains of a car at the site of an Israeli strike on a house amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 14. (REUTERS)

Dozens of students, staff and faculty have been occupying a green space at King's College Circle on the university's St. George Campus in downtown Toronto around the clock since May 2. They've set up tents and canopies in solidarity with other encampments at universities throughout North America, calling for an end to Israel's war in Gaza.

So far, the university has avoided asking police to clear the encampment by force, as happened at universities in Calgary and Edmonton last weekend.

University says meeting was 'productive'

A spokesperson for the university said Thursday the meeting was "constructive and productive."

"Our goal remains the same: to find a peaceful and sustainable conclusion to the encampment on front campus as soon as possible, in line with university principles and policies," Christine Szustaczek, vice-president of communications, wrote in an update on the university website.

Szustaczek said the two sides had worked together to mitigate concerns around sanitation, and that a ceremonial fire burning inside the encampment is being supervised by experienced Indigenous firekeepers.

"We continue to discuss signs and language and emphasize how important it is that they be consistent with the spirit of peaceful protest," the statement said.

WATCH | U of T encampment organizers met with school admin on Sunday: 

U of T encampment organizers met with school admin on Sunday

2 months ago
Duration 2:35
On Sunday, members of the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto met with the school’s administration. While the admin has not released details about the discussion, encampment representatives say the university offered a working group to look into divestment. CBC’s Dale Manucdoc has the latest.

The students say the university has shown some willingness to consider the disclosure and divestment demands, but appears unwilling to consider the third demand, citing academic freedom. That demand is to cut ties with academic institutions that operate in the occupied territories or support Israel's military efforts.

Instead, the students said administrators offered to appoint two chairs in Palestinian studies, increase funding for the scholars and students at risk program, and appeared open to the idea of creating an entire institute dedicated to Palestinian studies.

While the students called this a "positive update," they re-iterated their principal demands remain paramount. 

"Who are the professors and the researchers that they want to bring in? They're the same people that are currently being killed in the ground ... in Palestine, by the bombs and the tanks that we are funding at the university," said Mohammad Yassin, a student of Palestinian descent who spoke at the news conference.

"If the university gives us this reconciliation prize without divestment, without disclosure, without cutting ties, the Palestinian studies institute won't be an institute for Palestinian people. It will be an archaeology institute for the study of Palestine. It will be a past tense. It'll be a diorama of, you know, a long gone tragedy."

Students estimate links to dozens of companies supporting Israel

Wednesday's meeting coincided with the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, or  "catastrophe," which marks the period in 1947-48 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes or fled during the war over the creation of Israel

Yassin said his family was driven from their "rightful homeland" during that conflict. 

"What we are seeing here today in the ongoing genocide of Gaza and the current invasion of Rafah is a continuation of that 76-year-long atrocity," he said. "All of our discussion with the administration [comes back] to this point ... Our goal is always to end the genocide through any means necessary, including divestment, including disclosure, including cutting all ties with Israeli academic institutions."

Based on their research, the students said they conservatively estimate the university has financial links to dozens of defence, arms and aerospace companies that supply Israel's military.

The university declined to respond to the students' news conference, saying in a statement to CBC Toronto it is "choosing not to share details at this time to enable dialogue."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.