McGill camp on downtown campus dismantled

McGill camp on downtown campus dismantled

Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, July 10, 2024 09:28 AM EDT

Last updated Wednesday, July 10, 2024 4:28 PM EDT

Under pouring rain, pro-Palestinian protesters dragged their belongings off the McGill University campus in downtown Montreal on Wednesday as bulldozers and security forces dismantled the camp that had been in place on the school’s lower field since late April.

“That was officially the last stand. There’s no one left in the camp,” said protester Félix Burt, 20, who stood a block from McGill’s lower field, where a pile of tents and wooden pallets remained of the protest site. He and others refused to leave until the university divested from investments tied to the Israeli military and severed ties with academic institutions in that country.

Earlier in the day, McGill President Deep Saini called the camp, one of many that have sprung up on campuses across the continent since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, “a heavily amplified focal point of intimidation and violence, largely organized by individuals who are not part of our university community.”

But for Burt, who said he was not a McGill student, the protest was about resistance.

“As long as the people of Gaza resist, we will also resist,” he said.

A Montreal police spokesperson said one person was arrested Wednesday for assaulting a security guard.

McGill says that after consulting with lawyers, it hired private security firm Sirco to dismantle the camp, which consisted of dozens of tents. In May, the university tried to get an emergency court order to have police clear the protesters, but that attempt failed. McGill has since filed a request for another order to remove them, which is now moving through the courts.

“The owner of a building has every right to ask people who occupy the building without permission to leave,” the school said in a statement on Wednesday. The school will retain that right even if it takes legal action against the protesters.

Earlier on Wednesday, police, some dressed in riot gear, cordoned off the streets leading to the university’s lower field, as a crowd of protesters gathered at the police line, waving Palestinian flags. Several protesters vowed to keep fighting despite the dismantling of the camp.

“The students continue to persevere in their struggle,” said Zeyad Abisaab, a Concordia University student who watched from the street.

Zaina Karim, a McGill student who was not at the camp when the dismantling began, said the protesters will continue until the university takes a stand and cuts ties with Israel.

“This is definitely not the end. Students are more motivated than ever to keep fighting,” Karim said.

Sarah Shamy, a former McGill student and organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, says she believes McGill decided to hire a private security company because of the company’s failed attempts to dismantle the camp through court orders.

“I’m definitely disappointed, but not surprised. I think it’s very clear that the McGill administration is not committed to actually bringing this camp to a peaceful end,” Shamy said.

In a statement, the school said an investigation found there were “serious health and safety risks” at the camp, including two overdoses, fire hazards and a rat infestation.

Karim denied Saini’s allegations. “These are all lies,” she said.

In Quebec City, Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry told reporters it was “time” to remove the protesters from the camp.

“I’m not going to try people today, but I think the situation has deteriorated in recent days and weeks,” she said. “Again, I’m talking about vandalism, anti-Semitic acts. There was damage, there was violence.”

Déry said the atmosphere on campuses has become “toxic” and expressed hope that the situation will calm down by the time fall classes begin.

In June, protesters barricaded themselves in a McGill administration building just yards from the camp, and 15 were arrested. Last week, police reported that a 66-year-old man was arrested for smashing the windows of a McGill building and assaulting a campus security guard.

A pro-Palestinian camp in the heart of Montreal’s financial district was dismantled by police last week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.