Montreal

Quebec Superior Court judge rejects McGill injunction request to remove encampment

A Quebec Superior Court judge has rejected a provisional injunction request by McGill University to remove pro-Palestinian encampment activists from its front lawn in downtown Montreal. 

University made request after it said negotiations with protesters stalled

Second injunction request to remove pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill rejected

8 days ago
Duration 0:37
A Quebec Superior Court justice said in his decision that the university failed to show an urgent need to dismantle the camp.

A Quebec Superior Court judge has rejected a provisional injunction request by McGill University to remove pro-Palestinian encampment activists from its front lawn in downtown Montreal. 

Justice Marc St-Pierre said in his decision issued Wednesday morning that the university failed to justify the urgent need to dismantle the camp.

McGill made the injunction request on Monday. In the request, the university's lawyers argued that the encampment was unsafe, posing a risk of escalating tensions on campus and preventing McGill from holding its convocation ceremonies at its usual outdoor location.

But St-Pierre dismissed those arguments. He said no serious or violent incident had occurred at the encampment since it was established on April 27, and even a confrontation with counter-protesters was peaceful.

He also noted the university had already arranged to move its convocation ceremonies.

Dozens of tents surrounded by fencing.
The pro-Palestinian protest encampment on McGill University campus is seen Monday, May 13, 2024, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

St-Pierre's ruling came as a blow to the university's leaders, who have tried to have the encampment removed. Negotiations between the university and the protesters have so far not been fruitful. The protesters say they will stay put until the university divests from companies with ties to Israel and cuts ties with Israeli academic institutions.

St-Pierre opened his ruling by saying that the injunction request comes amid a wave of pro-Palestinian encampments on university campuses across North America connected to the events in the Gaza Strip, where "dozens of thousands of Palestinians are dead, injured or displaced by the Israeli army." 

Shortly after the decision was published, McGill released a statement saying it was "disappointed in today's ruling," and was analyzing it.

The university noted Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantale Masse had said protesters were "unlawfully occupying" the area when on May 1 she, too, rejected an injunction request to have the encampment removed from the property. That request had been made on behalf of two McGill students, not the institution itself.

"Due to rising tensions and safety, security and public health concerns, and having exhausted all operational protocols available, the university sought a provisional injunction, which would recognize McGill's property rights and the urgency of the matter," the school wrote in its emailed statement Wednesday.

Three young women wearing keffiyeh stand in front of microphones
Rama Al Malah, a McGill student and representative of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, said the second rejection by Quebec Superior Court judges of requests to remove their encampment shows they have a right to be there. (CBC)

Student activists made statements outside the encampment at 2 p.m.

Rama Al Malah, who is with Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, said the decision reflected a recognition of the students' right to protest and that the group hopes it will force the university to realize its legal efforts against the encampment are more costly than "answering their demands."

"This sets an incredible precedent not only for the McGill community but for the Palestinian movement at large which, despite attempts of defamation and repression, has refused to be stifled," Al Malah said.

Sibel Ataogul, a lawyer who represents the Students' Society of McGill University and the Association of McGill Professors of Law, two associations named as defendants in the injunction request, said that her clients disagreed with McGill's assertion that its campus was exclusively the university's private property.

"For us it's about transparency," she said. "Public institutions, if they're getting money, if they're investing in things, I think the population has a right to know. We're all paying for McGill, not just the people who attend."

Nicole Nashen, a McGill University law student who testified before a parliamentary committee about antisemitism on campus last week, said she and other Jewish students feel threatened by the encampment. She said some of the protesters' chants, including "resistance is justified when people are occupied" were calling for violence against Jews. 

She blamed the university for failing to take a clear stance to ensure that "hateful and violent chants" were taking place on campus. 

The university's approach to the encampment has "emboldened radical individuals to become more and more radical," she said. "And that's how we got to where we are."

WATCH | Divestment is a major demand from campus protesters: 

Why universities keep saying no to divestment | About That

16 days ago
Duration 13:00
Around the world, students are calling on their universities to 'disclose and divest' their investments in companies and organizations linked to Israel. Andrew Chang explains why many universities are rejecting those calls and how past divestment movements have laid the groundwork for today's protests.

In court on Monday, St-Pierre questioned one of the university's lawyers, Jacques Darche, about its claim that there was an "urgent" need to dismantle the encampment. 

St-Pierre appeared unconvinced by Darche's claim that convocation plans were urgent when compared with the rights of the protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

In his decision Wednesday, St-Pierre wrote that other factors involving the balance between the activists' right to protest and freedom of expression and, conversely, the university's right to its property would take more time to weigh and shouldn't be decided within the context of a provisional injunction request. 

Still, he acknowledged "there would be reason to consider an evolution of the right to the freedom of expression to include peaceful occupation … given in particular that this is now commonplace," as suggested by lawyers for one of the defendants, Independent Jewish Voices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Lapierre is a digital journalist at CBC Montreal. He previously worked for the Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail. You can reach him at matthew.lapierre@cbc.ca.

With files from Alison Northcott and Jennifer Yoon