Jewish groups are pleased to see pro-Palestinian campus encampments dismantled across Canada—whether voluntarily or by authorities

"I have waited 69 days to post this picture." — Michael A. Sachs of JNF Pacific at the University of British Columbia's Point Grey campus, where a pro-Palestinian encampment was situated.

Several encampments which have occupied Canadian universities since April have been dismantled, a week after an Ontario Supreme Court granted the University of Toronto an injunction to remove a pro-Palestinian tent protest from its downtown campus.

At McGill, the Montreal campus was closed for the day from the early hours of June 10 while police and a private security firm removed protesters.

“McGill will always support the right to free expression and assembly, within the bounds of the laws and policies that keep us all safe. However, recent events go far beyond peaceful protest, and have inhibited the respectful exchange of views and ideas that is so essential to the University’s mission and to our sense of community,” McGill president Deep Saini said in a news release.

“People linked to the camp have harassed our community members, engaged in antisemitic intimidation, damaged and destroyed McGill property, forcefully occupied a building, clashed with police, and committed acts of assault,” he said.

In Ottawa, protesters voluntarily removed their tents from the campus July 10, claiming that negotiations with the university administration had stalled.   

“Every dollar you make off the blood of Palestinians will be lost as we continue to confront you, on this lawn and across campus this coming year, and the year after that, and every year until the complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea,” protesters from Occupy Tabaret said on a post on Instagram.

An encampment at University of Waterloo was dismantled on July 7, in exchange for the university dropping a $1.5-million lawsuit and injunction proceedings.

A pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of British Columbia, which had maintained an inescapable presence at the Vancouver campus since the end of April, was voluntarily dismantled on the evening of July 7—and local Jewish groups are hoping this will provide a step towards easing fears among Jewish students and the community as a whole.

The closure of the UBC Vancouver encampment took place a week after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted the University of Toronto an injunction to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment from its campus.  The court ordered tents to be removed and gave police authority to arrest anyone who did not vacate the protest site.

“In our society, we have decided that the owner of property generally gets to decide what happens on the property,” Justice Markus Koehnen wrote in the July 2 ruling.

“If the protesters can take that power for themselves by seizing Front Campus, there is nothing to stop a stronger group from coming and taking the space over from the current protesters. That leads to chaos. Society needs an orderly way of addressing competing demands on space. The system we have agreed to is that the owner gets to decide how to use the space.”

Students at UofT voluntarily dismantled the encampment, which had numbered over 150 tents at some points, before the injunction deadline.

In Vancouver, Michael Sachs, the executive director of the Jewish National Fund Pacific, told The CJN, “There is a sense of relief that this is over, but also a sense of frustration with the amount of damage this has done, both to the Jewish community on campus and to the campus itself,”

Sachs went to UBC early Monday morning and took a photo of himself before the emptied encampment that he later posted on social media.

“Once the encampment was no longer in the news cycle, it was taken down.  Some questions now are, who is going to pay for the damage done?  And how much is it all going to cost after they destroyed the field?”

At various points during the 69-day encampment, dozens of tents and hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters took part in the event, which occupied MacInnes Field at the school’s Vancouver campus. Some local media outlets described the atmosphere as resembling a festival. In ordinary times, the field is a campus hub and green space used by the university’s community for numerous recreational activities. Today it remains fenced and barricaded. 

Sachs had made regular trips to the perimeter of the protest since it began over 10 weeks ago. On its first day, according to his account, he witnessed Charlotte Kates, the coordinator of Samidoun, helping to organize and orchestrate the encampment.

The Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has long called for Samidoun to be added to Canada’s list of terrorist organizations. CIJA and others maintain that the Vancouver-based organization has direct ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which, since 2003, has been listed as a terrorist group under Canada’s Criminal Code.

On May 1, Vancouver police started a hate crime investigation after comments Kates made at a rally praising the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and referring to a number of terrorist groups as heroes.

Sachs also noted that UBC is located in the riding of British Columbia Premier David Eby. He believes that Eby, as well as the university, could have done more to end the encampment sooner and help assuage the emotional distress it has caused for Jewish students, staff and faculty.

Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s vice-president of the Pacific Region, said he was encouraged to see the encampment abandoned and the return of MacInnes Field for all students to enjoy safely.

“Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks committed by Hamas, Jewish communities have come under increased pressure in many spaces across Canada and around the world, including in post-secondary education. The UBC encampment was concerning and made many Jewish students feel unsafe on their own campus,” he said.

Ohad Gavrieli, the incoming executive director of Hillel BC, sent a note to the Jewish community on campus this week stating that the encampment, had been, since it started on April 29, a “troubling center of antisemitism and anti-Israel activities.” He expressed concern that “such a demonstration of hate and intimidation was allowed to persist at the heart of UBC.”

“As we look ahead to the fall semester in September, we hope that the lessons learned from this troubling episode will lead to a campus environment where Jewish students can feel safe and respected,” Gavrieli wrote.

The university, at this time, offered no response regarding any possible legal actions that may be pursued against the organizers of the encampment.  Further, it is unclear when the field will be returned to its earlier condition and how much it will cost to repair it.

Clare Hamilton-Eddy, the director of media relations at UBC, did tell The CJN that the school “remains committed to respectful dialogue with student protesters.”

A group calling itself the People’s University of Gaza UBC, which, among its other demands, has called on UBC to divest from Israel, vowed that it would continue to protest.

In a statement released on social media, the group said, “After years of divestment organizing on campus, we build the People’s University of Gaza as one tactic of escalation. We call on you to join us as we advance into the next stage of our strategy for our demands.”

Encampments have been prevalent on prominent university campuses in BC for the past several weeks. Protesters started a camp on the University of Victoria campus on May 1 and, according to university officials, the size of the encampment has not diminished.

“The university continues to take a calm and thoughtful approach and remains hopeful for a peaceful resolution.” said Kristi Simpson, vice-president of finance and operations at UVic.

Meanwhile, at the Vancouver Island University campus in Nanaimo, protesters continue to disrupt activities on the campus. On June 28, a group of 25 protesters occupied a building, interrupting an ongoing exam, blockading several entry doors, and causing damage to flags in the school’s International Centre. Over the June 29-30 weekend, protesters vandalized the entry to VIU’s human resources office.

“Such actions, which violate university policies, jeopardize the safety and security of our staff, infringe upon private and secure areas, and cannot be tolerated. We firmly condemn the disruption of academic exams, as our primary mission is to provide an optimal learning experience for our students,” officials from VIU said in a July 3 statement.

An encampment at UBC’s campus in Kelowna ended on June 29.