Montreal

McGill University seeks injunction against pro-Palestinian encampment

McGill University is seeking an injunction against protesters in the pro-Palestinian encampment, demanding that they dismantle the camp and refrain from occupying the school’s downtown campus.

Group behind protest condemns attempt to use police against school community

Tents are surrounded by fencing with banners that say Free Palestine.
The pro-Palestinian activists began setting up the encampment on McGill University's downtown Montreal campus on April 27, and has grown in size since then. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

McGill University is seeking a court injunction against protesters at the pro-Palestinian encampment on its downtown campus, demanding that they dismantle the camp and refrain from any further occupation.

"I would like to emphasize that the order, if granted, would not stop our efforts to continue our discussions with members of the McGill community participating in the encampment," said Deep Saini, McGill's president and vice-chancellor, in a statement Friday afternoon.

"We are committed to doing so in good faith."

If approved, the order would authorize the Montreal police to immediately enforce a provisional injunction to dismantle the camp. The university wishes to see a peaceful and timely resolution of the occupation, Saini said.
 
The protesters set up the encampment two weeks ago on the front lawn of McGill's downtown campus on Sherbrooke Street. The camp began with about 20 tents and soon grew to cover a large area of the lawn.

People work on a sign during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at an encampment at McGill University in Montreal, Saturday, April 27, 2024.
People work on a sign during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at an encampment at McGill University in Montreal, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The protesters are demanding that the university cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and pull all investments from companies that operate in the country.

In a news conference earlier this week, the student protesters said they would be staying put until further notice.

"We are waiting for actual divestments and are announcing that the encampment will continue as long as we don't have concrete news of divestment," said encampment protester and Concordia University student Ari Nahman on Monday.

But Saini says in his statement that the university is concerned about the risks that the encampment poses to the safety, security and public health of members of the McGill community and for those participating in the encampment. 

WATCH | A closer look at what student protesters are asking for: 

Why universities keep saying no to divestment | About That

1 month 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.

The university's application for an injunction states neither McGill nor the Montreal fire service has been able to go into the area to verify compliance with health and safety. 

The injunction request will be submitted to Quebec Superior Court on Monday morning. It says the encampment began on April 27 without authorization or advanced notice, and requests the court intervene on an urgent basis.

One of the groups behind the protest, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), issued a statement Friday.

The group says McGill is taking this legal step despite ongoing efforts by protesters to engage in peaceful negotiations with the university. 

"Contrary to the university's previous assurances of negotiating in good faith, this development follows the rejection of an earlier injunction by the court, which recognized the protest as peaceful," the statement says.

The statement is referring to an injunction request to remove the encampment and ban other campus protests filed in Quebec Superior Court by two McGill students. It was rejected on May 1 by Justice Chantale Masse, who said the plaintiffs failed to show it caused them irreparable harm.

SPHR says the encampment is part of a co-ordinated movement of staff and students who stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The group accuses Israel of committing genocide.

"We condemn McGill University's shameful actions that demonstrate they will mobilize police violence on its own students and community to prioritize profit and donor money," the statement says. 

That message was reiterated Friday evening during a news conference hosted by protesters in the encampment. Members of SPHR and Independent Jewish Voices McGill spoke about the ongoing movement, and criticized McGill for taking legal action.

When asked what they will do if police are called in to enforce the injunction, representatives of the two groups indicated they will stay until their demands are met. However, they also said they are optimistic that the court will rule in their favour.

They declined to do follow-up interviews and only identified themselves as group representatives.

The encampment at McGill is one of about dozen such protests in Canada, part of a global wave of campus protests against the war in Gaza. 

The encampments at Canadian schools have followed months of protest marches, petitions, sit-ins and hunger strikes by pro-Palestinian activists since Israel's military response to the Oct. 7 attacks. 

In the United States, hundreds of campus protests have cropped up, and police intervention there has led to thousands of arrests.

In Canada, Calgary police officers, using riot shields, batons and flashbang explosives, forcibly removed a group of protesters Thursday night from an encampment set up on the University of Calgary campus.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isaac Olson

Journalist

Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He worked largely as a newspaper reporter and photographer for 15 years before joining CBC in the spring of 2018.